The safer space policy is an attempt to create practices that make people feel safe, take responsibility for unpleasant situations, and create ways to make unpleasant situations better, rather than just put up with them. The choice of the word “safer” rather than “safe” suggests that a completely safe space may never be created for everyone, even if it is the aim.
Safer space is a feminist method designed to help those involved in a movement experience and create an inner sense of security together. Everyone has a responsibility for this. When people are confident that their own experience will be listened to and valued and that everyone is committed to a safer space policy, they will dare to manage any arising conflicts constructively in the community.
The policy is also about getting people to reflect over their own interactions as members of the community. A safer space policy is a significant help in breaking down hierarchies and inequalities within groups and communities. It is also a way to create experiences of kinship in meetings: everyone is involved and responsible for creating the social space.
The safer space policy originates from subcultures, especially the ones of sexual minorities. The principles intend to ensure that participants can act and be themselves without fear of astonished gazes, hateful attitudes or even outright violence. What makes the policy interesting to everyone are the practices and ways to create a safe and respectful space as well as to make participants responsible for their own behaviour.
The safer space policy has also been criticised. A safe space is determined by human interaction, and no general guidelines can ever be given about how someone’s personal boundaries are defined or when they are crossed. The policy of a safer space is also a subcultural code in itself, which can be challenging to adopt quickly and which also relates to power structures. It may thus exclude people accustomed to other types of social practices.
A safer space policy can also promise too much and fail to actualise a safer space in reality. The original idea of a safer space policy for an inclusive and responsible environment easily turns against itself: if the safer space principles are defined and a “Safe space Team” is as- signed at the event/action, other participants may feel comfortable in leaving problems to the Team instead of trying to influence situations themselves.
Safer space principles
There are several formulations of safer space guidelines; here is a collection of some to follow in Elokapina:
Don’t assume. You cannot know another’s experience, thoughts, life situation, or self-defined identity better than themselves. Discrimination can manifest itself as (for example, but not limited to) homo- and transphobia, sexism, racism, age or class discrimination, or ability prejudice. Since we are constantly making assumptions about others, try to be aware of your own assumptions. Be open and listen.
Be respectful. Don’t question another’s differences.
Give space. Make sure everyone is heard and involved in the conversation.
Do not disturb anyone verbally, by touching or staring. Saying no means no. Stop or change your behaviour if someone requests it.
If you need help or support in problem situations, ask for it.
Safer space instructions for discussions and conversations:
Do not generalise your own experience. It is not appropriate or respectful to define the experience of others for them.
Speak in ways that everyone can understand. Use language that is understandable also to those outside your own reference group.
Do not make offensive remarks to or about others, not to those present or absent.
Assume good of others.