An interesting initiative aims at breaking stereotypes that say “men are always the ones who give orders, have the last word in the family, and women keep silent and deal with housework and childbirth.”
What makes this initiative so interesting from similar projects for gender equality is that the it focuses on working with boys and men of different ages.
“Be a Man Club” (KBB), a regional project for gender equality that is being implemented in Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and recently in Albania, since 2010 has been implemented by the non-governmental organization Peer Educators Network ( PEN) in Kosovo. This project opposes the social stereotype for men by working directly with, as they call it, “the problem itself” – boys and men.
The initial idea for this campaign came from the Brazilian organization “Promundo”, and CARE International took over the implementation for the Balkans in 2006.
The research conducted by the Young Men’s Initiative on the gender dynamics of violence among youth in the four Balkan countries: Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia, as well as in Kosovo, has shown that solid gender norms of masculinity and femininity were “repeling factors” associated with a range of harmful outcomes, including gender-based violence and poor reproductive health.
At the same time, research involving the prospects of young girls and boys showed that the deconstruction of male identities led to the fact that boys could become allies, and that their engagement in the transformation of gender norms is very effective.
The target groups of the project are young people of high schools and universities. Since the elderly have great influence on young people’s attitudes and behaviors, the programs of KBB also focus on the elderly. Within the “P” program – fathers, professors, health professionals are introduced to the importance men have in active care-taking during pregnancy, childbirth and raising the kids.
With the goal for a more powerful influence, journalists are also targeted, considering their potential to help change things.
“The reason we have compiled the manual for journalists is that in most cases the media discriminates based on sex, perhaps unintentionally, but for attracting readers. That is why we considered this a necessity” says Korab Jaha, Project Coordinator for Young Men Initiative within which the Be a Man Club operates.
Given the fact that there are more boys in technical schools, the focus was on those who were seen as “the best allies in combating gender stereotypes.”
“We have also held trainings in schools located in remote rural areas. There have been cases when they did not know the difference between sex and gender, they did not know much about their body, had exposed prejudices about the campaign, but later we noticed change. Now, most of the men we work support gender equality “says Jaha.
He says that they are often contacted by family members who notice the boys have changed and have stopped negative habits, such as smoking and have started to cook and clean. The members also understand that housework is not gender-specific, but for everyone in the family.
“We do not force anyone to do anything, we just advise them, then let them make their own decisions, no pressure,” says Jaha.
One of the members of KBB’s, Bledor Kalleci says that most of the boys of the club change their behavior and continue to promote gender equality.
“Change starts from yourself, then it’s very easy to influence others,” says Kalleci.
KBB encourages young people to be themselves, feel the way they want and choose what they want.
“Our club has a lot of positive influence on young people” he says.
Similar training sessions have been organized with girls, while the “M” (Men) project will be followed by the next “Y” (Youth) project, which will start in October and will be benefit both sexes.
“We have the same training for both groups, apart from sensitive topics. We have had occasions when one of the women thanked us because she started to work and be financially independent from her husband and has noticed so many of the things that were wrong. She tell us to never stop promoting the rights of women and girls” says Jaha from PEN.
Jaha considers that besides all the work they do for gender equality, this is never enough because of our rigid mentality and difficulty to accept changes.
Saša Gavrić, a Gender Advisor to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said that for this mission it was very important to show support for this project of PEN and their activities in schools in Ferizaj, Prishtina, North Mitrovica etc.
He considers that Kosovo has made significant progress in the last decade, and besides the excellent legal framework, has built up the appropriate institutional mechanisms for the implementation of programs and activities with the aim of challenging the current inequalities.
But, according to him, gender-based violence and discrimination still keeps women in traditional roles by not allowing them to use their full potential.
“We believe that sustainable peace and economic prosperity are only possible if women and men have equal opportunities, access to resources, and participate in decision-making processes,” he says.
Together with the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), the OSCE will publish the study “International Men and Gender Equality Survey” with the aim of influencing policy development and inspiring relevant institutions to work intensively with boys and men in promoting gender equality.
This study, according to Gavrić, will include the topics of gender violence, health issues, housework division, the participation of men in fatherly care, gender attitudes of men and women, and quality of life.
“It is important to further strengthen cooperation between institutions and civil society organizations. These organizations play a fundamental role, work directly with target groups and know how to identify problems and solutions. For this reason, they need to receive more support from government institutions” he says.
Gavrić emphasizes that interested international organizations, such as the European Union and UN agencies, will support some of these activities aimed at developing skills and opportunities for youth in the fields public leadership, volunteering, building self-confidence, critical thinking, justice and social inclusion, freedom of expression and dialogue.
Author: Njomza Berisha