Young Men Initiative

Prevention of gender-based violence in the Western Balkans – brief history of our work

Since 2006 the Initiative for addressing gender equality, healthy lifestyles and prevention all types of violence and extremism in the Western Balkans – Young Men Initiative (YMI) – has been working on building of more gender-equitable attitudes and behaviour of young people and reducing interpersonal and gender-based violence (mainly violence perpetrated by young men against their peers, other young men as well as young men against young women) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia. In 2010, the Young Men Initiative expanded to Kosovo*, and in 2013 to Albania. CARE International Balkans, with the technical support from Promundo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), Washington, United States of America and with the financial support of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Oak Foundation has developed a series of manuals for challenging social norms related to masculinity and violence through educational workshops that take place in schools and socially engaged campaigns aimed at young men 14-19 years.

YMI approach is based on the gender-transformative curriculum adapted according to the Program H of the Institute Promundo and designed to provoke critical thinking about gender norms that drive violence and other harmful forms of behaviour. High rates of alcohol use in the region also encourage this program to focus on high-risk alcohol consumption, which is associated with an increased likelihood of perpetrating violence in many situations. As one of the first systematic evidence-based efforts in the region to specifically address young men’s behaviour and vulnerabilities from a gender perspective, YMI has led to positive results at various levels and useful considerations for youth programming in the region and elsewhere.

From a small size qualitative research exploring young men`s attitudes and behaviours, YMI grew over the years into a comprehensive program with different components targeting young people, parents, teachers, educational workers, university students, journalists and other important stakeholders.Click here to read more.

In 2013, CARE and partners, local youth NGOs started to develop a Program aimed at young people in schools – Program Youth – Innovative Approaches in GBV Prevention and Healthy Lifestyle Promotion for Young Men and Women with support of Austrian Development Cooperation, the Government of Switzerland, Oak Foundation and CARE Germany-Luxembourg,This phase of YMI started with implementation in secondary schools, enabling it to achieve a high level of participation of young men and women aged 14-19 years. The focus on young people is important, because adolescence is a key moment in the process of socialization, when attitudes and behaviours among young people are still developing. In the schools which participate in the program, Program Y sessions are conducted by trained educators and they are integrated into the regular schedule of classes during the school year, with a focus on four key program areas: (1) gender attitudes; (2) violence; (3) sex, health and well-being; and (4) use of alcohol and drugs. Young men initiative extends beyond classrooms as well. The program includes additional residential training where facilitators hold additional sessions and team building activities in the more immersive environment. In addition, the program also includes the “Be a man” lifestyles campaign, which aims to reinforce key messages of the Young men initiative and encourage changes at the school level and beyond. The campaign is supported by variety of educational materials, social media and “activities” organized and conducted by the students, members of “Be a man” clubs (abbreviated BMC).

Be a Man clubs are established as clubs of high school students who are engaged in a creative way in the design and implementation of the school and community based campaigns and activities. Be a man clubs are not clubs that only include young men, although their name could lead you to think that they are. These clubs include equally young men and women, with the goal of building healthy lifestyles for all of them. The reason for this is that clubs in the region have reached a high level of brand and recognition, as a positive lifestyle for young people.

Members of “Be a man” clubs are both young men and women, and in the region, they gather several hundred active members. In the Balkans, there are currently 30active “Be a Man” clubs with around 2 500 active members. Leading philosophy of the Young Men Initiative is that young men should not be seen as an obstacle to peace and gender equality, but as key allies in the promotion of non-violent, healthy relationships and communities. Young women, as active members of the community, hould be active participants in society, as well as agents of change. These days we are witnesses that young women are not only victims but also perpetrators of violence to a lesser extent. Both young men and women in adolescence require additional education about healthy lifestyles and the prevention of gender-based violence as a guide to gender equality and gender-equal society. Young Men Initiative believes that if students learn about violence, as well as how to question the dominant gender norms, and if they have the opportunity to apply these new ideas and skills in a safe environment, they will be more likely to internalize this information that will, over time, result in more gender equitable, healthier and non-violent lifestyles. Moreover, as group norms begin to change, the program helps to create a more tolerant and friendly environment at the school level. This path of changes, which young men and women apply and internalize new ideas, is strengthened by several support structures, such as non-violent role models (e.g. YMI facilitators), support of social networks, as well as stimulating school environment. More information about the program “Young Men Initiative”, as well as the stages of implementation, can be found on the official website of the program: www.youngmeninitiative.net

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