“Be a Man!”

“Be a Man!”

Publication info


The Yugoslavian Wars of 1991-2001 were based on national and ethnic tensions that resulted in numerous cases of gender-based violence , including mass rapes of women and sexual abuse against men and boys in prison camps. Currently, an emerging culture of violence is visible in the Western Balkans and the consequences of violence within the family and the community severely affects the development and health of young men and young women.

Youth is a critical moment when young people develop and rehearse gender equitable attitudes and related violent behaviors. Researchers and youth programmers have recognized the importance of working with young men to cultivate gender-equitable attitudes and reduce violence.  So CARE set up the Young Men Initiative, also called Young Men as Allies in the Prevention of Violence and Conflict in the Western Balkans, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia, to promote gender equality, voice-free relationships and the health development of adolescent boys aged 13-19.

Our research

Our participatory, learning and action research sought to answer: How do current social constructs and experiences of masculinity for young men in the Western Balkans relate to young men’s violent use of power? What influences young men’s decisions not to use violence? And what opportunities exist to support young men’s more gender-equitable constructions of masculinity, especially alternatives to the violent use of power?  We hypothesized that by understanding constructs of masculinity and violence, youth service agencies can better address personal attitudes about gender equity and a broader definition of sexuality for young men to foster changes in gender norms that contribute to violent behaviors.

What we did

Building strong local partnership and ownership is a key strategy of CARE and we have focused on building the capacity of six major youth-serving organizations, who work with young men. In addition, other local expertise is engaged within the project, including for the lifestyle campaign development, training and research. In addition, the International Center for the Research of Women (ICRW) has been working with us on the research, monitoring and evaluation component of the program. Measuring the impact of the program is important for working on policy focused on young men and rolling out the program in other areas of the Balkans and the world.

Our findings

Our research highlights several important contexts where young men negotiate constructions of masculinity and the violent use of power. One context young men identified is widespread fighting and bullying among their male peers that begins in primary school where violence is perceived as mandatory. Moreover, young men reported that most fathers expect and exhort their sons to use violence in fights. Other young men identified the following successful strategies in avoiding the use of violence: (1) their own internal reserves, such as an ability to withstand being marginalized, and the value in individual pursuits such as reading or music; (2) finding other peers who rejected the use of violence; and (3) becoming involved in sport teams where coaches promoted cooperation and teamwork.

Our interventions

The “Masculinities” Lifestyle Campaign

The “Muski” Educational Workshops Program

Regional Young

Men Forum

A school-based lifestyle campaign focused on confronting rigid norms of masculinity as the overall theme, with sub-themes focused on violence against women, peer violence and sexual health/healthy relationships. Young men and young women are engaged through “Real Man” clubs, messaging and other school activities. A successful educational workshop program for young men was tested and adapted for the program. It focuses on education and skill development, covering topics, such as gender-based violence, conflict, sexuality, fatherhood and gender roles, sexual health, HIV and AIDS, emotions and conflict resolution.  The forum of youth from four targeted countries gives young men a voice in the project, supports the development of new skills and promotes young men as role models and peer educators. These young men also helped develop and foster the “masculinities” lifestyle campaign.

What’s next?

CARE is scaling up and spreading the program to other areas of the world.  IMAGES and the Men and Gender Equality Policy Project, a component of the existing project implemented by Center for Education, Counseling and Research and focused on Croatia is part of an initiative led focused on policy analysis and a quantitative survey on masculinities, men and gender.

Young Men Talking: Experiences of Conflict is a partnership between YouthAction Northern Ireland and CARE International in the Western Balkans to build youth work capacity around engaging young men around issues of conflict, violence, masculinities and healthy lifestyles.

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Engaging Roma Boys and Men

CARE NW Balkans Engaging Roma Boys and Men is a component of the existing Young Men Initiative being implemented in four countries: Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. Addressing social and community norms around gender, healthy lifestyles and violence, the project aims to mobilize young men to challenge harmful practices. Working both through schools and the community, Roma youth are engaged in a variety of activities, including research, non-formal education, mentoring, community action and a lifestyle campaign.