“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, voilence-free relationships and the health development of adolescent boys aged 13-19.

I began to respect girls and women more, and also respect people's opinions, differences and diversity.

Uroš Radulović, Belgrade

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.

Today I think a lot more about some things that I never would thought about before and I am controlling my emotions and reactions a lot more than before.

Denis Hadžović, Zagreb

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.

I have also become a young man that is an example to his peers and in future I will be the same for my children.

Armin Licina

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.

So what did the program change?  With support from ICRW, we conducted an evaluation and found that because of the program:

  • Boys had more equitable attitudes towards women. They were from 5‐15 percentage points less likely to think that a woman’s primary role was to stay at home and cook.
  • Boys were less homophobic. Boys were 3‐17 percentage points less likely to think it was acceptable to beat a gay person.
  • Boys were less likely to think violence is acceptable—both violence against women and as ageneral solution to their problems.
  • Boys had more open ideas about what it meant to be a man. There was a 27 percentage point improvement in the number of boys thinking that physical strength was the most important characteristic for a man.
  • Boys were more likely to stop violence. 76% of retreat participants indicated they had intervened to stop a fight by the end of the program, compared to 41% at the start of the academic year

Our interventions

The “Masculinities” Lifestyle Campaign

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.

The “Muski” Educational Workshops Program 

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.

Regional Young Men Forum

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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