Young Mens Initiative: Engaging Men and Boys in the Fight for Gender Equality

Thanks to CARE Action Network for the shoutout to Cohort 1 team, Young Men’s Initiative!

How Young Men Can Change Gender Norms and Support Women and Girls

Engaging men and boys with the Young Men Initiative and CARE

Women’s economic empowerment sustainably lifts women, families and entire communities out of poverty — but only when men get with the program, too. Men and boys have a crucial role to play in achieving gender equality by reversing deeply entrenched norms, traditions and behaviors that for too long have limited women’s opportunities and trapped families in poverty.

Programs like the Young Men Initiative are working to do just that by changing rigid masculine norms, preventing violence against women and promoting gender equality during critical stages of adolescent development.

But how much do they really alter men’s attitudes and communities’ social norms? According to Besnik Leka, CARE’s project coordinator for the Young Men Initiative in the Balkans, “It’s still early days, but we’ve seen reductions in gender-based and interpersonal violence by 25 to 30 percent and big changes in divisions of household labor.”

“One mother called us to ask, ‘What are you teaching my sons? They came home and helped with cleaning. They’re setting the table.’ We tell parents, this is what they’re supposed to do. This is how we change family dynamics.” This is how we change social norms.

Engaging men and boys in gender-based violence

Gender Inequity in the Balkans

An estimated one in three women globally will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime, which includes rape, sexual harassment, assault, domestic violence and other forms of violence that devastates people’s physical, mental and emotional health and perpetuates broader structural inequalities and cycles of poverty.

Surveys conducted in Serbia and Croatia reveal how big the problem is in the region:

  • 60 percent of young men reported having made sexual comments or having touched girls without their consent
  • 18.8 percent of young men say there are situations in which women deserve to be beaten
  • More than two-thirds of adolescents aged 16-19 reported experiencing violent behavior from their partner; about halfsaid they’d been violent towards their partner
  • 65 percent of men reported having been slapped or spanked as children, while 16 percent of men reported witnessing violence by a man against their mothers

Surveys also revealed however, that some traditional attitudes are becoming more liberal:

Engaging Men and Boys

Besnik Leka of CARE's Young Men Initiative Leka is CARE’s project coordinator for the Young Men Initiative in the Balkans. “This is a very patriarchal society with a lot of violence, especially gender-based violence, but at Young Men Initiative, we also address the interpersonal violence young men experience so they understand that patriarchy harms everyone,” Leka said. “We say that, as much as feminism needs men, men need feminism, because feminism saves men from violence too.”

The Young Men Initiative and CARE sponsor gender equality training workshops as part of the curriculums at traditionally male-dominated vocational and technical schools.  “Young men face tremendous challenges but they’re also capable of tremendous growth,” Leka said. The trainings make men and boys aware of how patriarchy can harm them. Leka added that being the sole breadwinner puts a great deal of pressure on men, and that it’s better when everyone contributes to the family, including with household labor. “As more opportunities open up for women to engage in the economy we have to encourage more men to share care of the family,” he said.

While feminism has existed for decades, Leka explained that there hasn’t been much initiative for men to change. “Statistically, men cause most gender-based violence, yet women are asked to empower themselves while simultaneously being discriminated against by men and societies.”

Part of the problem, Leka says, is that men aren’t taught how to change. “It’s taboo for men to talk about certain things, like their problems and emotions. When we actually start talking with men though, about how blocking their emotions leads to stress and violence that harms them as well as women, they’re very receptive. It’s a real eye-opener to learn that young men have high suicide rates here.”  Leka will ask boys and men to rate their emotions from ones they express more freely to ones the express with more difficulty. Most admit they express anger freely, but they’re afraid to show fear.

“As they work through our program, they learn that beauty comes with sharing emotions, even if they’re afraid of unmasking themselves.”

Financial and social inclusion in the Balkans

Social and Economic Inclusion

The Young Men Initiative and Leka also address women’s social and economic inclusion by working to change inheritance attitudes and laws. “Not many women inherit what their parents build. Usually it is given to the son. Even when a woman does inherit something, culturally, she’s expected to give it to her brother. She’s told that a ‘good sister’ doesn’t take stuff from her brother,” Leka explained. The problem, however, is it’s not just about the tangible inheritance. It’s about women’s economic potential.

“In Kosovo,” he explains, “all business and growth is based on banks and loans, but to get a loan, you need collateral. Men can own or inherit cars, houses and land so it’s easy for them to get loans. Without collateral though, women can’t get loans so they’re eliminated from opportunities to start or grow businesses.” Young Men Initiative is helping young men and their families understand the impact of economic progress that takes place when daughters can share inheritances. Simultaneously, CARE is working to change inheritance laws to include children of both genders.

CARE has worked in the Balkan region (Kosovo, Serbia, Albania, Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina) since 1992, helping war-affected people develop sustainable livelihoods. Currently, CARE’s programing in the region focuses on two key areas – gender equality and social and economic inclusion.   

YMI’s Post-War Machismo: Be a Man Film Wins MY HERO- Ron Kovic Peace Prize!

We are excited to announce that the Young Men Initiative’s film Post-War Machismo: Be a Man was selected as the 2016 winner of the Ron Kovic Peace Prize in the The MY HERO International Film Festival! Congratulations YMI! Ron Kovic and his team selected the film because they felt it best promotes peace and non-violence in a short film. “I selected this film because it is moving beyond violence towards peace and love. Post-War Machismo: Be a Man is a powerful aspiring testament to peace and non-violence in this world.” -Ron Kovic



Vote for YMI’s Post-war Machismo: Be a Man Film!

Vote for the Young Men Initiative’s documentary Post-war Machismo: Be a Man, It’s one of the 2016 finalists for the Conscious Good Humanitarian Film Festival in support of the UN and is based on youth and gender work with young men in the Balkans. Voting is open now through August 22. Share with your networks including social media!

In keeping with the UN’s goals for World Humanitarian Day, these films represent global stories that exemplify good, compassion and empathy for all people, especially the most vulnerable. We’re proud of the work CARE is doing to change harmful attitudes in youth in the Western Balkans around gender and violence!

Meet the Teams: Young Men Initiative (YMI)

CARE’s gender transformation education Young Men Initiative (YMI) has been a documented success in the Western Balkans. The program is focused on transforming the school environment to one that supports and nurtures gender equality and promotes a culture of non-violence.  It seeks to achieve this outcome by both institutionalizing a gendered educational curriculum and a social norms campaign.  The program has been piloted, evaluated and accredited in most of the Western Balkan countries. The curriculum has been implemented by peer educators, youth workers and educators as part of a multiplier effect. This focus was based on the understanding that adolescence represents a pivotal moment in the socialisation process, when attitudes towards  violence and gender roles are formulated and solidified, as well as the recognition that schools are important institutions in constructing and reinforcing gender norms. The  YMI program theory hypothesises that if students learn to recognise harmful gender norms and are provided safe spaces to practise questioning these constructs, then there is a greater likelihood of internalising new ideas in support of gender-equitable, healthy and non-violent behaviours. The methodology also emphasises supporting influences and structures, such as positive peer groups and role models, and the existing policy environment.

In evaluations conducted by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) using a quasi experimental design findings showed promising results, particularly in improving attitudes related to violence against women, homophobia, gender roles and the use of violence against peers.[1]  In Kosovo, where the evaluation was able to track students over a longer period, the reviewer found using a modified Gender Equitable Men Scale to assess changes in participants’ gender-related attitudes that “For the vast majority of survey items measuring gender norms and homophobic attitudes, YMI participants showed significant shifts not observed in the comparison school.”[2] 

[1] YMI Synthesis Report, ICRW 2014

[2] Kosovo Case Study, Brian Heilman 2016.

Learn more about YMI by watching this documentary!

Meet the Team

YMI Team Group Photo_CARE Balkans

JOHN CROWNOVER | Program Advisor – Team Leader | CARE Balkans  

John is currently the Engaging Men and Boys Program Advisor within CARE International Balkans Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Sector, which includes working in Serbia, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Croatia. His main focus is on the development and implementation of programs around gender equality, fatherhood and young men, particularly dealing with issues around masculinities, violence and conflict; gender and health; and mobilizing youth in bringing about positive social change. In addition John Crownover supports CARE’s programs addressing gender based violence, peacebuilding and the social inclusion of the Roma. John Crownover has a master’s of science in youth development and has focused his post graduate work on issues related to young men, masculinities and violence in the region of the former Yugoslavia. He currently am active in the MenEngage Alliance, including as alternative representative for CARE on the global board and active in the regional MenEngage Europe network. John am also co facilitator of the CARE International working group on engaging men and boys. He currently on the steering committee for the European wide White Ribbon campaign working to prevent violence against women.

HILDE RØREN| Programme Advisor| CARE Norway

Hilde is Care Norway’s in-house engaging men advisor and she has extensive experience from the field of engaging men for gender equality. Prior to joining CARE she worked for the International Labour Organisation in India and Geneva where she developed and managed projects focusing on engaging men in trade unions to end sexual harassment. One component of this included designing advocacy messages for senior leadership. At CARE Norway she is responsible for ensuring the quality of all engaging men initiatives across the framework agreement and also manages a project engaging young men for GBV prevention in Burundi and DRC. This project is designed based on learning from the YMI in Balkans which she was the desk officer for at CN from 2009.  Further, together with John Crownover she coordinates the CI Engaging Men network. She holds a Master in Gender and Development from the London School of Economics where she wrote her master thesis provided a critically reflection on the level of gender transformation in a selection of engaging men projects.

MARINA STARCEVIC CVIKO | Project Coordinator | CARE Balkans – Serbia

Marina by vocation is social worker, holding the bachelor degree of Faculty for Political Science, Belgrade University in Serbia. At year 2000 started the engagement in civil society sector in Serbia, working in local NGOs as Coordinator for livelihoods projects for IDPs and refugees, Counselor for SOS phone line for girls – victims of violence and as Coordinator for youth projects implemented throughout Serbia. In CARE Balkans since 2006, starting with coordination of projects related to empowerment of youth, anti-trafficking in human beings and finally in 2008 starting with the project Young Men Initiative (YMI). During the implementation of YMI in past 8 years, together with YMI team, she is in charge for monitoring and evaluation of project partners` activities, baseline and endline research, development of policy papers, manuals, publications and etc. Also, involved in program development and advocacy activities on national and regional level. Special interests are related to deconstruction of harmful masculinities, prevention of gender and peer violence and promotion of gender equality and gender justice in the Balkans.

JUDIT KONTSEKOVA | Desk Officer | CARE Austria

Judit is part of the Asia, Middle East and Europe team at CARE Austria and having a strong focus on projects in the Balkans. She has been formerly working on public policy analysis and project evaluations specifically in the field of educational, social and labour market programs/policies. A special focus of her work has been related to marginalized communities in Central and South-eastern European Countries. In her assignments she liaised for instance with the World Bank, UNDP, Roma Education Fund and national NGO partners to support the set up M&E systems and to introduce participative monitoring and learning tools. At CARE Austria she is involved in project development, contract management and donor liaison.


PAUL-ANDRÉ WILTON | Conflict Policy Advisor | CARE UK

Paul-André is Conflict Policy Advisor for CARE International UK based in London. Focused on Type 4 responses as well as deeper advocacy on South Sudan, he also works on multiplying impact in the thematic areas of gender in emergencies, resilient markets and engaging men and boys to protect and empower women in conflict. Previously at CARE, Paul-André led the Conflict Community of Practice, connecting staff working in conflict areas around the world to share their approaches and experiences, and as a technical trainer in conflict analysis, Theories of Change in peacebuilding DM&E and Do No Harm.

AMANDA MOLL | Knowledge & Learning Advisor | CARE USA

Amanda provides leadership and technical assistance on knowledge management and monitoring & evaluation to the Education Team. Specifically, her current work focuses on implementing, evaluating and documenting education-based projects to address the causes of marginalization affecting girls in developing contexts. Before joining CARE, she worked on social and political issues, as well as teaching and providing supplemental instruction in both high school and college settings.

THOMAS KNOLL | Project Manager | CARE Germany-Luxemburg

Thomas is Sociologist (University of Trier) born 1968; had several positions in International Development Cooperation (two years with the German Development Service in Agadez, Niger), two years for the Chamber of Crafts in Ruanda and Rumania with two episodes at Universities (University of Saarbruecken, University of Tuebingen) before coming to CARE DL at the beginning of 2011. Five years at CARE as Manager for Volunteers and School Campaigns, since January 2016 Project Manager for the KIWI Project (work with youth migrants).

BESNIK LEKA | Project Coordinator| CARE Balkans – Kosovo & Albania

Besnik is the project coordinator for YMI project in Kosovo and Albania.  He has a degree in Sociology and a certificate Program in Women’s and Gender Studies from Dartmouth College Ivy League School. Besnik has more than 14 years’ experience in coordination and management projects at national and international level including strong financial and personnel management expertise. He has worked with several local and International agencies and local government (i.e. the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, Ministry of Education, Deputy members from parliament, Local Municipalities, and Schools.) He is well connected with organizations and individuals who are all actively involved with community development work.

ZVJEZDANA BATKOVIC | Gender Equality Coordinator| CARE Balkans

CARE in the Balkans Regional Gender Program Coordinator has over 18 years of experience in post-war, multi-cultural environment related to emergency and developmental issues. She has strong skills in managing projects and cross-border regional programming processes focused on gender equality and women empowerment, social integration of minorities and vulnerable groups, education, youth development and good governance. She has been with CARE in the Balkans for eleven years in different capacities, from project manager of national and regional projects related to Gender Equality and Women Empowerment to Gender Advisor and Acting Program Director. She has been engaged with the Young Men Initiative since its beginning through developing project proposals, providing advisory support to the project team, defining guidelines for monitoring and evaluation, creating synergies with other projects, coordinating fundraising and research activities and conducting related assessments. She holds a Master degree in Public Administration with management and leadership focus from, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, USA, is a co-author of the first CARE in the Balkans’ Evidence of Change Report on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment 2005-2012 and a lead author of CARE International in Pakistan Multi-Stakeholder Partnership Model (2015).


SAŠA PETKOVIĆ | Project Manager| CARE Balkans – Bosnia and Herzegovina

Saša has master’s and PhD degree in Economics at the Faculty of Economics of the University of Banja Luka, where teaches as an associate professor Economics and Management of SMEs subject undergraduate students and Globalization and Entrepreneurship, Management of Entrepreneurial Projects and International Project Management. He works in CARE since 1999, and as a project manager he led various regional projects, in cooperation with youth local NGOs and government representatives. He is leading the YMI project since in its beginning and has intensive experience in work with young men.