How Young Men’s Initiative II helped transform social norms in the Balkans

When young people are granted the opportunity to lead, they find ways to connect, to support, and to make changes—not just now, but for the future.

“I wanted to surround myself with young people who want to be a positive change in their society. … I met a lot of friends, many great young people who want to make the environment in which they grow up healthy, happy and safe for everyone. I really enjoy educating young people through peer education trainings, but I am also constantly learning from them.”

Asjah Galijatović is a peer educator with the Be a Man Club & Real Girls in Sarajevo. She’s been participating since high school, and has stayed with it even though she is now a 23 year old university student. She and her fellow volunteers put together videos to support people for World Mental Health Day. “It’s ok to be scared….We should try to cope with stress in a healthy way to make us, our community, and our loved ones stronger.”

That’s the power of letting young people lead. They find ways to connect, to support, and to make changes—not just now, but for the future.

The Young Men’s Initiative II (YMI II) ran in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, and Croatia from 2018-2020 with $1.8 million in support from the Austrian Development Association and the Oak Foundation. It reached 14,200 people directly and 56,000 people indirectly. YMI II built on CARE and local partners’ work with young men transforming social norms in the Balkans since 2006.

What did we accomplish?

  • Both young men and young women are more likely to believe in gender equality: In Pristina, young men were half as likely to think a woman’s most important role is to cook and care for the home. In Albania, they were 64% less likely to believe that women should be responsible for all childcare. For young women in Bosnia, they were half as likely to think that it’s ok for boys to skip school but not for girls.
  • Young people don’t support violence anymore. In Kosovo, young men were 57% less likely to condone violence against gay people. They were also 18% less likely to accept violence against children (for young women, this was 39% less likely). Depending on the country, young men and women were up to half as likely to condone gender-based violence.
  • Young people commit less violence. Both young men and young women were less likely to have committed physical violence recently. This was especially true for young men, who were between 25% and 50% less likely to have committed violence.
  • Young people experience less violence. This was especially true for young men, who were between 10 and 75% less likely to experience violence in a relationship. In Kosovo, 41% of young men experienced violence in their relationships at the beginning of the project, compared to only 14% at the end. Young women reported lower rates of violence in relationships at the beginning of the project, and saw less change over the life of the project.
  • Young men are helping more with chores. The gaps between how many chores young women did and young men did shrank—sometimes by as much as half. There was much more progress on cooking and caring for relatives. Young men were much less likely to start cleaning or doing laundry.

It’s important to note that across the four countries, there were significant variations in results. Youth in some places saw much more progress on particular indicators than others. And for many indicators, there is still room for progress.

How did we get there?

  • Support kids in school. The project ran in-school sessions and clubs like the “Be a Man” club that works with young men and women in school to learn life skills and support each other.
  • Let others lead. Local partner organizations support schools to take the lead in planning and implementing activities. These local partners are gaining national recognition for their skills and contributions to reducing youth extremism and supporting gender equality.
  • Get creative about campaign messages. The project used all kinds of platforms—from social media to celebrations for international days like the 16 Days to End Gender Based Violence to flash mobs in schools—to raise awareness and draw young people into the conversation.
  • Adapt when you need to. When COVID-19 started, the project changed the way it was working, since young people were no longer in schools. CARE is supporting partners to organize online and social media campaigns to raise awareness on COVID-19 among youth. The project also provides online education, online recreational activities psycho-social support and peer-to-peer counselling. They also adapted their research activities so they could still get a final evaluation—even in the middle of a pandemic.

Want to learn more?

Check out the evaluation.