Establishing the Need for an Intervention with Young Men

With limited data available about the current experience of young men in the Balkans, much of foundation for the Young Men Initiative (YMI) was drawn from a Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) exercise conducted with young men in April 2007, as well as from the experience and insights of project team members in four Western Balkan countries. A few key PLA insights from young men in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia provide important background YMI’s interventions and evaluation:

  • Young men identified some of the characteristics of “ideal” men, including: physical strength, protection of honor, defending strong opinions, strong character, being successful in everything, participation in masculine activities (sports and drinking), sexual virility, lack of cowardice (i.e., not ‘acting like a woman’, in their words), being heterosexual.
  • Young men across the four countries identified home and school as the two strongest social spaces influencing masculinity.  Within these spaces, young men are strongly influenced by parents, siblings and peers groups.  Peers are particularly important in shaping a young man’s sense of the social “dos and don’ts” of being a man.
  • Young men listed and categorized types of violence into physical, psychological (emotional) and sexual violence. Violence among peers seemed to be the most pervasive, with most violence of this nature occurring at school, in the street, or in other public places. Many young men expect their peers to join in fights to maintain allegiance to the individual or group. Violence against sexual minorities, especially gay men, was widely mentioned with general feelings that the victims deserved the violence.
  • On the issue of power relations, most young men felt the need to retain authority over women, although some emphasized shared power.  Young men almost unanimously opposed the use of violence against women and said it was almost never justified because women are weaker.  At the same time, slapping, hitting or otherwise “disciplining” a woman was not always perceived as violence.  Such force is most often portrayed as a last resort when women have not responded to other efforts by men to exert control.
  • Regarding the key causes of violence, young men identified the following: exposure to family violence; exposure to media violence; individual feelings of inadequacy; stress related to economic security and jobs; alcohol and drugs as a catalyst; and expectations of masculinity.
  • When asked what some of the characteristics of men who do not use violence, young men indicated the following: gaining maturity and self-control, and recognition of consequences; seeing verbal responses and restraint as showing greater strength; and having boundaries to promote self-control. When asked about the consequences of not using violence, many young men said they would expect to experience more violence as a consequence, especially among peers.

In addition to its focus on violence, YMI aimed to improve sexual and reproductive health outcomes.  Key behaviors such as increased condom use and health seeking reflect entrenched attitudes and norms that govern relations between young men and women.  Recent research in four Western Balkan countries shows that, and while condom use at first sex is relatively high (73.7% for boys), consistent condom use is less common and access to other forms of contraception and SRH information is low.5

To further contribute to understanding the situation of gender, sexuality and violence in the region, CARE-NW Balkans also supported the Center for Education, Counseling and Research (CESI) to work with ICRW to implement the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) in Croatia. Using a household sample of 500 women and 1500 men ages 19-60, the survey provided further evidence and insights on support for inequitable gender norms.  Among other things, the research found that nearly 30% of men said they had ever used any form of physical violence against a female partner, 11 percent of men reported having had sex with a sex worker and 17% had been involved in a fight using a weapon or firearm.  As noted earlier, a majority of men reported having experiencing some kind of violence from peers, in the home or in their schools. This data, as well as the PLA findings, serve to highlight the context of violence and gender inequitable norms that are prevalent in the region.