In order to mark the International Day of Families, the “Super Dad Promoting Gender Equality and Positive Fatherhood” Conference was held in Pristina 16th of May 2016 in American School of Kosovo.
Through ought this conference, participants had the chance to listen speeches and messages from Christian Goesits – Austrian Development Cooperation, Bujar Fejzullahu- Executive Director at PEN, Kadri Gashi – Project Coordinator of “Young Men Initiative” project at PEN, Besnik Leka- Program Coordinator for Albania and Kosovo at Care International and Nikki van der Gaag – independent consultant at MenCare & Promundo. All these speeches were later followed by questions, recommendation and compliments from the participants about the work the team has done so far. Moreover, in this conference a role-play prepared specially for this Conference was played by the acting group of “Be a Man” Club. In the end a song inviting everyone for peace and a non-violent society was performed by the group of musicians from the Club.
The “Super Dad” campaign tries to change the perceptions of fatherhood among Kosovar families. As implied with the project’s main messages, YMI activists emphasize that fathers must proudly participate in childcare and bravely show their affection, while balancing domestic responsibilities with mothers; the campaign challenges the traditional societal role of men as the head of the family and the links between courage and physical force.
Panellist Besnik Leka, program coordinator for CARE International Balkans, pointed out the importance of including fathers and young men in projects about women’s empowerment and gender equality. “We tried to close this gap that has existed for some time… women and girls were involved every time when topics about gender equality were discussed, meanwhile men and boys were left aside,” said Leka. “Men and boys in most of the cases are the ones who cause the violence and that’s why we decided to include them.”
As statistics show that four in five men will become a father during the lifetime, CARE, together with local partners in Kosovo, have chosen to particularly target young fathers in their educational programs, due to the patriarchal attitudes that are deeply rooted in society.
“Earlier, we would see our fathers always as patriarchs, who earn the family money… but we try to change it, because fathers are very necessary within the family, to spend more time with their children,” said Leka. “At the same time mothers don’t need to have the role of just doing the housework or taking care of the family, but to also have a balance with their career, while the father must also focus on the housework.”
Promotion of fathers in the media, advocacy programs and workshops with fathers will take place during the “Super Dad” campaign, which is not only aimed at biological fathers, but also at other male relatives involved in childcare.
The campaign comes following YMI’s work with young men at technical high schools in Prishtina, which are predominantly attended by males; it was pointed out during the discussion that rates of violence within these schools are higher than in other types of schools. The two-year intensive program, which is accredited by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, focuses on discussing issues related to gender equality, violence prevention and promotion of a more positive masculinity.
YMI’s coordinator, Kadri Gashi from PEN, said that as a result of the initiative, the number of program participants who think that physical strength is the most important quality for men has dropped from 69 to 42 percent. The number of them who say they wouldn’t join a fight increased from 38 to 57 percent, while the number who think that a man could be justified in beating a woman has dropped from 52 to 27 percent.
Gashi said that it is very important to work with young men and boys during their teenage years since all of the research highlights that during this period of their lives, men are most vulnerable to negative influences, and many show affinity towards different forms of violence.
A large part of the discussions with the young people focuses on the negative outcomes of sexual harassment, which remains a highly concerning issue, particularly for Kosovar women. According to the latest REPORT by Kosova Women’s Network, women are significantly more likely to have experienced sexual harassment than men, with 64 percent of women surveyed reporting that they had suffered sexual harassment, compared to 33 percent of men.
YMI in Kosovo also runs the Be a Man club that carries out different public campaigns in the country with the aim of promoting different views on manhood and masculinity. The program also includes working with journalists to increase their reporting skills when it comes to covering gender-related issues.
In addition of the discussion, Monday’s event premiered a campaign-video on fatherhood and care-giving, an exhibition with photographs of engaged and active fathers in Kosovo and materials from the “Super Dad” MenCare campaign were shared, including campaign posters of fathers from Kosovo with their children. Young activists from the “Be a Man” club also performed a theater play, songs and presented a number of videos dedicated to the campaign about positive fatherhood and fathers as carers.
The other speakers that took part in the panel discussion were Christian Geosits, head of the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) office in Kosovo, which supported the project, Bujar Fejzullahu, PEN’s executive director, and Nikki Van der Gaag, author of the book “Feminism and Men.” Representatives from the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare and the Ministry of Health were invited to give their perspectives during the conference, but they did not attend.
This Conference was organized within “Young Men Initiative” project, led by PEN and Care International Balkans, supported by Austrian Development Cooperation, Embassy of Sweden, UNFPA and American School in Kosovo.