“How I would f*** that c***,” said one middle-aged man to his friend very loudly, pointing to a young brunette passing them on an autumn evening in 2014 in Prishtina, Kosovo’s capital. With a hidden camera, she documented herself being exposed within 8 hours to about 50 harassing comments by men, while she walked alone on the streets. Eighteen-year-old Korab Jaha, who grew up in Kosovo and currently lives in Prishtina, knows that scenes like that happen every day and night in the cities of his country.
Today, Korab is the assistant manager of the Be a Man project (Klubi Bonu Burrë) by the Kosovar NGO Peer Educators Network (PEN). Founded in 2011, Be a Man works mostly with vocational schools, which normally have a high percentage of male pupils. The programme lasts eight months and consists of 24 workshops ranging from issues like drug use to sex, or equality between men and women. By today, approximately 2000 young Kosovan men have participated in the Be a Man project. Their Facebook page has nearly 20,000 fans. The Be a Man project also exists in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Albania, Montenegro, and Serbia.
“We try to provide an understanding of masculinity to young Kosovans, which differs from the rigid mainstream society’s perception of what a man should be like,” the director of PEN Bujar Fejzullahu explained. “A man does, for example, not betray his manhood if he helps his mother doing the dishes,” he added, before he gave me a sticker with one of their main slogans written on it: “be a man, without violence.”
“Be a man, without violence"
Korab owes his first genuine feminist awakening to the Be a Man workshop he attended as a fifteen year old. Before that participation, he did not question society’s values regarding gender roles, which were implicitly transmitted to him during his childhood. “I thought that a boy has to completely control his girlfriend. She needs his permission, for nearly everything – if she wants to go out partying, for example,” Korab recalled his way of thinking regarding gender roles in his early teenage years. His thinking has since changed. “My girlfriend will enjoy the same rights as me,” he concluded smilingly.
'Be a Man' logo, Kosovo.Klubi Bonu Burrë also spreads their message through art. In June 2012 for example, the well-known Kosovan rapper Lyrical Son together with some of the participants of that year’s workshop produced the song Qellimi (the Objective). In a self-aware manner, the rapper and his young assistants addressed the life of a teenage ‘bad boy’ – only bringing trouble to his parents and regularly cutting school. One of the boys of the workshop prevents his father from slapping his mother in the video clip of this song. “You are a man, if you take care of somebody who is in need of you,” is the ending verse of Qellimi. Today, the clip has nearly 1,9 million views, more than the population of Kosovo.
“What did you make of our son?”
Klubi Bonu Burrë also regularly uploads creative videos dealing with masculinity in Kosovo on their Youtube channel.
Not all of the participants immediately assimilated the messages spread in the workshops. “This year, we had a boy who misbehaved during the workshops,” Mr Fejzullahu recalled. He invited that boy to his office and told him that he has to leave Klubi Bonu Burrë if he does not improve his behaviour. His parents were also contacted, and today the boy still participates in Be a Man activities. “It is important to cooperate with the parents in these cases,” Ajete Kërqeli PEN’s project manager highlighted.
'Be a Man' workshop, Kosovo.When asked about the best experience of the Be a Man workshops, Bujar Fejzullahu grinned before answering. He once received a phone call of a euphoric mother of the participants, and was overwhelmed: “What did you make of our son? He started to help me in domestic work. This is how I always wanted my son to be: thank you very much.”
The difficulties of fighting a deeply-rooted mentality
The feminist work of Ajete Kërqeli, Korab Jaha and Bujar Fejzullahu is cumbersome. What they try to fight is a very deeply rooted men-centred mentality. According to Korab, the origins of misogyny in Kosovo are to be found in religion and the Kanun, a set of Albanian traditional laws and a fundamental text of women’s oppression in Kosovo, which has been codified for the first time in the 15th century. “Education of men and women regarding gender issues would be the most important thing in order to fight patriarchy,” added Bujar.
Ajete pointed to the fact that Kosovo’s society is not monolithically misogynistic: “In educated families there is much more awareness to equality between men and women than in villages.” When she worked on gender issues in Dragash, a small town near Prizren, a woman told her “there is no gender-based violence in our city, because we educate our girls not to contradict men.” The economic empowerment of women is also vital regarding gender equality, she added.
Showing an alternative understanding of gender roles is often enough to reduce misogyny
PEN challenges rigid gender roles in Kosovo not only through the Be a Man initiative. Their project Peer Care engages in sexual education in the rural regions of their country – a task not sufficiently fulfilled by the schools, Kërqeli pointed out. This is something Klubi Bonu Burrë is also committed to: they created the website kujdessex.com (Attention! Sex), on which one can find information about sex in Albanian. Pro Wo+man is a project by PEN about women in the professional sphere and workplace issues. In the future, Kërqeli and Fejzullahu explained, they also want to reinforce their collaboration with journalists in order to sensitize them to the implicitly sexist uses of language.
'Be a Man', Kosovo.Korab came across Klubi Bonu Burrë by chance, and he is very happy about it. His personal development suggests that showing an alternative understanding of what it means to be a man and woman to the Albanian-socialised youth is often enough to reduce misogynistic attitudes. Burrërisht is an Albanian adverb, which is used in order to characterize a brave action. The difference between burrërisht and ‘brave’ is that the word man (burrë) is embedded in the Albanian word for brave. When I asked Korab, what that adjective means to him, he replied: “burrërisht means for me to take care for somebody and to help people.”