Challenging male attitudes: Laura Bates’ diary from Kosovo

By: 
Laura Bates
Korab Jaha (age 17) and Laura Bates

Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, went to Kosovo to see for herself how teaching young men about gender equality really does challenge and change the attitudes that lead to violence against women. Here's Laura's diary from Kosovo...

We've just arrived here in Kosovo and we've been hearing about the work of the Young Men Initiative, the Be A Man project and a local organisation called Pen. Now we’re here in a school in Pristina where we’re about to see some of this work in action...

Laura Bates with participants in the Be A Man session © CARE / Armend Nimani

Laura Bates with participants in the Be A Man session

It’s very much about engaging young men in the fight against gender inequality – which is very exciting for me because in the UK, one of the things we see again and again is that people want to talk about girls – teach girls not to wear short skirts, teach girls not to go out on their own at night...

But in reality so much of what we need to do is teach boys and involve boys in this struggle and in learning about the kind of change in attitudes and norms and social ideas that are needed to bring about real gender equality.

Youths in the Be A Man session signing a declaration 'to always take a stand against violence and harassment' © CARE

Youths in the Be A Man session signing a declaration 'to always take a stand against violence and harassment'

It really was something quite incredible – and incredibly inspiring – to see these guys talking in really intelligent, complex, detailed ways about the difference between sex and gender; about the constructs of masculinity that society forces on them; about preconceptions towards women and ideas about relationships with women that society might push on them, but that might not actually be the most healthy way to interact.

Having worked with a lot of young people of a similar age in the UK on these issues, there is something incredibly special about seeing the mature way in which they were able to discuss these things.

You know, there wasn’t any kind of embarrassment, there wasn’t any nudging and giggling. There was an incredible sense of rapport and respect in the room which I think just goes to show how much of an impact the sessions have had on them – and what incredible results they can achieve, and could go on to achieve further afield, if this kind of programme were to be rolled out internationally.

Youths taking part in the Be A Man session in Pristina © CARE / Armend Nimani

Youths taking part in the Be A Man session in Pristina

We know that young people around the world are struggling with an absolute bombardment of images and videos ... There are so many influences telling them what it means to be a man, what it means to have sex, what it means to treat a woman in a particular way.

And what we've seen tonight is just such an incredibly positive, inspiring and affirming example of what education can do to really tackle the kind of attitudes and ideas about women that can become engrained from such an early age.

Boys in Pristina Kosovo: proud to #challengeattitudes and help end sexual violence © CARE

Boys in Pristina Kosovo: proud to #challengeattitudes and help end sexual violence

One of the boys said something that really stuck in my mind. He said: ‘You know, the thing is, this really needs to be taught from kindergarten. At this stage we've already gone through puberty, a lot of boys of our age think they already know everything and that they don’t need to learn anything new.’ He said: ‘I just wish that boys all over the world could learn about these things from kindergarten.’

And after what I've seen tonight, I think that the potential that could have, for a knock-on impact on the ideas and attitudes towards women that underlie some of the more serious abuses further down the line, could be absolutely enormous.

Laura Bates's picture

Laura Bates is the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project