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About an year ago a consortium of 10 Bulgarian NGOs launched a MenCare campaign in support of active male engagement in child care. For the very first time a national fatherhood campaign is organized in Bulgaria. After a year of intensive work and discovering the uncovered path, the project team was pleasantly surprised by the first positive results. „To be a Dad“ has developed into one of the strongest viral campaign (without any budget for advertising) for the last 10 years in Bulgaria. The work team was awarded with the prestigious award for the Bulgarian non-governmental sector „Project of the Year – 2014″, followed with the special prize „Father of the Year Award – 2015″. For a period of year and a half more than 100 organizations are involved as supporters of the campaign. What are the reasons for this success? How the campaign was able to reach so many families and touch emotionally Bulgarian men? What is the secret?

At the beginning of the project, our team noticed that when it comes to children’s issues the figure of the „father“ is absent from both the media and the research area. That’s why the first step that our team undertook was to hold a first for Bulgaria representative survey of male and female roles in child care named -„Аttitudes, practices and barriers to active men’s engagement in child care – 2014″. The survey was conducted by Market Links Sociological Agency and research team of the representatives of the To be a Dad coalition. The results clearly showed that there is already a shift towards more visible role of the father in the family – the image of engaged father who participates in the daily child care and home activities, who express his emotions, even to the other people (outside the family), already finds wider public support and needs to be encouraged. Despite these positive public perceptions, the mothers continue to participate disproportionally more often than fathers in all types of activities related to daily care of the children (feeding, hygiene etc.), education, health and home activities regarding to children. Men participate mainly in activities such as games and sports with the kids. When men participate in other types of activities it is usually in the presence of the mothers. The main barriers to the active involvement of men in childcare and home activities are: “believes that men’s role is to ensure the financial well-being of the family”, “stereotypes according to which the daily care of the child is not a man’s job”, “insufficient public awareness of the importance and support of paternal role in child care”.

The results showed that in Bulgaria the majority of the children are grown mainly with the example of female model in the absence of actively participating and caring male model. Outside the family environment, situation is similar since the educational, social and health systems in Bulgaria are highly feminized (example – only 10% of Bulgarian teachers are males, mostly sports teachers). It is known that the active engagement of the father has a significant positive impact on each one aspect of child development: physical, social, emotional and intellectual. It turns out that children with active and involved fathers are better protected from any kind of abuse (physical, emotional, sexual) and can develop healthy attitudes towards sex, sexuality and social interactions.

Our team used the results of the research to set up specific goals and directions of first Bulgarian MenCare project. The consortium realized that national campaign aiming to prevent violence against children through active involvement of men is timely and important for the Bulgarian society. Social change, that the campaign aims, could be achieved through a systematic approach encompassing different social environments, policies and resources, consistent with the needs and cultural features of the Bulgarian social reality. That’s why on one hand we work on national level through nationwide information and media campaign (media coverage and public events) and developing partner’s network. On the other hand, we work directly with educators (kindergardens and primary schools) and social workers to establish and approbate applicable models and methods for greater engagement of men in childcare and education of their children (the spheres that men are less engage).

The results of the survey and the focused groups with fathers and mothers confirmed that the campaign should be based on positive messages. The campaign tone must be unloaded, cheerful, with a sense of humor, because Bulgarian parents feel highly stressed by everyday problems. They have a great need for joy and a look of „bright side“ of life. Campaign, which further dramatizes, teaches or loaded with heavy messages, would not be perceived positively. Children are considered as a “bright spot” in the lives of parents, (for some of them are the only one) and everything related to them, regardless of the difficulties in rising, have to bring joy and hope.

On the other hand, the image of the father should not be idealized as a super hero, but presented as ordinary men, familiar with everyday normal human flaws and needs. For that reason Bulgarian parents will not tolerate edifying style and do not trust the „celebrities“ in terms of fatherhood. Although it can find faces of famous men-fathers to be persons of the campaign, it is advisable campaign to show the father as „one of us“, not the famous actor hired to play a role. They would like to look at the campaign and see themselves as multifaceted, versatile, dynamic, cooperative and emotional, as protectors of basic family values – such as life causes them to be. Therefore, the campaign shows the father as in a variety of roles between seriousness and childish game. We were privileged to work with Reforma Agency who took these suggestions and turned them into campaign messages.

Enjoy the official video clip of To be a Dad campaign and the great posters that put a smile on the face of so many people in Bulgaria. Support our efforts by sharing the video and the posters on your information and media channels. Send us your feedback – what is your opinion about the campaign? Is it applicable in the context you live in?

Partners initiators of the campaign: “Animus Association”, “Association Roditeli”, “ARC Foundation”, “Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation”, “Center of Women’s Studies and Policies”, “For Our Children Foundation”, “Gender Education, Research and Technologies Foundation”, “National Network for Children”, “Social Activities and Practice Institute“, “Tulip Foundation”. The MenCare campaign in Bulgaria is supported by Oak Foundation.