Bulgarian “To be a Dad” campaign is honored with “Project Of The Year – 2014” award

Guest post by Deyan Petrov, National Coordinator, MenCare in Bulgaria Campaign

About a year ago, a consortium of 10 Bulgarian NGOs launched a MenCare campaign in support of active male engagement in childcare. For the very first time, a national fatherhood campaign was 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 campaigns (without any budget for advertising) in the last 10 years in Bulgaria. The work team was granted a prestigious award for the Bulgarian non-governmental sector, “Project of the Year – 2014,” followed by the special prize “Father of the Year Award – 2015.” For a period of year and a half, more than 100 organizations have been involved as supporters of the campaign. What are the reasons for this success? How was the campaign able to reach so many families and emotionally touch 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 Bulgaria representative survey of male and female roles in childcare named “Аttitudes, practices, and barriers to active men’s engagement in child care – 2014.” The survey was conducted by Market Links Sociological Agency and a research team of representatives of the “To be a Dad” coalition. The results clearly showed that there is already a shift toward a more visible role of the father in the family: the image of the engaged father who participates in the daily childcare and home activities, who express his emotions, even to other people (outside the family), already finds wider public support and needs to be encouraged. Despite these positive public perceptions, mothers continue to participate disproportionally more often than fathers in all types of activities related to daily care of children (feeding, hygiene, etc.), education, health, and other home activities related 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: “[the belief] that men’s role is to ensure the financial wellbeing of the family,” “stereotypes according to which the daily care of the child is not a man’s job,” and “insufficient public awareness of the importance and support of paternal role in child care.”

The results showed that in Bulgaria, the majority of children are raised mainly with the example of a female role model, in the absence of an actively participating and caring male role model. Outside the family environment, the situation is similar, since the educational, social, and health systems in Bulgaria are highly feminized. (For example, only 10% of Bulgarian teachers are men, and these are mostly sports teachers.) It is known that the active engagement of the father has a significant, positive impact on each of the following aspects 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 for the first Bulgarian MenCare project. The consortium realized that the national campaign aiming to prevent violence against children through active involvement of men is timely and important for Bulgarian society. Social change, which is the campaign’s aim, 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 at the national level through nationwide information and media campaigns (media coverage and public events) and developing partners’ networks. On the other hand, we work directly with educators (kindergardens and primary schools) and social workers to establish and endorse applicable models and methods for greater engagement of men in childcare and education of their children (the spheres in which men are less engaged).

The results of the survey and the focus groups with fathers and mothers confirmed that the campaign should be based on positive messages. The campaign tone had to be light and cheerful, with a sense of humor, because Bulgarian parents feel highly stressed by everyday problems. They have a great need for joy and a focus on the “bright side” of life. Campaigns that further dramatize and teach, loaded with heavy messages, would not be perceived positively. Children are considered to be a “bright spot” in the lives of parents (for some, they are the only one), and everything related to children – regardless of the difficulties in raising them – should bring joy and hope.

On the other hand, the image of the father should not be idealized as a superhero, but rather presented as an ordinary man, familiar with everyday normal human flaws and needs. For that reason, Bulgarian parents will not tolerate edifying style and do not trust “celebrities” in terms of fatherhood. Although it is possible for famous men and fathers to be spokespersons of the campaign, it is advisable that a campaign show the father as “one of us,” rather than a famous actor hired to play a role. Bulgarian parents would like to look at the campaign and see themselves as multifaceted, versatile, dynamic, cooperative, and emotional, as protectors of basic family values. Therefore, the MenCare campaign in Bulgaria shows the father 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 to the context you live in?

Learn more about the MenCare Campaign in Bulgaria at www.mencare.bg

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.