Gender equality in the military

Why is it important?

Globally, the road for women to thrive in the armed forces is still paved with gender stereotypes.  In the face of war and its aftermath, protecting all civilians, young and old, women and men and responding immediately and effectively to their different needs is not only a prerequisite for peace but it is also the key to long-lasting stability and development. In this setting, it is the armed forces that provide the necessary protection. For the military personnel to be able to fulfil this role, they need to mirror the societies they serve. Achieving gender equality in the military has been deemed a prerequisite for long-lasting peace by the global commitment to make the world a better place – Agenda 2030. Linking the Global Goal on gender equality to the Global Goal on achieving just and peaceful societies, Agenda 2030 fully acknowledges that no global peace can be achieved if half of the world population is left behind.

Ministries of Defence in the Western Balkans, supported by UNDP SEESAC, embarked on the long-term mission to make law enforcement institutions fit for gender equality.  Now, more personnel is aware of the importance of gender equality in the armed forces, there are strong mechanisms in place to ensure gender equality and human resources policies have been reformed to strengthen career prospects of women officers. Also, there is a Regional Network of Gender Military Trainers working with their colleagues to make gender the norm in their institutions.

Building upon the successful implementation of Phase I run from 2010 to 2012, UNDP SEESAC and the regional project partners began the implementation of Phase II of the Strengthening of Regional Cooperation on Gender Mainstreaming in Security Sector Reform in the Western Balkans project with the aim of consolidating and ensuring the sustainability of results achieved during Phase I. This project is funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs and runs from 2019 to 2021.  

Our current work on gender equality in the military

To build upon these results, UNDP SEESAC and its Ministries of Defence partnered in the region decided to continue working together for a gender-equal future of their societies. Our aim is that the armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have policies in place that are evidence-based and address the needs of both women and men and that the military becomes an environment where women and men are given the same opportunity to pursue the careers of their choice. These are some of the actions that the project envisages to take:

  • Place regional cooperation at the core of fostering gender equality in the military,
  • Develop regional platforms focusing on mainstreaming gender equality in the law enforcement institutions of the Western Balkans,
  • Strengthen the capacity of Gender Equality Mechanisms to achieve better results through information exchange and knowledge sharing across the region, technical advise and support for small projects,
  • Work with Human Resources Departments to collect and analyze sex and age disaggregated data and offer the expertise necessary for these departments to provide advisory services on gender equality to their staff,
  • Take all the necessary measures for the armed forces to prevent gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment including reviewing gaps in policies and procedures, development of guidelines, toolkits and training,
  • Make the Regional Network of Gender Trainers stronger by proving knowledge sharing opportunities with their fellows in the region,
  • Ensure the next generation of armed forces staff understands why gender equality is key to fulfilling their mission by developing gender-sensitive curricula,
  • Engage commanders and other decision-makers into a one-on-one programme on gender equality called the “Gender Coach Programme”.

Sharing expertise

Today, members of the Regional Network on Gender in the Military trainers are being invited around the world to share their expertise in making gender equality the norm in the institutions they serve. For example, Gender in the Military trained their peers from Ministries of Defence and the Armed Forces from Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda. This knowledge exchange on mainstreaming gender equality in law enforcement from the Western Balkans to the world is enabled by SEESAC’s Regional Security Sector Reform Platform. Find out more about this global expertise sharing mechanism here.

What have we achieved?

A network for change

Our gender equality in the military project enabled the creation of a network of gender in military trainers. 33 trainers delivered gender briefings and seminars for over 4,700 officers, non-commissioned officers, soldiers and civilians in the Ministries of Defence and the Armed Forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia. These learning initiatives advanced gender awareness as well as knowledge on how to integrate the gender perspective in defence policies across the region.

Essential information sharing

While putting in practice global normal lie the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 or generally mainstreaming gender equality in traditional institutions like the armed forces civilians and military officers alike face similar challenges. In this context, information sharing is essential especially in regions with similar histories and cultures like the Western Balkans. Through regular meetings, gender military trainers had the opportunity to find common solutions to their challenges.

Breakthrough initiative

Within the framework of this project, the Gender Coach Programme has been piloted for the first time.  The programme is based on a peer to peer approach, between relevant representatives of institutions, presidents of small arms and light weapons (SALW) commissions, and SEESAC’s gender and SALW experts. The programme has been already implemented in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro with visible results including the development of gender-sensitive policies based on sex and age disaggregated data.  

Infrastructure for gender equality

One of the reasons for the limited career progression of women in the military is their poor physical fitness due to women’s lack of access to physical fitness training. With the aim of enabling equal access of women to physical fitness training as a means of improving conditions for their professional development, the project supported the purchase of sports equipment for women in the Bosnia and Herzegovina armed forces. Between 400 and 500 women are now using this gym.

Enhanced professionalization

To enhance the professionalization of Ministries and Defence and the Armed Forces personnel in the Western Balkans, study visits to Sweden, the Netherlands, or Spain were organized. Also, 22 women officers from the Armed Forces in the Western Balkans to participate in a variety of short specialized defence and security courses thus strengthening their knowledge and skills and contributing to their professional development.