An On-line Gender Awareness Course in the Security Sector Presented at the 16th Regional Meeting of Ministries of Defence in the Western Balkans

A total of 25 representatives of the Ministries of Defence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, the Republic of North Macedonia, and the Republic of Serbia participated in the 16th Regional Meeting of the Gender Equality Mechanisms in the Ministries of Defence and the Armed Forces in the Western Balkans (RGEM) on 18 and 19 October 2023, in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The 16th regional meeting enabled a platform for MoDs and AFs to present their activities and plans related to gender equality integration in their defence systems, with a particular emphasis on standardization of gender training through launching the online basic gender awareness course. Development of such knowledge tool was aimed at reaching a broader pool of MoDs and AFs employees, thus equipping Gender Military Trainers with modern and up-to-date training materials.

The objective of the course is to standardize gender training, facilitate easier access to training programs for various target groups within the MoDs and AFs, and give Gender Military Trainers additional contemporary and up-to-date training material and methods. The course is structured in three modules: I) Introduction to fundamental terms and concepts; II) Raising awareness of gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment, and abuse; and III) Normative legal framework for gender equality within the defence system. Each module is designed to provide in an interactive way applied knowledge based on the lessons learned with practical examples from the Armed Forces in the Western Balkans.

The course content has been compiled using the Ministries of Defence resources and regional knowledge tools that have been developed and approved by the Ministries, such as the Second Regional Study on the Position of Women in the Armed Forcesthe Regional Handbook for Combating Gender-Based Discrimination, Sexual Harassment, and Abuse; and the Baseline Study on Integrating Gender Perspective in Military Education.

The course was initiated and developed by the members of the Regional Network of Gender Military Trainers from the MoDs and AFs in the WBs with the support of UNDP SEESAC.

The 16th regional meeting was opened by Mr. Aleksandar Goganović, Deputy Minister of Defence for Resource Management of BiH, H.E. Mr. Olav Reinertsen, Ambassador of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Sarajevo, Ms. Lucia Balážová, the third Secretary of the Embassy of the Slovak Republic in Sarajevo, Mr. Amer Kapetanović, Head of the Political Department in Regional Cooperation Council and Mr Sylvain Merlen, Resident Representative ad interim, UNDP BiH.

Mr. Goganović, Deputy Minister of Defence of BiH, highlighted the value of regional cooperation on gender equality through exchanging experiences and good practices. He commended the Ministries of Defence for developing the online basic gender awareness course, several crucial regional knowledge tools such as the Baseline Study on Integration of a Gender Perspective in Military Education and Training and the Regional Handbook on gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment and abuse. He also added that events like the regional meeting are evidence of the commitment of the Ministries of Defence to this topic and that the Ministry of Defence of BiH pays special attention to the participation of women, as it is a matter of human rights, non-discrimination and equal opportunities for men and women in the defence sector.

H.E. Mr. Reinertsen, the Ambassador of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Sarajevo, expressed strong support for this important initiative for regional cooperation on gender equality in Security Sector Reform as an important means to make the Security Sector more effective, competent and relevant. Mr. Reinertsen shared an example from the Norwegian Armed Forces on the multiple effects of raising awareness of gender equality among all employees. He concluded that the Ministries of Defence and Armed Forces in the Western Balkans have shown commitment and made significant progress on gender mainstreaming in the military since the project's initiation.

The third Secretary of the Slovak Embassy, Ms. Balážová, underlined that the role of women in the armed forces is associated with various challenges, such as stereotyping, discrimination or harassment, balancing family responsibilities or limited opportunities for career advancement.  On the other hand, women have a very important role in the military, which is particularly seen in peacekeeping missions. Ms. Balážová commended the Ministries of Defence in Western Balkans for the commitment and results as well as for the support of the key leaders in overcoming the challenges.

Mr. Kapetanović, the Head of the political department in RCC, stated that the regional project is a remarkable example of this region's strong spirit of cooperation, knowledge and information sharing. This was confirmed by the findings of the recently conducted Final Project Evaluation, which also showed that the ownership of the project and its results are assessed as very high, demonstrating strong MoDs’ commitment to tackling aspects of integrating gender perspective in the SSR. He reminded about the unanimous agreement among MODs to reinforce the commitments and to continue regional cooperation in the Ministerial Declaration signed in 2021 in Montenegro.

UNDP greatly appreciates the joint efforts of the four Ministries of Defence to the regional cooperation focused on strengthening gender equality in defence as an important element of human security, emphasized Mr. Merlen, Resident Representative ad interim, UNDP BiH. The defence system plays a pivotal role in ensuring human security and sustainable development, which is impossible without peace and security. The Resident Representative of UNDP BIH also underlined the high level of expertise in the Ministries of Defence on integrating a gender perspective in the security sector reform in the Western Balkans that can be shared outside of the region.

On the second day of the 16th Regional meeting, the MoDs were presented with the findings of the Final Evaluation, which was conducted in 2023 with the aim of providing an impartial review of the UNDP regional project in terms of its relevance, coherence, effectiveness, efficiency, impact, and sustainability. The project achieved its objective of strengthening regional cooperation on gender mainstreaming in security sector reform in the Western Balkans. It stands out in terms of its approaches and its impact, which is evidenced by its results. The project created a strong evidence base for decision-making as well as both momentum and knowledge on gender equality in the military. 

The Regional Meetings of Gender Equality Mechanisms in the Ministries of Defence and the Armed Forces in the Western Balkans are organized through the “Strengthening of Regional Cooperation on Gender Mainstreaming in Security Sector Reform in the Western Balkans” project financed by the governments of Norway and the Slovak Republic. With the support of SEESAC, the project provides the MoDs and AFs in the Western Balkans with a platform to share knowledge and develop policies to ensure long-term and sustainable inclusion of the gender perspective.