Gender-Responsive Leadership is Essential for Gender Equality in Security Institutions

SEESAC organised a key leaders' seminar, a half-day panel discussion on gender-responsive leadership, participated by Commanding Officers, in Belgrade, on 20 June 2023. The discussion enabled knowledge exchange and sharing of best practices from the Ministries of Defence and the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia.

The four high-level commanding officers and decision-makers, who completed SEESAC’s Gender Coach Programme during the last two years, discussed the role of gender-responsive leadership in achieving people-centred security and zero tolerance towards discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. The discussion also tackled integrating gender in military education as a prerequisite for creating and sustaining modern, accountable defence institutions.

Welcoming the participants to the first Regional Commanding Officers Panel Discussion on Gender Responsive Military Leadership, UNDP Resident Representative in the Republic of Serbia, Mr. Yakup Beris, congratulated the leaders for successfully completing the Gender Coaching Programme and underlined that UNDP is very proud to partner with the Ministries of Defence on improving the environment for women’s meaningful participation in the Armed Forces in line with the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda.

He added that, over the period of ten years during which UNDP partnered with the Ministries of Defence, an increase in the share of women among uniformed personnel in the ministries of defence and the armed forces has been observed in all four countries. Mr. Beris assured the participants that UNDP is ready to continue partnering with the Ministries of Defence and support their targets and priorities as well as their learning as deemed necessary needed.

Ms. Bojana Balon, Head of SEEASC, invited the participants to share their feedback and lessons learned which could be used for improving the programme. She also underlined that the leaders have an important role in introducing and promoting new policies and practices in their institutions.

The participants agreed that one of the barriers to active and meaningful participation of women in the armed forces is deeply embedded persistent gender stereotypes in the institutional culture. Decision-makers, key leaders in the Ministries of Defence and Armed Forces, and the military commanding officers have been recognised as crucial in changing the institutional set-up, enabling a discrimination-free work environment but also ensuring an institutional culture that values diversity and gender equality.

The role of senior leadership, their values, knowledge, use of language, and non-verbal behaviour are adopted by the unit commanders, officers, and soldiers, creating the institutional values and culture in the Armed Forces. The leaders indeed create institutional culture, the participants agreed.

Within this regional project, SEESAC worked with decision-makers and commanders to increase their gender awareness and capacities for gender-responsive policymaking and behaviour through capacity development activities, such as the Gender Coach Programme, as well as tailor-made seminars.

This activity is organised within the scope of the second phase of SEESAC’s project financed by the Governments of Norway and the Slovak Republic Strengthening of Regional Cooperation on Gender Mainstreaming in Security Sector Reform in the Western Balkans, which provides support for mainstreaming gender in the security sector reform, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security.