The Role of Armed Forces in Gender Sensitive Disaster Preparedness and Relief at the center of the 8th Regional Meeting of Gender Military Trainers in the Western Balkans

The Role of Armed Forces in Gender Sensitive Disaster Preparedness and Relief at the center of the 8th Regional Meeting of Gender Military Trainers in the Western Balkans

The 8th Regional Meeting of the Network of Gender Military Trainers in the Ministries of Defense and the Armed Forces in the Western Balkans gathered a total of 23 representatives from the Ministries of Defense of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, the Republic of North Macedonia, and the Republic of Serbia on 5 and 6 December in Budva, Montenegro.

The central topic of the 8th regional meeting was the role of the Armed Forces in Gender Sensitive Disaster Preparedness and Relief which has led to a fruitful discussion and exchange of ideas, moreover, proving the importance of the regional network of gender trainers as an interactive platform for generating new initiatives. The consequences of climate change result in human catastrophes unseen before, both across the world and also in the region, often involving the engagement of AFs in their various capacities. The consequences of such catastrophes are felt long-term, but they most often disproportionately affect women, especially in places with low records of gender equality in which women are found in a more vulnerable position.  

The timely inclusion of a gender perspective among the personnel in the disaster response in that regard is invaluable, especially taking into consideration the urgency at which the response is taken in such situations. The participants across all present four MoDs have jointly echoed not only the obligation of their forces to respond to human catastrophes and disasters but also the role and the importance that they play as gender trainers in contributing to the preparedness of Armed Forces to include a gender perspective in their operations. Citing different experiences, but also raising questions and challenges related to the inclusion of gender perception in the crisis response, the participants highlighted the importance of their shared network and its potential for further developing discussion and identifying the actions on this topic.  Large-scale disasters such as floods, pandemics and earthquakes do not stop at the national borders. Cooperation of the armed forces from the countries in the region is crucial for better preparedness and an efficient and timely response. It is important to underline that the regional meeting of gender military trainers in the Western Balkans coincided with the UN Climate Change Conference - COP 28 - the world’s only multilateral decision-making forum on climate change, which took place from 30 November to 12 December 2023.

As part of the regular knowledge sharing, the meeting also provided an opportunity for the participants to reflect on past activities and achievements, and update on the continuous efforts on gender mainstreaming in defence policy. The 8th regional meeting enabled participants to launch the online basic gender awareness course, a learning tool that has been developed in collaboration with the four Ministries of Defense with the support of UNDP SEESAC.

The members of the Regional Network of Gender Military Trainers have envisioned this course as a means to reach the greatest number of employees in their respective MoDs and AFs and as such, to foster continuous and standardized learning and raising of awareness on gender equality. The finalization of the online course is yet another step towards creating a mechanism that will allow for the sustainability of their work.

The regional network continues to provide a platform for the jointly recognized need by the MoDs to standardize training on gender equality, which is in line with the Baseline Study on Integrating Gender perspective in Military Education and Training. As such, the 8th regional meeting allowed the MoDs to reflect on the tools developed by gender trainers, many of which were enriched by the input and guidance that had been received during the previous meetings and exchange of information.

The publications of the individual MoDs contain the knowledge, experiences, and procedures of their MoDs and AFs, while the interactive sharing of publications between the MoDs has proven to be of immense value for the developing of future publications, but also for the enhancement of the capacities of the personnel involved.

The publication of the Handbook on the standardization of gender training in the Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces of Montenegro is the latest example underlining the value of the regional network which has allowed for the timely exchange of information and experiences. The gender military trainers in the MoD of Montenegro have drawn good examples and practices from similar manuals created by the MoDs in the Western Balkans, using the previous publications for reference and according to their identified needs.

Another testament to the success of the work accomplished by the network of gender military trainers was the Final Evaluation presented on the second day of the meeting which commended the project as being impactful beyond solely the results of its activities. The evaluation was conducted in 2023 to provide an impartial review of the UNDP regional project in terms of its relevance, coherence, effectiveness, efficiency, impact, and sustainability.

Colonel Velibor Bakrač, General Director of the Human Resources Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Montenegro, and Ekaterina Paniklova, UNDP CO Montenegro Resident Representative, opened the 8th regional meeting. Colonel Bakrač emphasized the importance of regional cooperation which serves as a great example of collaboration beyond just gender equality in the defense system. He outlined how the sharing of information and experiences will continue to foster diversity, inclusivity, and equal opportunities in the security sector.

Ms. Ekatarina Paniklova,  recognized the achievements of the network of gender military trainers, underlying the importance of this community of practice as a vehicle for regional cooperation, and institutional transformation. Since the meeting took part during the 16 Days of Activism against Violence against Women, Ms. Paniklova, particularly emphasized the role of gender trainers in raising gender awareness and strengthening internal complaint mechanisms in their respective institutions.

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.