Regional Cooperation as an Effective Tool in Advancing Gender Equality

By March 17, 2019 November 12th, 2019 Highlighted, Solution


In order for both women’s and men’s needs and priorities to be addressed adequately in a society, both genders need to be involved and represented in decision-making processes, policy creation and implementation. This holds true in the security sector as well. Security Sector Reform (SSR) in the Western Balkans (WB) has only marginally tackled the issue of gender in security and, in particular, equal access and career opportunities for women in the military. Although military careers are open to women, a more systematic approach is needed to attract and retain them in the defence and armed forces, particularly in management and command positions. To ensure such a goal, ministries of defence in the WB must integrate gender perspectives into human resource policies and practices, institutionalize and train gender focal points, and create awareness of gender equality issues among staff.

Towards a Solution

To address this issue, the South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SEESAC) and UNDP launched a regional initiative, Support for Gender Mainstreaming in the Security Sector Reform in the Western Balkans, with support from the Ministries of Defence of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Montenegro, and Serbia to integrate gender equality into the security sector reform through regional cooperation. The aim of the project is to improve the integration, retention and professional development of women in the armed forces, increase their participation in decision-making and strengthen gender-sensitive change in the organizational culture of the Ministries of Defence.

In line with one of the main goals of this project, gender awareness increased within the armed forces staff. The four Ministries of Defence from the participating countries created a regional network of trainers, which included 33 regional gender trainers. To date, they have delivered trainings to more than 2,000 personnel.

The members of this regional network have served often as resource personnel on gender trainings. For example, the Montenegrin gender trainers participated in workshops in Georgia, Great Britain, Moldova, Serbia, and Ukraine.

Training was also provided for 15 personnel from the armed forces of Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda, during which they completed the Gender Training of Trainers course (GToT). The GToT was organized by UNDP/SEESAC in partnership with the Nordic Centre for Gender in Military Operations (NCGM) and the Peacekeeping Operations Centre of the Serbian Armed Forces. The course was delivered by gender trainers from the UNDP-supported Regional Network of Gender Trainers in the Western Balkans, with seven instructors from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, and the FRYOM. The course was a great example of international cooperation with the same goals achieved and strong friendships established.

The project participants from the countries mentioned above created an online platform for the regional network of gender trainers of all four countries, under the auspices of UNDP/SEESAC, and used it for the knowledge exchange and sharing.

Thanks to its activities, implemented by the Ministries of Defence of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, and the FRYOM, and under the auspices of UNDP/SEESAC, the regional project achieved the following results:

  • Established gender-responsive human resources policies and practices that ensure recruitment and retention of women;
  • Established strong and effective gender mechanisms; and
  • Increased gender awareness among the armed forces staff.

The project helped raise awareness about the gender perspective at all levels. In Montenegro, for example, the Ministry of Defence included gender policies in all important strategic documents (Strategic Defence Review, Long-Term Development Plan and Human Recourses Management Strategy), established strong institutional mechanisms within the system, set standards in education and training for the military in this area, and continued participating in the regional network of trainers and subject matter experts for other countries. It also led to the adoption of a National Action Plan (UNSCR 1325) that aims to increase women’s representation in the security sector. This contributed to an increase in the number of female officers, which currently stands at 9.75 per cent.

Throughout its implementation, the project supported the participating ministries of defence in building the capacities of gender equality mechanisms, improving conditions for effective recruitment and retention of women, including sensitizing the members of the armed forces on gender equality issues, reviewing human resources policies and procedures, and supporting the advancement of women in the armed forces. The project’s regional approach fostered the exchange of knowledge and information and contributed to building confidence and greater security in the Western Balkans. 

Sustainable Development Goal target(s): 5.1, 5.2, 5.5, 5.c

Countries/ territories involved: Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia

Supported by: UNDP/SEESAC

Implementing entities: Ministries of Defence of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia

Project status: Completed

Project period: 2012-2015

URL of the practice:


  • Ms. Zana Spadijer, Senior Advisor in International Cooperation Department, Defence Policy Directorate Ministry of Defence of Montenegro,
  • Major Sanja Pejovi, Senior Advisor in Directorate for Human Resources and Gender Advisor, Ministry of Defence of Montenegro