Regional network of trainers brings gender equality to Western Balkan armed forces

SEESAC Gender Equality Training
Staff of the Armed Forces in the Western Balkans receive gender training.

Attracting and retaining women in the Armed Forces have traditionally been major challenges. The Western Balkans are no different. Women only make up between 5.5 and 9 percent of the armed forces and are rarely represented in top ranks, particularly in command and management positions.

"Gender Equality is only notionally accepted in Balkan societies, especially in professions such as the Armed Forces’’, Honour Guard Commander of the Montenegro Armed Forces and Regional Gender Trainer Capt. Predrag Lucic explained.

A new initiative in the Western Balkan Armed Forces is now making headway in changing the situation for the better.


  • As part of the project, a network of 16 trainers initially delivered gender sensitivity training to 350 soldiers and officers.
  • In 2015 the network expanded to 33 trainers through a Regional Gender Training of Trainers. These trainers are now initiating further gender awareness workshops for troops.
  • The project has organized 6 Regional Meetings of Gender Equality Mechanisms in Ministries of Defense and Armed Forces in the Western Balkans.
  • The project contributed to the institutionalization of gender equality mechanisms; the first 4 Gender Focal Points were appointed in the Armed Forces in Montenegro.
  • Gender awareness in the Military Academy of Republic of Serbia is increasing: 100 cadets and 17 members of the teaching staff participated in basic and advanced gender awareness courses.

As part of the shift, SEESAC supported the training and establishment of a regional network of gender trainers from the Armed Forces and Ministries of Defence of the Western Balkans. The trainers aim to mainstream gender equality throughout the Armed Forces by sensitizing the staff, which in turn would help to attract and keep female personnel.

So far, SEESAC, in partnership with the Nordic Centre for Gender in Military Operations (NCGM), delivered two regional courses for personnel of Armed Forces and the Ministries of Defence of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

The gender trainers are now holding workshops to raise gender awareness in their respective Armed Forces. First established in 2014, the Network now has 33 trainers, with 17 completing a second course this year.

In 2014, Gender Trainers from Montenegro organized seven basic gender awareness workshops for 315 soldiers, non-commissioned officers and officers. Their colleagues from Serbia initiated the development of a Gender Training Manual. In one of the military barracks where women were previously not appointed to guard duties, a trainer successfully advocated for equal participation of women.

Policy and Planning Officer at the MoD of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Gabrijela Gjorgjevikj explained that after the course she understands how men and women are affected by a conflict in a different way.  “I have learned that engaging with women leaders and activists in the areas of operations leads to greater awareness and to better dialogue and understanding between forces and the local community,” she reflected after a training.

Legal and institutional frameworks are essential for increasing the participation of women in security and defence policy making and implementation, SEESAC Coordinator Dr. Ivan Zverzhanovski explained. “But a parallel change in organizational culture also needs to take place if we want to ensure genuine and long term gender positive changes in the military.”

“We now see the gender perspective as an operational tool that will improve our operations”, the NCGM Commander Jan Dunmurray explained. “We should use the full potential of our own national capacities and choose the best suitable persons to be soldiers and officers. We should be recruiting from 100% of the population instead of only looking among the half, male, portion”, he added.

SEESAC will continue to support the Regional Network of Gender Trainers in carrying out awareness-raising activities in the Armed Forces and Ministries of Defense. SEESAC will also facilitate the organization of regional meetings to enable information and knowledge sharing among gender trainers in the region.

“I feel that many nations in this region are now moving forward at a reasonable speed. It will take some time, but every small step counts,” Commander Dunmurray concluded. 

UNDP Around the world