Balkan female soldiers take greater role in peacekeeping missions

19/05/2014

Women also obtain greater responsibilities in missions abroad.

By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 19/05/14

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Macedonian soldiers participate in a training exercise for a peacekeeping mission abroad. [Army of the Republic of Macedonia]

With increasing frequency, Balkan militaries are assigning female soldiers and support personnel to peacekeeping missions where they greatly contribute to the missions' success, officials said.

The Macedonian military announced a woman will lead its peacekeeping contingent in the ALTEA mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).

Officials said the military is placing great emphasis on gender equality, and is now providing greater opportunities for women to be deployed in peacekeeping missions.

The military is fully applying NATO standards for women in peacekeeping missions, said Macedonia military spokesperson Mirce Gjorgjoski.

"The complete command responsibility is given to a female major in ALTEA, and our medical team there is responsible for full medical support of the soldiers at Camp Butmir in Sarajevo where the EUFOR forces are stationed," Gjorgjoski told SETimes.

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Serbian soldiers train at the Sombor barracks. [AFP]

Gjorgoski said 141 out of more than the 3,200 Macedonian soldiers that have served in peacekeeping missions since 2002 are women, and that number is expected to increase as they assume greater responsibilities serving abroad.

"In Afghanistan, women perform high-risk tasks as well as men. They continually receive high marks and commendations," Gjorgoski said.

Including more women in peacekeeping missions has become a trend in the Balkans, said Metodi Hadzi Janev, a professor at the Military Academy in Skopje.

"Operational commanders increasingly connect effectiveness to the number of women in the peace missions and the roles they play there. Given the traditional views about women in the Balkans, I would say this is serious progress," Janev told SETimes.

Janev said women are now an integral part of combat teams and commanding groups, but most are in the logistics teams or are part of the fighting service support.

Janev also said nearly half of the locally hired civilian personnel by EUFOR are women.

The hiring practice has inspired young women in BiH to pursue careers in the security sector.

"More attention is paid to successfully attracting females to fields that were considered to be male dominated in the past," Alexander Pehr, head of the EUFOR public affairs office in BiH, told SETimes.

Pehr said EUFOR has noted the states that are emphasising the increased need for female military personnel to be deployed in the liaison and observation teams.

This year, Serbia deployed more than 200 peacekeepers in six UN missions, mostly in Lebanon and Cyprus.

Serbia deployed its first female officer to a peacekeeping operation in the Congo last year.

Women comprise 7 percent of Serbia's peacekeeping operations support personnel.

Female participation is crucial for the peacekeeping operations' success, said Maja Bjelos, a researcher at the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy.

"Females can play a key role in ensuring better communication with local citizens, especially with females and their associations," Bjelos told SETimes.

Bjelos said that by engaging in direct contacts, particularly in societies where male-female contact is forbidden or restricted, female soldiers can collect information to identify areas of tension and areas where there are chances for conflict.

"That capability is of crucial importance for the success of the mission, but also for the security of [all] peacekeeping mission members." Bjelos told SETimes.

Bjelos also said female peacekeeping participation is important to account for cultural differences during investigation operations in the field -- particularly of women or facilities where women reside -- and in providing medical assistance.

"With their help, local women can more easily decide to report cases of sexual and other violence," she said

Moreover, female peacekeepers serve as role models for local women, showing that they can perform what were traditionally considered men's jobs, and motivate them to strive to become decision makers.

Females participating in peacekeeping missions should be seen in the wider context of balancing gender roles in the governing of the security sector, said Enri Hide, a professor at the European University of Tirana. "This is an effort that has been on-going for years, before NATO accession, but especially after accession, when Euro-Atlantic partners asked for a higher gender balance," Hide told SETimes.

Women from Albania started to participate in military missions abroad for the first time in 2006 in the ISAF mission in Afghanistan.

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Hide said female participation shows a high-level of preparation and readiness in addition to a higher degree of social emancipation.

"This leads to a greater prestige within the Euro-Atlantic alliance," he said.

Correspondents Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade and Linda Karadaku in Pristina contributed to this report.

What can the Balkan countries do to increase the number and responsibilities of females in peacekeeping missions? Share your opinion in the comments section.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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