Women to assume greater role in Balkan militaries

28/02/2014

Military officials said they are working to attract, employ and retain women more effectively.

By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 28/02/14

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Serbian servicewomen assemble AK-47 assault rifles at the Sombor barracks. Serbia has instituted a 20 percent quota for women at its military academy in Belgrade. [AFP]

A new United Nations Development Project (UNDP) study urges the Balkan militaries to increase the number of servicewomen and provide them with positions and tasks of greater responsibility.

The study is part of UNDP's regional project supporting gender equality in the defence sector that is co-financed by the Swedish military and the Norwegian government.

Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Macedonia participate in the project.

"Despite the great progress in this area, the countries covered by the study still face real challenges such as insufficient representation of women in the armed forces, especially in commanding and managerial positions," the study said.

The activities and analysis following the study can change the stereotype that military service is a male profession, said Alessandro Fracassetti, who is a UNDP deputy resident representative in Macedonia.

"To ensure that the reforms in the defence sector are truly democratic, women must be equally represented in making decisions, creating policies and in other decision-making matters. Of course, women must have equal access to the armed forces. In 2012, women were very successful in [basic] training," Fracassetti said.

Officials said the study provides a basis to implement UN Resolution 1325 that stipulates women should have a greater role in the military.

"We are making a significant effort to strengthen the capacity for gender equality and improve the conditions to attract, employ and retain women more effectively," said Talat Xhaferi, defence minister of Macedonia.

The participating countries have passed legislation prohibiting gender discrimination, instituted mechanisms to report sexual harassment and appointed gender equality officers.

Women constitute 6.4 percent of the total members of the BiH military and three fourths of those are professional soldiers, said Uma Sinanovic, spokesperson for the BiH defence ministry.

"We plan to increase the number of women to 10 percent by the end of next year," Sinanovic told SETimes.

Sinanovic said the efforts are showing an upward trend in part because there is growing recognition that male and female soldiers are treated equally.

When BiH issued the first call for women to join the military in 2008, only 23 answered, while last year 595 women responded, she added.

Similarly, Serbia has recruited female soldiers since 2009 and instituted an annual quota of 20 percent at the military academy in Belgrade.

In response to the calls to further the role of women, officials said they plan to increase the quota to 30 percent.

One of the goals is to create equal conditions to overcome traditional gender stereotypes at all levels, said Frosina Remenski, a professor at the Security Faculty in Skopje.

"That means overcoming the traditional work assignments and including women at all levels. There is one female colonel in the Macedonian military -- one that completed the NATO officers' school," Remenski told SETimes.

Macedonia has trained women officers since 1997, but began recruiting female soldiers in 2011, and today they constitute 8.3 percent of the total number of soldiers. Officials said Macedonia has implemented an equal opportunity programme since 2009 and they count on the growing interest women have shown.

"The military academy in Skopje accepted 23 percent female candidates this year," the defence ministry of Macedonia told SETimes in a statement.

Analysts said the militaries will focus next on raising awareness of gender equality issues by organising training nationally and regionally.

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Properly integrated female soldiers can increase military readiness to respond effectively in a time of crisis, said Gostimir Popovic, an independent military analyst in Banja Luka.

"Any system that does not distinguish among genders functions better. Such an approach will make the system more efficient if women are dispersed in appropriate positions," Popovic told SETimes.

Correspondent Mladen Dragojevic in Sarajevo contributed to this report.

What can the Balkan countries do to enhance the role of women in the military? Share your opinion in the comments space.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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