On 17th of October, Belgrade Security Forum arranged a panel about women in security reform, which promoted inclusion of women in crisis management missions. Our embassy’s Defence Attaché, Lt Col Egil Daltveit, sat in the panel together with SGM Marijana Simonovska Trajkoska from North Macedonian Armed Forces, Military Medical Center, Lt Col Marko Marjanović, Head of Planning, Coordinating and Tracking Cell in the SAF Peacekeeping Operations Center in Belgrade, and Denise Mazzolani, Deputy Head of the Strategic Police Matters Unit at OSCE Transnational Threats Department.
All panellists agreed that promoting inclusion of women in crisis management and military missions contributes to effectiveness, as well as increases the operational success of missions and operations.
Lt Col Egil Daltveit focused on the question why we need gender equality in the armed forces. He had two explanations. The first is values; people are created equal no matter race, gender, religion or sexuality. The second reason is that it is in the best interest of armed forces. Daltveit explained how in the armed forces you work as teams and how the best teams are the ones where people are different from each other. Bullying and sexual harassment in armed forces will most likely continue to happen because the military reflects the societies we live in. However, he emphasized that such behaviour should not be tolerated. Daltveit also talked about how in Norway the test requirements are absolute for some positions, but for most, requirements are adapted to age and gender.
SGM Marijana Simonovska Trajkoska informed how gender balance in teams both teaches skills and promotes patterns of behaviour. She explained that toxic masculinity behaviour is often the reason why some men are not able to accept the idea that women can do the same job as them. Trajkoska further talked about the importance of female role models in the military, and added that women leaders often contribute to safer environment for other women working in missions and operations.
Lt Col Marko Marjanović stated that gender equality contributes to more civility in the workplace. He augmented against the common belief that women are not capable of being soldiers because they are not as strong as men are, and highlighted that “not even all men can do what soldiers can”. Marjanović further talked about the importance of men advocating for women’s rights. In addition, he talked about how perspectives on gender equality in military often comes from the outside, but considered it would give better results if one brought someone from the inside of the military forces to speak about these issues.
Denise Mazzolani talked about how to get more women engaged. She mentioned, among other, that one should ensure bias-free culture and that participating states should give more support. Mazzolani also added that if one tolerates discriminating behaviour, one will not get any positive results. Accountability is therefore vital. She further presented a survey about challenges women face in the military. One of the problems is that women struggle with advancing in their career, as well as many women feel isolated which often leads to earlier resignation. Mazzolani concluded that the more fairness and accountability there is in the system, the more female participation there will be.
There seemed to be a mutual agreement between the panellists and the audience that we need to change the culture we live in to further promote gender equality. The question is: What needs to be done first to reach a culture where harassment is not ok? Lt Col Egil Daltveit answered that in Norwegian armed forces they work a lot with leadership. He explained that excessively strict leadership style is not always the best – one needs to listen to the whole team. Therefore, teamwork is essential together with zero tolerance against harassment. As a conclusion, Denise Mazzolani added that one should work with people’s mind-set, both with women and with men.