The defense ministries of Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) are focusing on improving women's involvement in the military through a unique project to achieve greater gender equality.
The gender mainstreaming plan, which is part of the security sector reform project, was developed by the four countries' militaries based on UN Security Council Resolution 1325, a fundamental document that defines and promotes women's full participation in the military-security sector.
"The activities are related to gender sensitisation programmes via instructors training; support to revise curriculum which would include both gender equality and security; establish a regional trainer network to consolidate existing projects and create synergies in the region," Jovanka Saranovic, director of the Strategic Research Institute of Serbia's Defence Ministry, told SETimes.
The four countries' defence ministry representatives met last month in Skopje, Macedonia.
Participants found that joint planning, information sharing and consulting on common issues had the greatest benefit in improving co-operation among the militaries while promoting gender equity, Saranovic said.
"A greater representation of women in decision making and searching jointly for answers to regional challenges improves the security in the Western Balkans. It also improves the respect for women's human rights and the establishment of anti-discrimination mechanisms," Rajko Novicevic, defense minister of Montenegro, told SETimes.
The number of women in the regional militaries is relatively small, but is steadily increasing.
In Macedonia, women constitute 13 percent of the armed forces, in BiH 5 percent, while in Serbia and Albania the number is negligible, less than 1 percent.
"In BiH's defence ministry as well as in the armed forces, there is a continual trend of increasing the participation of women. By 2010, 40 percent of all employees in the ministry were women," Selmo Cikotic, minister of defence of BiH, told SETimes.
Montenegro includes training and referral of women in peacekeeping and military-diplomatic missions; employment as civil servants and professional military and civilian personnel; and training cadets at its military academies.
Similarly, Serbia intensified the process of encouraging and admitting women in the military and the country's military academy. The academy is 162 years old, but it began accepting women only five years ago.
To make the drive effective, Serbia has developed a national action plan to implement UN Resolution 1325.
In Macedonia, gender equality reforms are co-ordinated by the equal opportunity and non-discrimination departments at the ministry for social policy and labour, and are making significant advances in many social sectors, such as the police, including the military.
"Raising of their profile and moving their offices from the ministry to the government's general secretariat will provide new impetus and ensure effective implementation of Macedonia's action plan to achieve the objectives under the UN resolution 1325," Marija Risteska, analyst at the Centre for Research and Policy Making in Skopje, told SETimes.