Expert Voice

Women Take the Lead - An inside look at ICMPD’s Netherlands’ Project approach to gender mainstreaming

05 March 2020

Bolstering gender sensitive approaches within Lebanese Security Agencies has been a top priority for ICMPD’s Netherlands’ Assistance Project ever since its development. Supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of The Netherlands in Lebanon, a fervent believer in the value of active female participation, the Project has strived to shape its whole assistance in a way that favours female inclusion and empowerment.

By Sarah Saleh

Edited by Elisabeth Minkow, ICMPD

To mark this year’s International Women’s Day, this article will take a closer look at the various initiatives implemented by the Project while highlighting some of the results it has reached to date. First, a quick overview on how the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) have already started paving the way in the right direction.

LAF: Change in the horizon 

Ever since he was appointed in 2017, Commander in Chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Joseph Aoun has made it one of the Army’s top priorities to reinforce gender mainstreaming. Although officially part of the Army since the 1980s, the role of women has often been limited to support positions in both the administrative and medical fields. LAF’s Command newly stated position vis-à-vis female members of staff and their valuable participation within the organisation has led to an increase in the number of female recruits. In 2019 for instance, and for the first time ever, two female combat pilots joined the ranks of the Lebanese Air Force. Although it is still perhaps premature to envisage the participation of women in all combat units, this change in attitudes is promising.

One-size-fits-all: An outdated approach

Female members of staff are an integral part of all main Lebanese Security Agencies; not utilising them is de facto a waste of the already scarce human resources. Operationally, there is also a benefit for female inclusion. A simple example would be the need of having trained female staff conduct search on female subjects according to The Lebanese Army Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement in Internal Security Operations 2019 (‘Female military personnel should search women only and in a suitable place’). If given the right opportunities, women, regardless of rank, have the potential to become drivers of growth both organisationally and countrywide, which sets the ground for cross-fertilisation between genders, viewpoints and experiences.  

However, the danger of international assistance projects opting for a one-size-fits-all approach is nowhere more evident than with gender. Dictating principles based on standardised models often fails to bear sustainable results. It does not cater to beneficiaries’ needs and lacks an understanding of the intricacies and sensitivities of each country/region. Thus, the Netherlands’ Assistance to Lebanese Border Agencies Project has approached this issue by convincing its counterparts of the operational value of gender mainstreaming and sensitivity. 

Figures speak louder than words

In 2019, 62% of sessions delivered by The Netherlands’ Project contained gender issues either as a subject in its own right or as an operational aspect of border management skills. Female participation in activities is also strongly encouraged, with formal communications to beneficiaries specifically requesting this and resulting in  a rate of 22% of female participants with a total number of 239 out of 1083.

The inclusion of female students is no easy task given that the overwhelming majority of LAF border personnel are male. Female personnel are present in extremely small numbers in border units. This is slowly changing with the Land Border Regiments (LAF units responsible for controlling the Lebanese green border) gradually increasing their female contingents. The Land Border Regiments’ Central Training Centre (CTC), a unit specifically dedicated to training the LBRs, possess for instance more female staff than usual in LAF since the Project has focused on their greater involvement in assistance conducted there.

Female inclusion has not been restricted to students however, with the role of female trainers also being strengthened by the Project requiring that female CTC trainers be prioritised for delivery of any of its joint training activities. The integration of gender sensitivity into the CTC’s formalised procedural frameworks has also seen some success. Following strong lobbying, guidance and support (including document drafting and workshops) by the Project, the CTC successfully produced a Gender Policy that governs this issue there. Whilst not yet a perfect document, it nevertheless represents significant progress. The profile of this policy was reinforced by the creation of an awareness-raising training and its subsequent repeated delivery and incorporation into the CTC’s routine training plans.

All-female course reaps unprecedented results 

Another example would be the implementation of an all-female Imposters and Documents (ID) course for the first time in February 2020. The course previously developed between the LAF and ICMPD’s Netherlands’ Project provided students with the necessary skills to quickly and reliably spot imposters and check if documents are genuine while incorporating a range of hands-on practical exercises. Led by a joint all-female training team from ICMPD, LAF, ISF, and GS, and targeting only female personnel from the main Lebanese Security Agencies, the course helped in highlighting the importance of having a more inclusive and efficient working environment for everyone.  All students graduated from the course with flying colours: 100% of the all-female group succeeded (compared to an 85% pass rate for mixed groups completing ID courses) with an unprecedented average test score of 95.5%. This indicates the potential operational value for State Agencies’ educational systems. The trainees on their side expressed their full satisfaction, in terms of both content and delivery, underlining the value of having female role models in such leading roles, particularly in training and reiterated the need to conduct similar courses in the future. It is worth noting that The Netherlands’ Project is not the only ICMPD Lebanon project integrating gender-sensitivity in its overall approach. The Swiss Support to Integrated Border Management in Lebanon Project focusses on ‘Raising awareness on the concept of gender equality and adopting gender-responsive border systems and procedures.

Leading by example 

The Project actively reinforces gender mainstreaming by supporting the development of its own female members of staff, with female project officers and assistants. Instead of simply explaining to beneficiaries the importance of ‘investing’ in female staff, The Netherlands’ Project prefers to lead by example, demonstrating the assets female empowerment has to offer on numerous fronts.

On a final note, whether it is in the way training is designed, the overall approach that is adopted, or simply by using the project team as role models to beneficiaries, the Netherlands’ Project is sparing no effort in ensuring that gender mainstreaming is enhanced on all scales. Despite the difficulty that characterises change of attitudes, progress is being reported by the Lebanese counterparts. With the right tools, consistency and patience, significant change is still well within reach; after all, ‘Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. […] It shouldn't be that women are the exception.’ (Ruth Bader Ginsburg)


Sarah Saleh is ICMPD Project Officer in the Netherlands’ Assistance to Lebanese Border Agencies (IBM).