In October 2000, the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS). The resolution emphasizes and promotes the role of women in preventing, addressing, and resolving conflicts. It also sheds light on the importance of women’s involvement in post-conflict reconstruction. In addition, the resolution urges all UN members to promote the participation of women in peace processes, incorporate gender mainstreaming, and protect women and children during armed conflicts.

In 2004, the UNSC called on member states to promote Resolution 1325 domestically through the creation and implementation of National Action Plans (NAPs) or similar documents that would outline their efforts to advance the resolution.

Despite the criticism of Resolution 1325 by some feminist movements and post-colonial feminist scholars,1 the document helped activate women’s involvement across multiple sectors affiliated with peace building, including defense and security. The following piece will outline and analyze Arab countries’ efforts to implement the resolution by rolling out NAPs with a particular focus on their efforts to increase women’s presence in the armed forces.

Why integrating women into the military is important

It is important to be clear on the reasons why women should have opportunities to join the security apparatus and the value of streamlining gender integration into the defense sector. Gender diversity in the security sector allows all citizens of a country to be perceived as equal in all aspects of their duties and obligations to the nation state, including defending it. Furthermore, studies have shown that allowing women into the military enhances operational effectiveness and increases diversity in perspectives to resolve conflicts. Specifically, allowing women to join the military in both a combat and noncombat capacity can advance a society’s perspective on females in nontraditional gender-based roles.

Arab countries codifying UNSC 1325

Out of the 22 states of the Arab League2 only 12 have adopted NAPs to advance WPS. Other countries have created similar strategies outside of the UN framework, which we will discuss in the next section. Furthermore, out of the 12 states only a few have discussed involving women in defense and security. This reflects the loose commitment of Arab states to credibly promoting women’s presence and integration into their countries’ security apparatus. In particular, this piece will assess the defense and security elements in the NAPs of Iraq, Tunisia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates.


The federal government of Iraq adopted its first (2014-18) and second (2021-24) NAPs in coordination with the Kurdistan Regional Government and with the support of multiple related ministries, such as the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the Ministry of Interior, and the Ministry of Defense. Iraq is one of only two countries across the Arab League to have adopted two consecutive NAPs, both of which briefly mention the integration of women into the security forces across Iraq. The framing of women’s role in the security apparatus was focused on the involvement of female personnel in reducing violent extremism in Iraq, preventing its re-emergence, and promoting security and stability. However, there is no explicit mention of integrating women into the Iraqi military as such.

This was likely intended to serve as a superficial signal to the international community that Iraq is working on the issue of gender equality and reducing violent extremism. Iraq’s efforts to enroll women in the military have not matched its efforts to be at the forefront of embracing the NAPs and keeping them up to date. Through the past decades, Iraq has limited the integration of women in its defense sector. The Iraqi government began allowing women into the armed forces in non-combat roles in 1977. However, the measure was suspended during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) and the government limited women’s roles in the armed forces to serving as civilian contractors. Although the government reversed the measure in 2005, when it called on women to volunteer for the Iraqi armed forces, the authorities have continued to limit the activity of female military personnel largely to non-combat roles, such as administrative positions, and often within the framework of countering terrorism and extremism due to, among other things, their increased role in terrorist attacks. This reflected the continued limitations that Iraq has placed on the role of women in the military and security sector through its inconsistent policies.


The Tunisian government adopted one NAP on Resolution 1325 for 2018-22 in coordination with various ministries, including the Ministry of National Defense, the Ministry of Interior, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The government’s plan focused on, among other things, combating and preventing violence against females (women and girls) and increasing women’s participation in specific areas to prevent and mitigate violent extremism. Furthermore, the NAP explicitly acknowledges the need to ensure gender equality in various sectors, including the military, through implementing legislation.

Since the end of the NAP’s timeframe, there have been no official reports that the government is working on a new plan. Nevertheless, Tunisia has slowly but progressively integrated women into the military. The government began enrolling women into the Tunisian Armed Forces (TAF) in 1976 in all branches — ground, air, and navy. Furthermore, the country has offered some leading positions for women in the navy and air force since mid-2000s, although not in active combat.

Tunisia’s position on women in the military was also reflected in its discussion of the idea of drafting female citizens into the TAF. In the 1980s the country was one of the few states in the Arab region to openly debate compulsory military service for women. Despite the failure of consecutive governments, including those in 2003 and in 2018, to pursue the implementation of such a measure, the debate about enforcing military conscription for female citizens has continued in recent years.


Jordan’s government has adopted only one NAP on Resolution 1325, between 2018 and 2021. The plan indicates the need to increase women’s participation in the defense and security sectors to respond to Jordan’s security challenges. Unlike other Arab countries’ NAPs, Jordan’s plan touched on women’s integration into the military and involvement in promoting security and stability by increasing their role in the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF).

Jordan’s NAP was re-enforcement for the government’s decades-long efforts to elevate women’s participation in the military. Amman first authorized Jordanian women to join the JAF in the 1950s, mainly as teachers in military schools. The 2005 Amman bombing3 prompted the authorities to expand the role of women in the JAF to the intelligence and counterterrorism units. Yet most female military personnel in the JAF today work in the medical and administrative sectors. The concentration of women in specific non-combat sectors reflects the continued limitations on their roles in the military and the shortcomings of the country’s policies.


The UAE government adopted its first UNSC Resolution 1325 NAP in 2021 for the four years up to 2025, making it the first country among the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)4 to adopt such a plan. The NAP embraced women’s role in promoting peace and security as well as strengthening “women’s meaningful participation in peacekeeping forces and withing the security sector” through increased awareness of the security agencies to the critical role women play in the defense and security sectors.

Abu Dhabi’s vigorous work to adopt its plan for WPS is in line with its broader efforts to integrate female personnel into the military. During the Gulf War, the UAE called on women to join the military in 1990 and issued a decree to create the first all-female military school, Khawla Bint Al Azwar Military School, which was established in 1991. The UAE’s robust efforts to incorporate women into the armed forces were further reflected in 2007 when Maj. Mariam al-Mansouri became the first Emirati female to join the UAE Air Force as a fighter jet pilot. She participated in the anti-ISIS coalition, launching airstrikes in Syria, and became one of the very few women across the region to be part of active combat.

Nevertheless, the role of women in the UAE military continues to be limited by its male-dominated culture and traditions. For example, the country allows women to join the military only if their male guardians permit it.

Non-NAP countries

Other Arab League countries have promoted, albeit superficially, women’s role in the military without adopting a NAP under their women’s empowerment strategies. For instance, Saudi Arabia in 2019 announced that it would allow women to join its armed forces branches, including naval, air, ground, medical, and strategic missile forces, for the first time. In January 2021, the country opened up its first section for women in the Saudi military. By January 2023, the fourth class of women had completed their training to provide diplomatic and Hajj and Umrah security.

Similarly, Qatar has worked on promoting women in the workforce, including the military, outside the parameters of the UNSC Resolution 1325 NAP. In 2018 Doha allowed women to engage in national service and in 2019 Qatar’s air force appointed its first female pilot as its US liaison officer.

However, neither country provides easily accessible public information on the scope of work for women in the military, nor do they report on the number of women in their armed forces or the positions in which they serve.

Common issues and recommendations

Over the past two decades at least, the majority of countries in the Arab League have acknowledged the need to expand the role of women, both in general as well as in the military specifically. They have also put forward regulations to elevate their role in the defense sector. However, collectively these steps have largely been superficial and do not adequately address structural challenges facing gender mainstreaming in the armed forces. For example, some Arab countries have approached the process of women joining the military inconsistently, switching between allowing women to join the armed forces and preventing them from doing so. Furthermore, their patchwork policies do not provide women with a clear path for their future in the military, making it difficult for them to pursue a career in the armed forces.

Despite its progressiveness since the 1970s, Tunisia’s vague regulations and lack of decisiveness toward drafting women in the military reflects the overall attitude toward expanding women’s role in the TAF. This has also negatively impacted female military personnel by depriving them of a clear trajectory for reaching high-ranking decision-making positions in the armed forces. The deprioritization of the topic is clear from the lack of gender-focused bodies, such as a directorate for women’s affairs similar to the one in the JAF, to structurally enhance gender integration and maintenance in the defense sector.

Furthermore, most Arab countries have framed integrating women into the military as part of their effort to counter the rising risks of terrorism and extremism. The Arab states have not explicitly and sincerely acknowledged female citizens as equal to their male counterparts in needing to share responsibilities and obligations toward their countries. This is evident in, for example, Jordan and Iraq, which have allowed female citizens to join the military in non-combat capacities and under the framework of counterterrorism.

In addition, decisions by Arab governments with respect to female military personnel continue to be largely shaped by preconceived notions of women’s roles and responsibilities in society. A study on the UAE armed forces in 2018 found that Emirati female military personnel continue to be expected to fulfill their household duties. In Iraq, the population continues to perceive women’s role in society within the boundaries of the country’s culture and traditions, which limits their activity and involvement in the military.

Acknowledging women’s role in peacebuilding and increasing their involvement in defense and security is perceived by Western governments as a sign of social liberalization, which is one of a number of factors driving Arab countries’ decision to expand women’s roles and representation. Furthermore, financially struggling Arab states, such as Jordan and Tunisia, have often used the gender element to signal their overall efforts to deal with social issues with an eye to facilitating international aid and financial support. On the other hand, the gender tool has also helped countries improve their reputation, particularly those that have been criticized for not promoting women’s rights, such as Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

Arab countries’ progress in enrolling women in the military is to be commended. However, governments still have a long way to go to integrate and retain women in the armed forces. Governments need to ensure consistent and evolving regulations and policies at the civilian and military levels that promote female participation in the armed forces. Authorities should also promote the image of female personnel in non-traditional roles to expand society’s perception of women in the armed forces. Furthermore, governments need to establish bodies that shed light on the challenges facing female military personnel and give them powerful tools to enforce change. Concurrently, states should also ensure that women’s basic requirements in the military are addressed to ensure their retention. Although there is a need for additional measures as well, these actions provide a basic infrastructure for gender mainstreaming into Arab militaries.


Dina Arakji is a Non-Resident Fellow with the Middle East Institute's Defense and Security Program. Dina currently works at Control Risks, where she tracks and analyses political and security developments and their implications for businesses in the Middle East and North Africa, with a primary focus on Yemen and the Gulf Arab countries.

Photo by Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images


1 Some feminist movements scholars criticized the resolution for narrowing gender to women-only issues, victimizing women and children, and being Western-centric.

2 In this article, we use the definition of the Arab League to identify countries in the Arab region: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the UAE, and Yemen.

3 The bombing involved a female jihadist and resulted in over 150 casualties.

4 The countries of the GCC are Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, and the UAE.

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