Female and Integrated Demining Teams: Past, Present and Future
by Iris-Marie Norvor [ Mine Action Information Center ]
Over the past few years, demining has evolved from being a man’s occupation to a unisex occupation. In many countries, females now work alongside males to clear mine-affected areas, removing landmines and unexploded ordnance at about the same rate as their male counterparts.
In the 20th century, great strides were made in the fight for gender equality, with women gaining more recognition in the workplace and doing equally well as, if not better than, their male counterparts in some fields. Increasingly, women joined the workforce doing jobs that were previously reserved for men.
Led in recent years by the efforts of nongovernmental organizations such as Mines Advisory Group and Norwegian People’s Aid, some fields of demining—which in the past was considered a man’s realm—have come to accept the recruitment of women. Even though demining is dangerous, there are advocates for women to be involved in clearing minefields. At a lecture titled “Ladies first—why the UXO sector should employ more women,” Lou McGrath, CEO of MAG said, “Employing more women as part of the UXO clearance process would benefit communities.”1
In February 2005, the United Nations published Gender Guidelines for Mine Action Programmes,2 encouraging the involvement of females in all sectors of mine action. It states that employment announcements should be open to all genders, accommodating gender-specific needs (such as providing childcare) should be accommodated and requirements for employment that preclude females from applying for positions should be avoided.2
Norwegian People’s Aid led the way to recruiting female deminers. In 1999, NPA fielded the first female demining team in Kosovo. The success of the NPA team opened the door for other demining nongovernmental organizations to establish female demining teams as well. Currently, female demining teams are working with different organizations in places like Cambodia, Jordan, Lebanon, Somaliland and Sudan. Female demining teams have become acceptable in many cultures, and numerous demining teams are now integrated.
Success of Female Demining Teams
Most of the women working as deminers do so primarily for financial reasons. Due to the death or unemployment of their husbands, many women in war-affected areas have become the breadwinners for their families. Even though there are dangers involved, women choose this profession because they are able to support their families with the significantly higher income earned working as deminers.
In addition to the financial motivation, the women work for humanitarian reasons. Opani Mary, leader of the only female demining team in Sudan, says, “We have to work hard to develop our country, even if it is hard. We have to clear for my children and for others.”3 These women not only have the passion to make a difference in people’s lives through demining, but they also know the areas where landmines are located and they warn their children. In addition, women deminers have gained respect by working as deminers; this is empowering to them and to others.
The female deminers go through the same hiring process as their male counterparts. The women must pass a medical exam as well as undergo training lasting about four weeks. Also, research shows that a team of both males and females tends to produce high success and fewer injuries.4 Experts in the field of demining have recommended including more females in mine clearance not just for equality, but also because female deminers excel at their jobs. It is therefore not surprising that international organizations support using women for demining as reflected by an increasing number being recruited and trained to work in that field.
Although men generally tend to be physically stronger than women, female deminers do an equally good job as their male counterparts. Females also have been found to approach the minefields with more caution and patience than their male colleagues.5
Overview of Organizations
International organizations involved in landmines are recruiting women who range from about 19 years to 50 years in age. Below are some of the organizations using female and integrated demining teams.
The HALO Trust. In August 2007, HALO recruited its first female deminers in Somaliland. The team consisted of seven members; in October 2007, an additional four female paramedic deminers were hired. Employing female deminers is part of HALO’s effort to achieve equal opportunities for both males and females. The seven-member female team works as part of a 37-member manual mine-clearance team. In addition to the seven-member female team, there are two female medics working with a mechanical mine-clearance team. Recruiting more female deminers is dependent on donor contributions to expand the current section. Research on mine clearance when the full excavation method was used to clear mines revealed that the difference between the female and male demining teams was insignificant.5 While the male deminers cleared 4.1 square meters (44.1 square feet) per day, the female deminers cleared 4.5 square meters (48.4 square feet) per day.6
In October 2008, HALO–Somaliland conducted training on operating Minelab metal detectors for mine clearance to all female deminers. After receiving training and successfully passing the exams, all HALO–Somaliland female deminers were promoted to detector operators and now work equally, side by side with their male colleagues.
Mines Advisory Group . In June 2004, MAG recruited Cambodia’s first female demining team of 15. Recruiting all-female demining teams is part of MAG’s equal-opportunity policy. According to Diderik van Halsema, “MAG notably commends itself on not discriminating against gender or disability in the [humanitarian mine action] sector—so it should be noted that both women and men benefit from the improved socioeconomic opportunities created by mine and UXO removal.”7
The team is involved in demining as well as mine-risk education. According to Lou McGrath, “Landmines impact all members of the community—male and female alike. It only makes sense that both should have the opportunity to be a part of the solution.8 MAG currently has two all-female teams in Cambodia. Also, there are a total of 160 female deminers who work as part of all-female teams or integrated teams, in Cambodia, making up more than 30 percent of MAG’s workforce in that country.9
In 2006, MAG recruited two all-female teams in Lao PDR. In March 2006, an all-female team was recruited in Xieng Khouang, and in June of the same year, the other team was recruited in Khammouane. Females make up 33 percent of MAG’s workforce in Lao PDR.10 There are integrated teams in addition to the female teams. In June 2008, Vilaphanh Soukvilay of the all-female team in Khammouane became the second female in Lao PDR to successfully pass a team-leader training course.
Norwegian People’s Aid. Since 1999, NPA has employed female deminers in Kosovo, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Sudan and most recently, Jordan.
The Sudan program has achieved a 25-percent female staffing ratio across the program—including two out of eight manual demining teams. During 2007 and 2008, the female teams worked at Mile 38 in Juba County—one of the most heavily contaminated areas in South Sudan.
A total of 205 anti-personnel mines and 96 anti-tank mines have been removed by the female team from roads linking Uganda to the city of Juba.3 Lado Victor from NPA states that “women learn demining techniques as quickly as men but follow procedures more vigorously. The only complication to using female deminers is pregnancy.”3 To counter this, there are additional female deminers within the program to allow for maternity leave.
Employing female deminers is part of NPA’s commitment to gender equality and gender mainstreaming. NPA has no plans to recruit more female teams because there is no need to recruit more demining teams currently. In Sudan, the female teams work alongside the male teams.11
Swedish Rescue Services Agency. In 2007, SRSA recruited an all-female demining team in Lebanon, which was later integrated. Currently, SRSA has eight female battle-area clearance searchers working as part of three integrated teams in Lebanon. SRSA strives to have equal representation of both genders in their workforce. According to the SRSA Operations Manager in Lebanon, Aldo Alderson, when a female resigns, SRSA seeks to employ another female to fill the vacancy.12
A Step Toward Equality
HALO, MAG, NPA and SRSA are not the only organizations recruiting female deminers; others have had success with female deminers as well. Female deminers are as effective as their male counterparts, if not better. So Tonh, Supervisor of Mine Action Team3 in Cambodia, says, “I used to be the supervisor of a mixed team, and although men may appear stronger than women, in reality the female team can achieve similar productivity.”7 Recruiting female deminers is a step toward achieving equality in the field of mine action.
Iris-Marie Norvor worked with the Mine Action Information Center from June to September 2008 as an intern for the Journal of ERW and Mine Action. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in justice studies with a global justice and policy concentration, a Bachelor of Science in technical and scientific communication, and a minor in public policy and administration at James Madison University.
- MAG International News. Ladies first, says Chief Executive. http://www.maginternational.org/news/ladies-first-says-chief-executive-/?keywords=ladies+first. Accessed 20 July 2008.
- United Nations Mine Action Gender Guidelines. http://www.mineaction.org/downloads/Gender_guidelines_mine%20action.pdf. Accessed 15 July 2008.
- Wheeler, Skye. Women Join Demining Charge in South Sudan. Reuters. 23 March 2008. http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSL274004320080323. Accessed 11 June 2008.
- Harrison, Katherine. Women and Cluster Munitions. http://www.wilpf.int.ch/PDF/DisarmamentPDF/ClusterMunitions/WILPF-Women-and-Cluster-Munitions.pdf. Accessed 10 June 2008.
- Cribb, Julian. Female De-Miners. http://www.ausaid.gov.au/publications/focus/0105/focus_jan05_25.pdf. Accessed 10 June 2008.
- E-mail interview with Armen Harutyunyan, The HALO Trust–Somaliland Program Manager. 21 July 2008.
- E-mail interview with Diderik van Halsema, MAG Head of Communications. 24 July 2008.
- MAG International News. Success for MAG’s all-female demining team. Mines Advisory Group. 8 November 2008. http://www.maginternational.org/news/2006-prize-for-survivorship/?keywords=niarchos+prize. Accessed 11 June 2008.
- Mines Advisory Group. Where we work: MAG Cambodia. http://www.maginternational.org/cambodia/. Accessed 10 December 2008.
- The Humpty Dumpty Institute. Annual Report 2006. http://www.thehdi.org/about/HDI_AnnualReport2006.pdf. Accessed 8 July 2008.
- E-mail interview with Charles Frisby, NPA Mine Action Sudan Program Manager. 15 July 2008.
- E-mail interview with Aldo Alderson, SRSA Operations Manager in Lebanon. 21 July 2008.
- E-mail interview with Marie Mills, SRSA Desk Officer, Mine Action Unit. 23 July 2008.
Journal of ERW and Mine Action
Mine Action Information Center
Center for Stabilization and Recovery
James Madison University
Diderik van Halsema
Head of Communications
47 Newton Street
M1 1FT – Manchester / United Kingdom
Tel: +44 161 236 4311
Fax: +44 161 236 6244
Web Site: http://www.maginternational.org
Operations Officer/Acting Programme Manager
The HALO Trust—Somaliland
Tel: +252 2 441 6089
Fax: +873 762 958 591
Norwegian People’s Aid Mine Action Sudan
Desk Officer, Mine Action Unit
Swedish Rescue Services Agency