Women Working for a Mine-free Mozambique
“You could say my job is exciting,” said Margarida Luis Sitoe, a manual de-miner who works with UNDP’s humanitarian demining partners, Apopo. “It’s hard work but I enjoy it and, as an African woman, I feel empowered in such a position.”
Sitoe is one of many women working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s four humanitarian demining partners —Handicap International, Norwegian People’s Aid, The Halo Trust and Apopo.
With their help, it is possible that Mozambique will reach its target of being mine-free by December of this year. Since 2012, 18 million square meters of land have been cleared, leaving an estimated 5.2 million.
Involving women in mine clearing activities has been another way of empowering them, through salaries and participation in decision-making. But it also goes far beyond that.
Due to their role in working the land, fetching water and carrying wood off the beaten paths, women and children are the ones most affected by landmines. In addition, in conflict settings, women and children victims are harder to account for because they are not part of any organized groups or demobilization efforts.
That explains why women's participation is crucial at all stages of mine action: from surveying mined areas, to deciding where to begin clearance, to conducting mine risk education and post-clearance development.
“By involving both women and men in the communities in mine clearing, you get a much fuller view of all the issues at stake,” said Jennifer Topping, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Mozambique. “The efforts to strengthen productive communities will be much more effective.”
Over the last two years, UNDP has worked with the National Demining Institute, IND, to implement recommendations from a gender analysis conducted by the Gender Mine Action Programme.
Landmines are a legacy of the country’s history, which includes one war of independence, attacks from Rhodesia - now Zimbabwe, and a brutal 16-year war between the government and rebel forces.
Mozambique’s contamination is complex. It combines large minefields around key infrastructure, defensive minefields around military installations, and a large number of small minefields and explosive remnants of war that are randomly scattered around the country.
With the leadership of the government, the commitment of international donors and the co-ordination of UNDP, the numbers are substantially decreasing. Just last month, for instance, Maputo Province was declared the sixth of ten national provinces to be free of all known mined areas.
Humanitarian demining operators have acknowledged that having both women and men in the field presented a great challenge at the beginning but that, with time, gender equality has helped to boost that effort.
In June this year, UNDP will help to co-ordinate the Third Review Conference on the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty which will see the States Parties return to Mozambique fifteen years after their first meeting in Maputo, to jointly review what was accomplished as well as what remains to be done. Mozambique will showcase its success during the event.
It is through these efforts, combined with the dedication and commitments of hard working women and men such as Margarida Sitoe and her colleagues, that parts of Mozambique are now safe for the children to play and go to school, for farmers to grow their crop and for women, men and their entire communities to start living a normal life.