After a war that continued for tens of years, Yazidi women in northern Iraq are now risking their lives to remove unexploded mines from their lands once held by ISIS.
Sinjar district in Northern Iraq, which once echoed with laughter and peace, is now littered with the aftermath of war. In Aug. 2014, a genocide initiated at the hands of ISIS against the Yazidis living in the area left 5,000 Yazidis dead, 7,000 women and girls captured, and more displaced.
The war infected the area with lethal materials, more widely known as unexploded ordinances. ISIS have done their best to scatter them in a manner that decades later, they continue to pose a threat to civilians’ lives.
Mines Advisory Group (MAG) is a charity that clears landmines in places of conflict, such as Sinjar. While detonating mortars, pulling out mines, and searching for IEDs is a perilous task, the Yazidi women who once lived in the area are unfazed.
One such woman is Hana Khider, who escaped the Islamic State when war broke out. She is now doing her part to free her land of the dangerous material. Hana works with MAG.
MAG is increasingly employing more women to undertake this grueling task, which starts at 5am and goes on till late afternoon. To safeguard themselves, these deminers have to wear protective clothing and sometimes work in intense heat.
Clearing mines is a hazardous and physically demanding work widely thought to be “men’s work.” But that societal stereotype is now changing. Today Khider supervises a team of deminers comprising a mix of men and women. She has also made excellent progress in promoting women empowerment and gender equality in a male-controlled community.
Following in the footsteps of the Sinjar women, Lebanon has now also engaged women in clearing land mines. Landmines have killed 70 people and injured 500 others in Lebanon.
On the border of Israel and Lebanon called the Blue Line, there are about 400,000 mines laid by Israel in the 80s during southern Lebanon’s occupation. About 40 percent of those mines didn’t detonate back then. Today, those mines are dormant but deadly, posing a threat to everyone.
Another fearless woman, Hala Naame, is part of the deminers’ team working for MAG in Lebanon. Mofida Majzoub from Sidon is a site supervisor who ensures the deminers’ safety under her command.
To these women, it is more than just a job. It is personal. The mined lands were once their homes. And by removing the mines, they intend on returning their land to its previous glory.
While it is admirable to see women work with MAG and demine the infected lands, the progress is slow and arduous. Even though the societal standpoint is changing, there’s a long way to go. Perhaps the most difficult task is not the demining itself but having people raise eyebrows at women undertaking the task.
Hiba Ghandour, MAG’s Gender and Diversity Officer, thinks that female deminers do a better job than their male counterparts. In the words of Bridget Forster, an ex-British Army who oversees mine clearance in Gaza and West Bank, it is of utmost importance that women are seen in such roles as it will assist in empowering the next generation of women.