Demining in Colombia: Women to take leading role in mine clearance
Handicap International is preparing to launch mine clearance operations in Colombia after it was appointed by the government to clear contaminated land in three of the country's departments. Since April 2016 three teams of deminers have been trained and at least 40% of the deminers will be women.
A deminer takes part in a training exercise before operations begin. | © J.M. Vargas/Handicap International
I saw children die for a war that wasn’t theirs
Marta Quintero will oversee Handicap International's five-year demining project in the department of Meta. She has never forgotten a lucky escape she had when she was a teenager.
“When I was fourteen I stumbled on a mine as I was walking through my village. It was damp so it didn’t go off."
“I saw people maimed by mines when I was growing up. I saw children die for a war that wasn’t theirs. Like many people, violence had a big impact on us. And now I’m a mine clearance expert. I really love my work. I can’t tell you how great it feels when I finish clearing a mined area.”
Building relationships of trust
Marta is one of a number of local women whose day job will be to save lives. Handicap International is aiming to ensure that at least 40% of the people on its demining teams are women. Making sure that a significant proportion of the newly trained deminers are women has been a specific objective for Handicap International as the organisation prepares to undertake demining in Colombia, which, after Afghanistan, has the second worst contamination from landmines of any country on the planet. Irène Manterola, Handicap International's Director in Colombia explains:
“There are currently 17 women and 33 men on our teams. Women play a vital role as they are responsible, highly motivated, and their social skills are essential if you’re living in camps with other people. Women are fair leaders and respected. They build relationships of trust with villagers, who tell them where the mines are."
Irène goes on to say that Colombia is a very 'macho' society and she hopes that having local women undertake such important roles in their communities will help, in a small way, to change the way that women are viewed in Colombia.