Women deminers take on a man’s job


Demining worker Mean Srey Onn carefully uses a metal rod to probe an area suspected to contain a land mine in a minefield in Banteay Meanchey province. (Photo: UNDP Cambodia/Richard Fraser)

They’re young, female and fearless. Meet the deminers who boldly take risks by clearing landmines in the most contaminated areas in Cambodia.

Ruot Sreyla is 24 and mother to a three-year old boy. Five years ago, she lived in Pursat Province, tilling farmland for a daily wage of KHR 12,000 ($3). When she learned about a job opportunity as a deminer in neighboring Battambang province, she signed up for the training.

Highlights

  • Clearing for Results project is a five-year project administered by UNDP and implemented by CMAA
  • 83 km2 of land has been cleared with the support from the project since 2006
  • 18,971 families have benefited from the mine clearing activities of the project

Meanwhile, Song Sreymao, 25 years old with a four-year old son, was also a low-wage earner before becoming a trained deminer.  Both women did not have the opportunity to finish school but both longed to provide a better income for their families.

Sreyla and Sreymao underwent a six-week training course provided by the Cambodia Mine Action Center (CMAC) in Kompong Chhnang province. Here, they learned how to use mine detectors, follow standard operating procedures and practice safety, among others.

Five years later, they are among the growing number of female deminers working at CMAC in Battambang province, one of the most heavily mined areas in western Cambodia.

“It was my decision to become a deminer,” says Sreyla. “I am an uneducated girl trapped in the city. If I weren’t a deminer, I would still be a laborer earning much less,” she shares. As deminers, each of the women are paid $203 per month, gets life and medical insurance and receives three months paid maternity leave.

Through the Clearing for Results project, the United Nations Development Programme has been mainstreaming gender in the mine action sector by advancing the vital role of women in public participation and planning. The Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA) which implements the project, has instituted the Gender in Mine Action Plan (GAP). As the lead government agency that regulates, monitors and coordinates the mine action sector, CMAA through the GAP ensures that it promotes equal access to women and men in clearance work, including in planning and prioritization.


A demining worker operates a landmine-searching device in a minefield in Banteay Meanchey province. (Photo: UNDP Cambodia/Richard Frazer)

“Mine risk educators have made efforts to encourage women’s participation in activities and have promoted equality of access to employment,” says Peang Sovannary, CMAA’s gender focal person.

“However, there are some areas where gender inequality persists, such as the number of women attending planning meetings. Greater focus on participation at the local level to promote gender equality would assist in increasing women’s involvement in planning and prioritization,” she states.

In addition, traditional gender roles often prevent women from participating in public life and therefore have limited influence in the planning process, thus potentially impeding on the legitimacy and success of the process.

Where fatalities occur, mothers, wives, sisters and daughters, because of gender biases in work and of the prominent place of women in the household, often take on an expanded family role to assume the economic, social and psychological responsibilities previously held by their fathers, husbands or brothers. In many cases, a landmine accident will push an economically vulnerable household into extreme poverty.

The GAP ensures that apart from promoting equal employment opportunity, it also monitors the equal access by women, men, boys and girls to mine risk information, access to gender-sensitive services by landmine survivors, and equal participation and representation in advocacy activities. 

“I would encourage other women to be a deminer so they can earn more income,” says Sreyla who has by far detected around 20 landmines. “I am not afraid because we had a good training. You just have to be careful and follow the SOP,” she says.