Mine/UXO-awareness programmes and Women
The overall goal of mine/UXO-awareness programmes is to reduce the number of casualties by changing patterns of behaviour and proposing alternative solutions adapted to each community
Despite all efforts to rid the world of anti-personnel mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO), these weapons remain a menace and cause untold suffering among the civilian population in many parts of the world. The approach of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is both remedial (bringing assistance to mine victims in the form of curative care and physical rehabilitation) and preventive (promoting implementation of international humanitarian law and running mine-awareness programmes for civilians at risk).
The ICRC, working in cooperation with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, has gradually refined its strategy to focus more closely on the specific needs of populations at risk, thus increasing the impact of its mine/UXO-awareness programmes. These programmes are currently based on three main principles:
Gathering relevant information on local needs, with a view to devising appropriate mine/UXO-awareness strategies;
Involving mine-contaminated communities in the mine-awareness process;
Cooperating closely with other organizations in responding to the needs of affected communities and thus reducing the risks they face.
Most mine/UXO victims are male adults bet ween 20 and 45 years of age, who are engaged in outdoor activities (cutting wood, farming, tending animals, travelling, etc.) at the time of the accident.
In countries where the ICRC collects mine/UXO casualty data (e.g. Azerbaijan/Nagorno Karabakh, Afghanistan, FRY/Kosovo), women and girls account for between 5 and 10% of the total number of casualties. This can be explained mainly by the type of activities carried out by women, who generally speaking do not spend as much time as men outdoors but tend to remain in or near their homes.
The data-collection system in Bosnia-Herzegovina revealed that between 1996 and 2001 an average of 8% of the total number of mine and UXO victims were females. Interestingly enough, this percentage significantly increased between 1996 and 2001, a period during which fighting had ceased and women could resume normal daily activities. One of the reasons for this increase is that many widows had to take on tasks which were previously the responsibility of their husbands.
Angola, however, is an exception. Here women and girls, who account for more than 20% of the total number of casualties (data collected between 1995 and 2001), habitually work in fields and forests and move around and between villages.
Although they form a group generally less at risk than others, women must nevertheless be a primary concern for mine/UXO-awareness programmes because of the specific gender-related problems they encounter in society. For a woman, becoming a mine victim can have dramatic implications.
In many countries, women victims of landmines and UXO have little opportunity to get married as their disability lowers their status within society. Moreover, some women may have difficulty in gaining access to medical care and physical rehabilitation if not accompanied by a male relative and treated by female health staff. Some women are abandoned by their husbands after the accident and not only have to cope with the trauma of what happened to them but also have to support their families.
As it is usually women who take care of children, it is crucial to focus mine-awareness efforts on them so that they can pass on the messages to their children. They can also spread these messages within their communities and families; and they thus represent an essential vector in the process of alerting the population to the danger of mines/UXO.
Mine/UXO accidents resulting from lack of knowledge can certainly be prevented if better education is provided and if local authorities and residents, including women, are involved in the process. Community-based activities, carried out by local male and female volunteers designated by the community and trained by the ICRC and/or the local National Society, are essential to ensure that mine/UXO awareness is kept alive within affected communities and transferred to newcomers. The involvement of local authorities is also crucial, as they will be the first to know about the arrival of returnees.
If we are to improve our understanding of high-risk behaviour patterns, we must work with communities and gather information from them, to determine what risks people are taking, why they are taking those risks (economic factors, social pressure, emotional f actors, denial of reality, etc.), how they perceive the mine/UXO problem, and what solutions they propose. Involving affected communities and engaging in dialogue with them makes it possible to identify the practical problems that the presence of mines/UXO poses for villages. We can then encourage the participation of specific groups within the villages (women, men, children, the elderly etc.) in finding appropriate solutions to those problems. The ICRC and National Society mine-awareness teams then link up with other humanitarian organizations and other ICRC departments to implement the solutions found. This community-based approach helps prevent accidents attributable to economic factors. In other words, we must not only deliver the right message in a way that will capture people’s attention, but also find ways of changing high-risk behaviour by involving the groups specifically concerned in addressing the problem.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Kosovo, a special effort was made to recruit women as mine- awareness instructors in order to reach women and girls. In Kosovo five two-member mine- awareness teams were set up, each comprising one female instructor, in order to approach women in certain villages more easily and deliver appropriate messages.
In May 2002, the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), the ICRC and the Women and War project officer agreed on the development of a Women and Mines/UXO project. Women in ev ery one of the 32 ARCS branches will be recruited and trained by the ICRC to hold mine-awareness sessions for women and girls in health centres and schools and to address needs in places accessible only to women.
By August 2002, six female mine-awareness officers (four trainers, one supervisor and one project manager) had been recruited, trained and deployed in Afghanistan's central provinces.
During the pilot stage of the project, the possibility will be assessed of having female trainers work closely with provincial teacher-training establishments with a view to including mine awareness in the school curriculum. The pilot stage will of course include a review and recommendations for implementation of the first phase of the project proper, which should involve trainers in 10 provinces.