In early February I attended the 23rd International Meeting of Mine Action National Directors and United Nations Advisers (NDM-UN23) in Palais des Nations, Geneva. This event attracts all the major players in demining from those involved in the removal of ordnance to those setting the policies, to tech companies trying to support this very manual industry; approximately 600 participants.
Guided by the theme ‘Mine Action for People and Planet: Solutions, Commitments and Action’, the aim of the conference was to convene various actors of the demining sector to discuss emerging issues and exchange best practices and lessons learned.
Landmines are a huge barrier to sustainable recovery – from 1999 to 2017, the Landmine Monitor has recorded over 120,000 casualties from mines, IEDs and explosive remnants of war; it estimates that another 1,000 per year go unrecorded. Afghanistan and Syria are two of the most heavily mined countries in the world.
Our role, in the private sector, is to offer solutions and fill the gaps the public sector cannot fill, so it’s important for us to listen, broaden our perspective, and adapt in order to provide the most useful solutions.
It is well known that the same fields often get ‘demined’ multiple times by different contractors because there is no central map to log demining activities
Collaboration in Demining
I am a firm believer that collaboration among various actors of the sector can enhance humanitarian responses. This is true in all areas of humanitarian aid. The delivery of aid into fragile and conflict-affected countries is inefficient by definition. Collaboration is the only way to improve the services, the outcomes and costs. It is well known, for example, that the same fields often get ‘demined’ multiple times by different contractors because there is no central map to log demining activities; this is just one area where collaboration around technology and knowledge management can make a huge difference.
By definition, demining is an extremely dangerous and political activity. Removing the remnants of war or destroying the implements of war is highly sensitive. It needs to be mainstreamed into development activities because ‘normal life’ cannot resume while there are unexploded ordnance lying in homes, football fields, markets, and playgrounds. Indeed, demining is the very beginning of life taking hold again.
A Culture Change to Advance Gender and Diversity
Not long ago the demining sector was probably the last bastion of ‘old school’ project management, largely male-dominated and not a progressive environment; however, this conference perhaps marks a turning point which will not only see more women entering the sector, but an extensive culture change in how demining services are delivered.
CTG CEO Alice Laugher joined colleagues from UNOPS, UNMAS, GICHD, and MAG on a panel on advancing gender and diversity in mine action, focusing on our learnings and the challenges faced on getting more women into humanitarian and development roles in conflict-affected regions.
Because of the high risk nature of the industry and requirement for a military background and training, there is clear gender imbalance; however, several organisations, such as The HALO Trust – an NGO that clears landmines and explosive remnants of war and also provides much-needed jobs to women through their ‘100 Women in Demining’ project – have proven that women without a military background can easily be trained with the right technical skills to deliver ‘men’s jobs’. The biggest challenge is influencing the culture change; we need to break away from the idea that it’s a man’s job, sending the right message to female candidates to step forward and finally create an environment that is safe, respectful and welcoming.
My advice to organisations wishing to advance gender and diversity in project implementation: start with the leadership and focus on the culture you are creating. This was one of the most powerful messages from the conference. It’s not really about numbers – although making demining jobs available to women is obviously important – it’s about who you want to be as an organisation and the type of environment you create.
After the session at NDM-UN23, I think to some extent CTG needs to readjust its strategy. I think we should place a little less emphasis on numbers and more on the type of culture we want to promote.
My takeaway from the session at NDM-UN23 was that while increasing the number of women working in these kind of humanitarian roles is an important goal – one that we are working hard to achieve at CTG – we should place less emphasis on the numbers and work harder on the type of culture that we want to promote. Once the mindset is altered, the numbers will follow.