Angola is one of the world’s most heavily mined countries. Decades of fighting for independence, followed by a quarter century of civil war that ended in 2002, left the country in tatters—and heavily sown with landmines. During the civil war, both sides liberally deployed landmines to protect military bases, key infrastructure and troop billets, and to control the population’s movement.
Beguela Province is one of the country’s most mine-affected regions. Half the population lives in rural areas, where the vast majority of explosive remnants of war are found. It is one of the reasons why development has stagnated there.Unemployment is high. Some 94 percent of the population lives on less than 5 dollars per day, with 67 percent surviving on less than 2 dollars per day.
HALO Trust, a non-political and non-religious British charity and American non-profit organization which specializes in removal of debris left behind by war, has found a way to address both these issues, and more. Its 100 Women in Demining in Angola project, which is supported by the U.S. Department of State, trains and employs women deminers to clear some of the most dangerous minefields in the country. Ultimately, the project assists in creating safe spaces for rural development that benefit Beguela’s mine-impacted populations.
But the program’s benefits reach far beyond clearing the land of mines. The work teaches the women new skills, provides them with income and empowers them. The project specifically promotes gender equality in employment, offering women opportunities in geographical areas and sectors of the economy that have traditionally been male-dominated. All positions at all levels are open to the women, ranging from basic manual demining to logistical, medical, and technical support personnel, team leaders, minefield supervisors, and a provincial operations manager to oversee the entire operation.
As the majority of the recruits come from the local districts, the project allows them to take a central role in the stabilization and development of their home communities.When local women have a say in how mine clearance operations are conducted, they have a chance to be involved in shaping outcomes for themselves, their families, their communities and their country as a whole.