Reaching the Right People: Gender and Mine Action

by Melissa Sabatier and Reuben McCarthy [ United Nations Development Programme ]

Statistics suggest that males suffer anywhere between 75 and 95 percent1 of all mine- and unexploded ordnance-related accidents; however, mines and UXO also have a negative effect on community development, which directly affects female populations. As a result, governmental and nongovernmental organizations are increasing the involvement of women in mine-clearance practices as well as mine-risk education programs. More specifically, countries are beginning to understand the value and importance of “gender mainstreaming” in mine-action processes.

Mine action was developed in the late 1980s as a means of addressing the humanitarian and development problems associated with landmines and unexploded ordnance. The process began largely as an engineering exercise that focused on the identification and destruction of these weapons. After a couple of years, it became apparent that the problem had as much to do with the interactions of people with a mine-contaminated environment as it did with the technical characteristics of the weapons alone. By bringing human behavior into the equation, mine-action practitioners began to study gender roles among affected populations and, more specifically, how gender might determine the degree of risk. Initially, this review was done by collecting and analyzing casualty statistics.

In the early 1990s, casualty trends emerged that showed men (particularly young men) were more vulnerable to death or injury from mine and UXO accidents. The same pattern was also largely true for children, where boys suffered far more accidents than girls. Over time, this pattern was identified in a number of different communities and countries, as well as both conflict and post-conflict settings. Current statistics continue to show that men and boys suffer anywhere between 75 and 95 percent of all accidents. It was further determined that many of the gender roles, occupations and activities of males (e.g., soldiers, farmers, hunters, drivers)—and sometimes peer-group pressure—lead males to be more vulnerable to accidents than females. At the same time, it was largely assumed that these roles meant that males were more informed about the mine threat than females.

Development Affected

The casualty situation led many practitioners to focus their demining and survey activities on young men and boys, who were both the primary source of information about the threat and the primary beneficiaries of mine-action work.2 The data showed that these groups suffered the highest risk, and it seemed obvious that they should receive the bulk of the attention. The problem was, however, that mines do not only kill and injure; mines and UXO also disrupt livelihoods and impede community and national development activities. Landmines can block the use of productive land and can contaminate schools, markets and roads. In sum, they can seriously impede the reconstruction process and can affect an entire community including all genders.

A woman takes part in a survey during  the LIS in Mauritania.
A woman takes part in a survey during the Landmine Impact Survey in Mauritania.
Photo courtesy of the authors

Defining the ”Victim”

Males and females both have a stake in community development. The effects of landmines extend beyond the individual—beyond the male casualty—to the family and community. By the mid-1990s, the concept of a community (or possibly a nation) being considered a “victim” emerged. This new concept required a unique analytical and programmatic framework in which the social and economic effect of landmines on community development (as well as in terms of casualties) could be systematically explored in order to devise sound priorities and risk-reduction strategies. It also required an analysis of the outcomes related to mine-action activities (i.e., who would benefit and how).

This analytical framework led to a greater focus on the community as a whole, in addition to the impact of mine action on development activities. Initially, however, this framework did not (and in many contemporary instances still does not) contain a gender analysis. In a number of situations, males and females were not participating equally in identifying the impact of these weapons on the community. Nor were males and females equally involved in the identification of mine-action priorities, in particular the identification of which areas were priorities for demining work.

Starting largely as an engineering activity with a humanitarian focus, mine-action practitioners were somewhat resistant to the idea of incorporating gender analysis, because it seemed wasteful to dedicate resources to a segment of the population who were, by and large, not suffering accidents. At the same time, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the information gathered from the male segment of the population seemed sufficient to identify the nature and scope of the threat.

Getting the Whole Picture

Recent efforts to include more women in mine-action processes have, however, led to some interesting insights into the nature of the mine threat. In Jordan, men and women were interviewed separately and asked to identify mine-contaminated areas. In a number of cases, males and females identified different areas as mined. These results are, in large part, due to differing daily activities and knowledge.

In Cambodia, efforts have been made to involve both men and women in identifying priorities for land to be cleared. Not surprisingly, their priorities are often different though equally aimed at community development. In both of these cases, the gender of the participants gave them access to information that the other group did not possess. In other words, if we do not include both males and females in mine action and clearance, important information about the mine threat and development opportunities can be missed.

In Mauritania, a national Landmine Impact Survey that was carried out by five gender-balanced teams was recently completed. The involvement of women was seen as a precondition to better identify the impact of the weapons and devise more effective priorities. The overall aim was to ensure that all members of the community have the opportunity to be involved in mine action because they all have a stake in the development process. Efforts such as these in mine action have collectively been referred to as “gender mainstreaming.”

As it relates to mine action, gender mainstreaming involves considering the separate needs and realities of males and females in all activities aimed at identifying the impact and mitigating the threats of landmines and UXO, whether it is through mine clearance, risk education, advocacy or victim assistance. This approach has, by and large, included enabling women to be involved in the survey, planning and prioritization process, as well as giving more women opportunities to be employed in mine-action jobs. While gender mainstreaming is about men, women, boys and girls, to date it has largely focused on women and girls because they have historically been excluded. This inequality has been particularly true of mine clearance, survey, technical assistance, and information-and program-management activities. Arguably, greater progress has been made to reach gender parity in advocacy, risk education and victim assistance.


On the whole, most practitioners have taken steps toward gender mainstreaming, though there is still a long way to go to realize parity. There are few people who would deny that it is crucial that the planning and implementation phases involve all concerned parties, male and female. Today, most people are aware that gender equality is a normative obligation and a human right, but in mine action it is also becoming increasingly clear that it is a practical necessity to achieve our humanitarian and development goals in the most effective manner possible. JMA icon


Melissa Sabatier began working in mine action in 2001 when she joined Handicap International. From 2001 until 2004, Melissa worked for Handicap International in Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Jordan and Iraq. In early 2005, Melissa joined the editorial team of the Landmine Monitor, coordinating research efforts on mine action in Africa and the Middle East. Since September 2006, Melissa has worked for the United Nations Development Programme(UNDP) Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery in New York, first on mine action and since January 2008 as a cluster munitions Programme Specialist.

Reuben McCarthy began working in mine action in 1997 when he joined the Demining Agency for Afghanistan based in Kandahar City. From 1998 to 2003 Reuben worked for Handicap International in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Pakistan and briefly in Albania. Reuben joined UNICEF’s Office of Emergency Programmes in 2003, and in 2007 he transferred to UNDP’s Bureau of Crisis Prevention and Recovery where he is working as a regional Conflict Prevention and Recovery Specialist based in Johannesburg, South Africa.


  1. Beltrami, Simona. “Women’s Own Struggle Against Landmines.” International Campaign to Ban Landmines. 2005: Accessed 3 October 2008.
  2. Contrary to these findings, a great deal of risk education–and much of the advocacy and communications work surrounding mine action in the 1990s focused on the plight of women and children.

Contact Information

Melissa Sabatier
Programme Specialist
Bureau for Crisis Prevention & Recovery
United Nations Development Programme
1 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017 / USA
Tel: +1 212 906 5268

Reuben McCarthy
Conflict Prevention & Recovery Specialist
Bureau for Crisis Prevention & Recovery
United Nations Development Programme
Eastern & Southern Africa Sub-Regional Office
7 Naivasha Road, Sunninghill
Johannesburg / South Africa, 2157
Tel: +27 11 603 5109