Issue 4.1 | February 2000 | Information in this issue may be outdated. Click here to link to the most recent issue.
Squad of Their Own: Women Deminers in Kosovo
by Margaret S. Busé
The first all-female
demining team was deployed in Kosovo in late November 1999. Comprised of women
refugees who had previously been housewives, they are the first all-female
demining team in the world. In Kosovo's traditional patriarchal society, few
women work outside the home and until now, no women worked in this internationally
male dominated occupation. The sight of the women deminers, long hair peeking
out of helmets, has raised a few eyebrows. As one elderly farmer remarked
upon seeing them, "My poor dears, you are so beautiful."
68 women deminers were not making an overt feminist statement by the occupation
they had chosen. They were simply going to work. Many women have to assume
the role of breadwinner because their husbands have been killed in the
war. Thomas Jarnehed, Norwegian People's Aid demining program manager
in Kosovo, said that he chose the female deminers because of their experience
from the war. "When I set up the NPA demining program, I was determined
to implement a policy of equality between the sexes. My objective is to
have 50 percent males and females. It was a decision I took alone."
NPA is responsible
for training and paying the deminers. Each woman attended a five-week training
course in Pec, Yugoslavia, where, through Scandinavian custom, they were able
to bring their children. They receive a monthly salary of approximately $423,
which is considered good pay in a province where two-thirds of the workforce
is unemployed. Women are currently out in the field, many commanding squads
of their own. Demining has boosted the status and self-esteem of the women
involved with this nerve-jarring occupation.
a lot of patience with this work, where depending on the amount of vegetation,
you may need all day to clear a six-to16-foot lane," says Borge Hoknes,
NPA's project manager. "In Scandinavia, we believe that is important
to show there are a lot more equalities than differences between men and women.
Demining is one area where you can see that clearly." Equalities aside,
Hoknes also mentioned that the patience and commitment of the women actually
make them much better than men at clearing mines. He mentioned that women,
in general, were better motivated, committed and displayed a more even temperament.
were some tensions between male and the female deminers. A few men with unwavering
opinions were removed from the demining teams. Sometimes, "men want to
be rough and tough and this is no place for a Rambo," says Hoknes. "In
this job you don't get a second chance. We look for individuals from stable
backgrounds who are calm and patient and have a commitment to helping their
Though the women
know the risks, most of them state they are not afraid. Nora Kelmendi, whose
husband is also a deminer, says, "I'm not afraid. I'm an optimistic person.
I just have to be careful." She also adds that her husband is very proud
of her, her bravery, and that she made the decisions to be a deminer on her
own. A mother of two small children, Kelmendi says, "I heard of the children
being killed by mines and I took the opportunity to do something. It is normal
to be a bit scared, but we know if we follow the rules there will be no problem.
The men I meet congratulate me."
did not receive such emotional support. "When I told them at home what
I am doing my brother shouted at me that I was sick and didn't know the meaning
of the word danger. But my husband was killed by the Serbs. I am helping the
people of Kosovo and most of all, I help the children."
I would do the training, then think it over again, but now it is in my blood,"
says Kelmendi. "People say to me, `You're very cool, How come you are
not afraid?' I don't have words to describe how good I feel about it. This
is my contribution to Kosovo, to help clean up the mines."
The Serbs mined
schools and playgrounds, and they booby-trapped toys lying on the ground.
NPA has trained over 90 recruits for demining. Many experts in the field say
that it will take years to clear the mines. Current priorities are homes,
schools and agricultural land so those farmers may be able to till the ground
in the spring.
Norwegian People's Aid Demining Operation Kosovo
Fax: +387 71
66 56 23
Tel: +387 71 66 56 22