The Effects of Landmines on Women in the Middle East
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East women whose families are affected by landmines must cope
with disabled children and spouses and must keep the family
surviving when a breadwinner is lost.
by Mary Ruberry, MAIC
An Afghan woman in a burqa carries her child at
the Jalozai refugee camp in Pakistan. c/o AP
The countries of the
Middle East are beset with troubles caused by nature as well as man-made
strife. The region is prey to earthquakes, droughts and flooding, and
years of conflict have left the region riddled with landmines and UXO.
As a result, national economies have suffered, leaving social and
medical infrastructure battered and scarred. Regional turmoil has caused
the flight of millions of refugees and displaced persons who survive in
sparse camps, many for decades.
As the nurturers and child rearers,
women must keep their families going under difficult conditions. Female
landmine/UXO casualties make up a markedly lower percentage of victims
as compared with males because in most Middle East countries women’s
mobility is strictly limited by Muslim law. Yet women bear the burden of
mine accidents as they take up support of the family and care for
disabled children. In Afghanistan, landmines’ effects are especially
dire as, under Taliban law, women are not allowed to work and must turn
to begging if a breadwinner is killed or disabled.
Many rural or desert areas do not have
roads or other infrastructure for transporting landmine victims to
medical facilities. In remote regions, doctors are scarce and many of
the national medical services have deteriorated from years of struggle.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in conjunction with
local Red Crescent Societies, seeks to fill the gaps in medical services
with a widespread network of clinics and workshops. Other international
organizations also provide medical services and training, along with
prosthetics/orthotics and mine awareness training in some locales.
When a female is injured in a mine/UXO
accident, her chances of marrying may be effected. Female mine victims
are aware that they might be considered burdens to their families.
Rehabilitation programs largely run by NGOs do exist, and some countries
have recently enacted legislation upholding the rights of disabled
people. However, as Barbara Robertson of Women and Disability Resources
says, "The unemployment rate for disabled women in developing
countries is virtually 100 percent."
Thomas G. Houlahan, author of Gulf
War: The Complete History, describes the treatment of women in the
Mideast as differing "dramatically" from state to state. In
countries governed by fundamentalist Islamic beliefs, women are forced
to adhere to severe restrictions or risk death. Other countries, such as
Jordan and Iraq, have legally granted more civil rights to women.
Women’s literacy rates are extremely
low in the Middle East; averaging around 50 percent for the region, and
as little as 15 percent in Afghanistan. Electricity is rare, especially
in rural areas. Therefore, women’s access to information through
radio, television or the Internet is largely unavailable.
Due to years of
upheaval, Afghanistan ranks first in the world for refugee populations
according to the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR).
Approximately two million refugees reside in camps along the border in
Pakistan, many for 20 years. Another one and a half million live in
camps just inside Iran. At present, another million more refugees are
currently expected as thousands of families move toward Pakistan and
other neighboring states.
Many humanitarian organizations have
been operating programs in Afghanistan, though assistance to women has
been hampered by Taliban rule and often curtailed. Mine awareness
training for women is deemed illegal by the Taliban though some
community-based programs exist. Most humanitarian workers have been
pulled out of the country due to the present crisis, and the
International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (know as
"the Federation") fears the results of reduced services for a
population already pushed to dire limits.
The U.S. State Department states,
"Since the Taliban became a military and political force in late
1994, women and girls in Afghanistan have become virtually invisible in
Taliban-controlled portions of the country." The restrictions
imposed by the Taliban have created an atmosphere in which women may
risk death by leaving their homes. A large number of women have been
widowed by Afghanistan’s wars and are forced to beg for survival
draped from head to toe in heavy burqas.
Doctors Without Borders describes
Afghanistan as a country with an "extremely undeveloped health
infrastructure. The most sophisticated medical facilities
are situated in the five regional capitals of Kabul, Kandahar, Herat,
Jalalabad and Mazar. Outside these cities, medical facilities are
usually rudimentary, says the group."
Afghanistan’s lack of roads is a
primary difficulty in providing medical assistance to mine victims. In
many regions, no roads or transportation exist for the timely
deliverance of wounded civilians for medical treatment. Limited medical
facilities are run by NGOs, especially the ICRC. Clinics run by the
Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) have continued treating patients in
Kabul and the central, western and northern regions. However, at
present, the ARCS has no information on whether other clinics around the
country are still operating as there is no way to communicate.
About 95 percent of the mine victims
in Afghanistan are male, according to the UN-run Mine Action Center for
Afghanistan (MACA). The great disparity between male and female victims
is due to women’s lack of mobility. Women are not allowed to work;
therefore, when a family loses the breadwinner because of a mine
fatality or disability, the oldest boy is responsible for providing for
the family’s survival.
Habib Asem of MACA says that 50
percent of landmine victims die before they reach a medical facility.
According to MACA, between January 1990 and July 2001, a total of
7,346,829 people received mine awareness training in Afghanistan. Of
that number, about one and one-half million have been women and girls,
though the Taliban authorities do not allow women to receive mine
awareness training. The Afghan Campaign to Ban Landmines (ACBL) states
that 1,076,553 civilians received mine awareness education in 2000
throughout the country.
According to the Comprehensive
Disabled Afghans’ Program (CDAP), about three percent of the
population is disabled. With a total population of 20 million, this
figure translates into 700,000 men, women and children. The CDAP’s
website states, "War has disabled thousands, creating amputees,
blindness and paralysis." When the breadwinner becomes disabled,
the whole family is adversely affected. Thus, according to the CDAP,
"the actual proportion of the population affected by disability is
probably higher than 10 percent."
95 percent of Egypt’s
63 million people live along the Nile River. Overcrowding compounded by
increased urbanization has resulted in sanitation and health problems,
as well as severe poverty in Cairo and other major cities. According to
Oxfam GB, in 1997, over a third of the population lived in poverty.
"Poverty also exists in rural areas, with malnutrition a particular
problem amongst women."
To combat Egypt’s concentration of
mines, the Landmines Struggle Center (known as "the Center")
was established as an NGO in December of 1997. The Center estimates
3,200 people have been killed and 4,723 people injured by mines in the
last 20 years. Also, Egyptians have lost 10 percent of their
agricultural lands due to landmine contamination, especially in the
northern and eastern coastlands. No information is available about
female mine victims.
One of the greatest difficulties for
providing assistance to landmine victims according to the Center is that
no adequate medical facilities exist near the affected areas and that
there is a lack of mine awareness information provided to at—risk
populations. The Landmine Monitor Report states that "Some civilian
victims travel up to 100 kilometers to receive medical attention."
To fill in gaps in medical services,
the Egyptian Red Crescent Society (ERCS) runs 27 branches, one in each
governorate of the country. The branches treat approximately 5,000
patients each, and on average more women are served by the ERCS than
men. A number of services specific to women are provided by the branches
including mother-and-child care and activities to raise awareness about
reproductive health care and female empowerment.
According to Iran’s 1991 census,
women make up about half of the country’s population of 56 million. Of
the total population, an estimated 53 percent of Iranians live below the
poverty line. The Iranian government claims that the literacy rate for
women is 65.8 percent; however, the United Nations Statistics Division
states that 43 percent of women are literate (compared to 70—78
percent of men).
According to the Medical Engineering
Research Center, approximately 300 mine/UXO accidents occur in Iran each
year. There is little information about landmine victims in Iran, and
virtually no gender-specific information is available. The only known
survey of mine victims was completed by the High Center of Research and
Informatics (HCRI) last year in a western province. The survey concluded
that the highest percentage of deaths occurred in young people under the
age of 20.
The Federation’s website states,
"Apart from the UN system, only a handful of NGOs are represented
in Iran, most of them focused on refugee assistance." In 1999, the
ICRC, after apparently re-establishing ties with the Iranian Red
Crescent Society (IRCS), constructed a center for training Iranian and
foreign technicians in prosthetics and orthotics. In 2000, Iran
established its first NGO, the Society for the Protection of Victims of
Mines and UXO, for developing mine awareness projects.
The victim assistance efforts of HCRI
are focused on the four most heavily mined provinces along Iran’s
western border. HCRI plans on a project to train surgeons in the most
densely mined province, Eylam, to become "master trainers" who
pass their emergency medical skills onto other "medics, paramedics
and people from [the] Red Crescent of Iran." HCRI further states
"that the best approach to the landmine problem include[s] other
aspects such as prevention [and] demining," and the organization is
presently "getting involved in these areas as well."
Generally, little information is
available about women in Iran, except through the country’s official
website and international human rights organizations such as Amnesty
International and Human Rights Watch. The official website of the
Iranian government contains extensive material about women and national
women’s organizations. However, reaching the women’s organizations
is very difficult.
Crescent Society (IRCS)
Last May, the Iranian
Red Crescent Society was designated the focal point for a working group
to create a network for gender issues in the Middle East and North
Africa. Developing a gender network was one of the recommendations
adopted during the Third Conference of Middle East and North Africa
National Societies held in Tehran. Robabeh Rafiee, the coordinator of
women’s activities for the IRCS said, "Women must be empowered,
and therefore they must be trained and educated. Women must know what
their rights are and men must learn to respect and protect the rights of
Aid programs have been implemented in
Northern Iraq in response to what Handicap International (HI) refers to
as a "severe emergency situation." Since 1991, HI’s workshop
in Suleymania has been producing and providing mainly below-knee or
above-knee prostheses, along with crutches, walking aids and orthoses.
The second center opened in Halabja in March of 1998, through which more
than 350 disabled people have received long-term support. HI has
developed partnerships with the Kurdish government’s Ministry of
Public Health, along with local NGOs the Rozh Society and the
Handicapped Union to develop a "holistic approach" to
rehabilitating the disabled.
Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has run a
comprehensive mine action program that began with training and planning
in the early 1990s. Since then, the program has grown to encompass an
extensive database, significant demining efforts and mine awareness
programs for children and men.
MAG estimates that since 1991, a total of 6,302 people have been injured
by mines and UXO in the northern governorates and 3,470 have been
killed. Of those numbers, 212 women are counted as injured and 118
killed. Apparently, 60 percent of female victims are under the age of
30, and most women who survived an accident stated they were unaware
that there were mines in the area.
The United Nations Office of Project
Services operates its most extensive mine action program in Northern
Iraq as part of the Food for Oil Program. The program consists of a
network of medical facilities, demining and mine awareness projects
along with mine detection dogs. The network of services for victims and
at-risk populations in Northern Iraq has dramatically reduced the number
of casualties from mines and UXO over the last 10 years.
Two landmine victims at an
Iraqi prosthetics center. c/o ICRC
The ICRC has begun focusing on mine
and UXO casualties in the southern region in an effort to define an
effective mine awareness strategy with government approval and in
association with the Iraqi Red Crescent Society. The ICRC provides
support to four prosthetic/orthotic centers run by the government, and
has renovated 14 health centers and eight large hospitals in Baghdad and
other cities. During 2000, ICRC facilities provided physical
rehabilitation services for patients who received 2,807 prostheses and
1,446 orthoses, of whom 53 percent were mine victims.
The Iraqi Red Crescent Society (known
as "the Society") estimates that 3.5 million Iraqis are
adversely affected by the economic deterioration resulting from 10 years
of sanctions. According to the Federation, the public health system has
been especially hard hit with hospitals and primary health care centers
falling into disrepair. The Society operates 18 branches—one in each
governorate—led mostly by volunteer directors.
Thomas G. Houlahan described women in
Iraq as being "treated fairly well," and said they are not
subjected to the severe restrictions imposed by "fundamentalist
Islam." He said that Iraq’s government is interested in
modernizing the country, and therefore, women there are not clad in
black. Nevertheless, according to the United Nations Statistics
Division, less than half (47 percent) of Iraq’s women are literate.
Jerry White, co-founder of Landmine
Survivors Network (LSN) says that, "Israeli care and rehab for
landmine victims is the best in the world." Israel maintains
landmines for defense, though most of the mines in the country were laid
during the 1967 Six Day War. According to David Chinitz of the Braun
School of Public Health and Community Medicine, 96 percent of Israel’s
population is covered by "voluntary health insurance" provided
by four competing "sick funds."
The Jordan River Valley contains the
country’s landmine threat, and the location of mines is generally well
documented. In March 2000, a national mine action campaign was
established by royal decree and includes clearance, mine awareness and
victim assistance. Additionally, the ICRC, in conjunction with the
Jordan Red Crescent Society and LSN, runs mine awareness programs. LSN
also provides extensive support to Jordanians disabled by mines and UXO.
Oxfam GB states that women’s literacy rate in Jordan—over 70 percent—has
improved significantly over the last 35 years.
Decades of external and domestic war
have severely impacted Lebanon. Israel’s withdrawal from South Lebanon
in May of 2000 (after 22 years) left an estimated 130,000 landmines. The
National Demining Office of the Lebanese Army coordinates mine action. A
number of local organizations and international NGOs have instituted
extensive mine awareness programs. Approximately 3,000 landmine
casualties have been reported, almost all in the south. Non-military
mine victims depend mainly on NGOs such as Norwegian People’s Aid for
rehabilitative services. The Lebanese government subsidizes 80 percent
of hospital care, and in May 2000, a law was passed upholding the rights
of disabled Lebanese, including landmine survivors.
According to Sawsan Mehdi of Lebanon’s
Society for the Protection of Nature, during the civil war women had to
manage and support their families as men hid at home to avoid being
kidnapped. When Lebanon’s economy plummeted during its devastating
civil war, opportunities for females to receive education and gain
meaningful employment also waned. The National Commission for Lebanese
Women cites the "limited labor opportunities" for women, but
emphasizes the advancements made as more women move into professional
The Palestine Red Crescent Society
states, "The Palestinian people have suffered a long history of
occupation, imprisonment, exile and displacement." The exact number
of landmines and UXO in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) is
not known, but the Defense for Children International/Palestine Section
(DCI/PS) estimates that since 1967 there have been more than 2,500
landmine/UXO victims. More than half of the victims are children, and
most of the accidents have occurred in Jenin, Tulkarem, Qalqilya and
Nablus. DCI/PS has launched a mine awareness campaign to raise awareness
of the landmine/UXO problem in the occupied territories.
Scattered throughout the country, most
of Yemen’s landmines are left from the 1994 civil war, though other
conflicts over the last 40 years have also contributed to the
infestation. According to the Mine Clearance Planning Agency of Yemen,
of the 178 mine victims counted in the last two years, 42 have been
females. Radda Barnen (Swedish Save the Children) has led mine awareness
activities in Yemen since 1995, and since 1994 HI has provided
assistance to people with disabilities. However, most of Yemen’s mine
victims live in the south and do not have access to a rehabilitation
With a literacy rate of 26 percent and a maternal
mortality rate of 1,400 per 100,000 live births, Yemeni women face
considerable hardships. Oxfam GB says, "Women’s access to health
services is worse than for men because social laws forbid examination of
women by male doctors, and there are few female health workers."
Mere survival is
unfortunately the most pressing issue for many women in the Middle East,
where they must nurture and care for their families under extremely
adverse conditions. When a breadwinner is lost to a mine accident, his
widow must care for the disabled and struggle to provide food and
shelter for the remaining family members.
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