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Meet Zeinab Hashem: A Deminer in South Lebanon

“People assume it’s a hard job for a woman" says Zeinab Hashem. As a deminer she contributes to the development of her community and provides for her family. Foto: Hala Amhaz/NPA

“If we are not scared while working, there is something wrong.”

“Every day we come to work and we do not know if we will be back the next day. But to me, the hardest part is waking up in the morning” Zeinab Hashem (32) laughs. She is one of the 15 deminers working with Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), on a 3-year project initiated in 2016, and funded by the European Union in the South of Lebanon.

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Women often face critizism when taking on jobs that in the cultural context are viewed as a mans job. Demining might as well be a womans job, Hashem has experienced.

Even though her job consists of clearing contaminated land from cluster munitions, Hashem takes things lightly. After a day in the field, she is happy to share her story.

Dealing with danger

In the summer of 2006, up to four million cluster sub-munitions were dropped by the Israeli army on South Lebanon. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands failed to explode on impact, contaminating more than 55 square kilometers. Under the three year-project funded by the European Union and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, NPA teams, under the supervision of the Lebanon Mine Action Center, cleared more than 450,000 square meters of land.

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Some of the equipment can make it seem like clearing explosives has a lot in common with gardening. In order to access the munitions, bot garden shears and a garden spade can come handy.

Despite all the precautions and safety measures, clearing munitions is still a fundamentally risky process, as is any job that deals with explosive devices. Hashem and her colleagues are fully aware of the danger, and fear of an accident is always present. “If we are not scared while working, there is something wrong. We have to be scared so that we’re 100 percent aware.” Hashem admits.

Defying gender roles

Even though NPA promotes women engagement in mine action, Lebanese women who choose this career often face criticism. Hashem dealt with this when she became a NPA deminer: “People assume it’s a hard job for a woman. My mother was against the idea in the beginning; she asked me ‘what if anything happens to you?’.

But Hashem was determined. “The people around me have no say in my choices” she adds, “I told my mother that what’s meant to be, will be.”

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Hold the line! The red line marks the area cleared and safe, from the area that Hashem is working on.

Zeinab Hashem encourages other women to enter this field and break the perception associated with the job. Through her experience, she knows for a fact that demining is equally attainable for women as it is for men.

When asked what message she would send to women who would like to apply, she simply answers “If I feel they might like this job, I would tell them to go for it”.

Providing for her family

Humanitarian Disarmament is reliant on international funds to survive. Due to a break in funding few years ago, Hashem unfortunately lost her job. But thanks to the support of the European Union in 2016, she was able to get her previous position back with NPA.

With her salary, Hashem is providing for her whole family: “I support my father who works as a day laborer and his wife. I also pay for my 3-year old brother’s school fees.”

One of the reasons why Hashem enjoys it is because she can have a positive impact on the community. “We clean the land for the local residents to use it again. It makes me happy to participate in humanitarian work for the community”.

Norwegian People’s Aid received financial support from the European Union and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a 3-year project starting in January 2016 and ending in December 2018.

The objective of this project is to reduce cluster munitions risk and increase access to cleared land for socio-economic development in South Lebanon. NPA, under the supervision of the Lebanon Mine Action Center, employs two Battle Area Clearance (BAC) teams who are responsible for clearing contaminated land from cluster munition remnants.

As of December 2018, final month of the project, more than 450,000 square meters of land have been cleared from approximately 4,200 cluster munitions, found and destroyed by NPA deminers doing their best to protect civilians from explosive weapons.

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18.12.2018 | Hala Amhaz