By Nillasi Liyanage –
April 4th marks the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. On this occasion the Sri Lanka Campaign to Ban Landmines (SLCBL) congratulates Sri Lanka on its continued dedication towards Mine Action.
As a country affected by Anti-personnel Mines (AP Mines) Sri Lanka stands by its pledge to achieve ‘mine-free’ status by 2020, coinciding with the National Deadline and ahead of the Global Deadline for a mine free world, 2025. However, this does not mean that Sri Lanka’s engagement with the AP Mine issue ends there. This article looks at the impact that the AP Mine issue in Sri Lanka has on women and the roles they play in Mine Action, in the run-up to the National Deadline of 2020 and afterwards.
Anti-personnel Landmines (AP Mines) were used in Sri Lanka during the 30-year armed conflict by both the State Armed Forces and the Liberation Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE) as well as by the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF) during their involvement. Considered to be extensively contaminated by AP Mines at the conclusion of the war in 2009, Sri Lanka has now been internationally hailed as a success story in Mine Action. According to the National Mine Action Centre (NMAC) the remaining mine contaminated area in Sri Lanka is just over 25Km2 as at December 2018.
A Prohibited Weapon
Being an indiscriminate weapon which causes superfluous harm and unnecessary suffering to not only combatants but civilians- regardless of whether they are child, man or woman- and animals, AP Mines are now a prohibited weapon by virtue of the ‘Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention’ (APMBC) of 1997. Women have played a pioneer role in bringing about a complete ban on AP Mines. It is exemplified by the fact that the ‘International Campaign to Ban Landmines’ and its Co-ordinator Jody Williams were jointly awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for their tenacity in making the APMBC a reality.
Having consistently opposed AP Mines in policy, in December 2017 Sri Lanka became the 163rd State Party to the APMBC. Accordingly, Sri Lanka now engages in Mine Action which is characterized by the Five Pillars of the APMBC, namely Demining, Mine Risk Education, Victim Assistance, Stockpile Destruction, and Advocacy. Sri Lanka also acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) in 2018, and ratified the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2016.
Role of Women in Mine Action
The local and international demining organizations carrying out demining in Sri Lanka; namely the HALO Trust, MAG, DASH and SHARP, employ female deminers in their operations in various roles such as deminers, Managers and Section Leaders, thus maintaining equal opportunities including equal pay. All of these women are from conflict-affected areas. Many of them are Female Heads of Households (FHH) and sometimes the sole breadwinners of their families. They take on the occupational hazards involved in demining alongside their male counterparts proving that they are equally competent.
Once the demining operations draw to a close these women deminers would become unemployed, thereby losing the economic stability that they and their families had so far. In recognition of their service to the country in making the land safe again it is a duty incumbent on the State to ensure that they have alternative employment opportunities. For instance, the government could enter partnerships with other mine affected countries or international organizations in need of trained demining staff so that these women can make use of their training.
Mine Risk Education (MRE) or activities that educate the public about safe practices to adhere to avoid the dangers of mines and Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) has resulted in a drastic drop in accidents caused by war-related explosives in the war affected provinces. Females, including schoolgirls working as volunteers with the MRE partner organizations have played a significant role in reaching out to families and acting as peer group influencers.
In the area of Victim Assistance, Sri Lanka still needs to improve survivor inclusion, accessibility to services and service effectiveness. Regardless of these obstacles women and girls who have met with landmine accidents as well as those secondarily victimized by a family member becoming victim to a landmine play inspiring roles in coming to terms with their disabilities and facing day to day challenges. Some are emerging as leaders taking their stories to the world. Shanthi Sriskandarasa is a mine victim who is now representing her local constituency as a Member of Parliament. It is worthy to note that the Jaffna Jaipur Centre for Rehabilitation (JJCDR) which provides a yeoman service to mine victims and other persons in need of prosthetic limbs and rehabilitation assistance, is efficiently headed by Chairperson Dr. Ms. J. Ganeshamoorthy.
In the fields of advocacy and universalization the SLCBL has been able to foster female participation. The young women who are SLCBL’s Campaign Volunteers have been able to spread awareness about mine action both locally and globally. This writer as SLCBL’s Youth Coordinator delivered the youth statement at the plenary meeting of the 17th Meeting of State Parties of the APMBC held in Austria in 2017 urging government representatives and other delegates to meet their Mine Action obligations.
Women in Mine Action in Sri Lanka have contributed immensely towards achieving the country’s obligations in becoming free of the scourge of AP Mines. May this article be a tribute to their dedication, hard work and sacrifices and may it bring them the recognition that they so richly deserve.
*Nillasi Liyanage – Youth Coordinator- Sri Lanka Campaign to Ban Landmines