Engineer Montaha Khudair helps to reduce gender inequality in the field of mine action, inspired by UNDP

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Baghdad, 13 December 2017- “I was not afraid. All I cared about was completing my tasks professionally to prove that women are able to succeed in everything they do.”

Ms. Montaha Khudair is an Iraqi woman who works hard in pursuit of a better future for herself and all women in Iraq. When first joining the Directorate of Mine Action of the Ministry of Health and Environment, as Deputy Director of the Planning Department, she could not visit minefields like her male colleagues. In a society where gender equality is yet to be realized, she had no high expectations either. 

Highlights

  • With support from UNDP, the Directorate of Mine Action established the Gender Unit, which will work to ensure integrating gender perspective in mine action policies and programmes
  • Ms. Montaha was one of the very first female engineers to join the male-dominated Directorate of Mine Action and later head the Gender Unit
  • "My plan is to build women’s capacity and skills, and raise their risk awareness to be equals of male colleagues in performing the duties they signed up for,” says Ms. Montaha

In November 2016, UNDP organized a training workshop in Erbil on the role of gender in disaster risk reduction, environment and climate change. Ms. Montaha was one of the participants. Only then, she started to think how achieving gender equality would improve the work environment in the Directorate of Mine Action she joined.

Ms. Montaha began to conduct research on various sections of the Directorate that do not engage women, and identify the root causes and potential solutions. A few weeks later, she submitted the research findings and recommendations to her management aiming to improve engagement of women by the Directorate, as well as the work environment for women. Soon after, management approved the inclusion of women in mine action missions and, with support from UNDP, established the Gender Unit, which will work to ensure integrating gender perspective in mine action policies and programmes.  This unit is the first of its kind in the Directorate.

“My first field mission was to a minefield in Missan, far away in the desert south of Iraq. I was aware I am putting myself in danger. Any small mistake would cost me my life, but giving up has never been an option for me,” says Ms. Montaha. 

In fact, Ms. Montaha was one of the very first female engineers to join the male-dominated Directorate of Mine Action and later head the Gender Unit in 2016. There was no female field staff back then. A few months into her arrival, the number hiked up to eight.

“I faced some obstacles,” Ms. Montaha recalls. “Some colleagues rejected the idea of women going out to minefields and performing dangerous tasks such as demining.” In an attempt to change this culture, she conducted a workshop at the workplace to explain the important role women can play “in any field, including mine action.” She says: “I made it clear to everyone that my plan is not just about including women in missions to mine-affected areas; it is also to build women’s capacity and skills, and raise their risk awareness to be equals of male colleagues in performing the duties they signed up for.”

Director General of the Directorate of Mine Action, Mr. Khalid Rashad, said: “Engaging women in such tough field is a challenge for us, but it is also necessary to improve the Directorate’s work. Women have indeed played an effective role since they joined our team. Their contributions to mine action, including through field assessments and demining, have been of added value to the Directorate.”

Demining had been a male-only domain of work in Iraq, but not any longer. UNDP and other UN agencies are supporting government plans to reduce gender inequality in various sectors, in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2016. UNDP has reached out to thousands of women in dozens of gender related activities over the years.

The Directorate of Mine Action is also supported by the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in the response to complex explosive hazards in liberated areas.  Explosive hazards are mixed in with an estimated 11 million tonnes of infrastructure debris in Mosul, posing a significant obstacle to people trying to return home. UNMAS provides risk education to women, girls, boys and men in internally displaced people’s (IDPs) camps and to those who have already returned home to reduce the probability of accidents. Also, UNMAS encourages the employment of female community based risk education volunteers to spread lifesaving education messages to female community members.

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