Colombia: "Women play a vital role in mine clearance"

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Marta Quintero was fortunate. “When I was 14, I stumbled on a mine as I was walking through my village,” she explains. “It was so damp, it didn’t go off.”

Colombia's conflict zones are littered with mines. According to official figures, more than 11,102 people were killed or maimed by anti-personnel mines and explosive remnants of war between 1990 and 2014—the second highest rate in the world. More than 1,000 victims were children. According to a Handicap International survey, 80% of survivors of armed violence have a disability.

“I saw people maimed by mines when I was growing up,” Marta says. “I saw children die for a war that wasn’t theirs. Like many people, violence had a big impact on us."

Today, she's doing something about it. As Handicap International’s mine clearance operations manager in Meta, she's the expert keeping her community safe. "I really love my work. I can’t tell you how great it feels when I finish clearing a contaminated area.”

Marta is not the only woman engaged in mine clearance operations. Handicap International ensures that at least 40% of deminers in Colombia are women–reflecting the high proportion of women in the country–and provides advancement opportunities to all.

Irène Manterola, Handicap International’s director in Colombia, explains, “There are currently 17 women and 33 men on our team. Women play a vital role in mine clearance. They are responsible, highly motivated, and their social skills are essential if you’re living in camps with other people.

“Women build relationships with villagers who tell them where to find hard-to-reach mines. By giving women an opportunity to demine, Handicap International is gradually helping to improve their image in a country which is still considered to celebrate machismo."

Working in Colombia since 1998, Handicap International promotes the full participation in Colombian society of people with disabilities, including victims of internal armed conflict, and their families. The organization also works to ensure that disability issues are taken into account in public policies. Learn more about our work in Colombia.