Tajikistan founds Central Asia's first all-female mine-clearing team

Team's selection is considered a stride forward in equality and opportunity for Tajik women; they will help clear land of mines left over from 1992-97 civil war.

By Jamila Sujud

2014-05-02

DUSHANBE – Tajikistan has its first-ever all-female land mine-clearing team, Muhabbat Ibrohimzoda, director of the Tajikistan Mine Action Centre (TMAC), said in April.

TMAC and the charity Norwegian People's Aid co-founded the historic team to clean up land mines left over from the 1992-1997 civil war.

Female residents of Kumsangir District, Khatlon Oblast, strongly supported the concept, Ibrohimzoda said, adding that all the candidates came from Kumsangir.

"Recruiting and training the female humanitarian demining group began in January and February," he said. "Twenty-five girls and women initially competed."

A stringent competition

A demanding selection process whittled the number down. The maximum age for eligibility was 40, and the selection panel assessed the candidates' ability to work.

After three months of classroom and hands-on instruction, coupled with subsequent testing, 10 females were certified as de-miners.

The team now is clearing mines in Kumsangir, in an effort to make its home district safe for farmers, children and other residents.

"The Republic of Tajikistan attaches great importance to the objectives of the [Ottawa] Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction," Ibrohimzoda said.

"Creating a single state system for monitoring, registering, storing, transporting and disposing of munitions, explosive substances and their parts in accordance with international standards is also an important task for Tajikistan," he said.

The female de-miners earn a good salary and receive life and health insurance, TMAC says.

Advance in women's equality

The team's formation underscores women's rights to choose their own livelihood, one observer said.

"It's a woman's right to choose, not the state's or the employer's," human rights scholar Dilbar Tursunova said. "If women want to clear land mines, why shouldn't we let them?"

Others see the move as a step in the right direction of gender equality.

"Professions aren't divided into male and female ones," gender issues specialist Saiyora Ashrapova said. "We've been talking about gender equality for several years."

The idea of women clearing land mines should not cause any real objections in Tajikistan, because women have previously put themselves in danger in other capacities, Favziya Nazarova, a researcher at the Dushanbe-based Nota Bene think tank, said.

Soviet women fought in World War II, she said, filling roles in communications, spying and sniping.

That said, she called de-mining "a big risk and a real peril" and praised the women who were strong enough to compete for the positions.

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