"In my job, men have no objections to women making the decisions ," says Sona Nadian, 37, from Bissau.
"That should be the case in any field of work, but when it comes to mine-clearing, it isn't necessarily obvious," she adds with pride and amusement.
Sona and her female co-workers – Julieta, Nesia, and Luisa – have been heading a team of 50 employees, 38 of them males, LUTCAM (lutamos todos contra as minas), a national non-governmental organization charged with removing mines across the country.
Following a long series of conflicts, from the 1960s to the 1990s, Guinea-Bissau was riddled with landmines. Those were entirely eliminated following 12 years of intense work by a US $26 million mine-clearing programme led by the Government of Guinea-Bissau and supported by UNDP.
From January 2000 to June 2012, the country cleared 50 mined areas, representing a total of 650 hectares. A total of 3,973 anti-personnel mines, 207 antitank mines, and 309,125 pieces of unexploded ordnance were destroyed over that period. By December 2012, Guinea-Bissau had fulfilled its obligations under the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines.
As a result of that programme, it is estimated that 75 percent of rural inhabitants living in mined areas have regained access to water, safe land for agriculture, livestock and other basic needs.
Although Sona and her teammates feel an immense sense of accomplishment, being part of this project meant overcoming multiple obstacles. Besides the fact most formal jobs in Guinea-Bissau are given to men, working in mine fields has also meant assuming dangerous jobs and travelling away from their families for most of the time.
Nesia Pereira, 33, had to convince her parents, husband and children that this was the right thing to do.
"I never lacked courage. And besides, all jobs have their risks and dangers. With this project I was at least certain that I was helping my community, my people – and that made me proud", she says.
Luisa Vieira says taking up this job has boosted her self-confidence.
"I now have no problem talking and helping people based on my knowledge, whether they are young, old, men, women or from any particular group", she says.
With the programme now closed, the Government of Guinea-Bissau has transferred mine action activities to the National Service of Civil Protection (NSCP) to address possible residual contamination. All four women will join the new NSCP's rapid response clearing capacity, which will start operating in May 2013.
A WOMAN WORKS IN GUINEA-BISSAU'S MINE-CLEARING PROJECT, WHICH HAS HELPED CLEAR 650 HECTARES OF THE COUNTRY FROM MINES AND UNEXPLODED ORDNANCE. (PHOTO: UNDP GUINEA-BISSAU)