Zouleikha Abakar is a deminer and a trailblazer. When she qualified to become a team leader in 2019, Zouleikha became the first woman in Chad to do so.
Chad is heavily contaminated with landmines and other unexploded bombs, largely from the conflict with Libya — which ended over thirty years ago.
Chad is also largely a patriarchal society — the demining profession is not just dominated by men it is almost exclusively male.
But Zouleikha wants to challenge the traditional views of a woman's role in the country and declares: "Their place is not only at home! They must dare!"
MAG has been working in Chad since 2004 to reduce the daily risk of death or injury from landmines and unexploded bombs and create safe and secure conditions for development free from armed violence.
The job of a deminer is often a calling for those committed to freeing their communities of the deadly legacy of conflict. For Zouleikha, it is also personal: "My uncle was a deminer. Unfortunately, he died in a mine accident, and that's how I got my vocation.”
Zouleikha's journey has taken over ten years — and it has not always been easy. Her choice of career has provoked varying reactions. Although initially surprised by the move, her family have been broadly supportive and her mother even more so.
She also found resistance from some people who consider a woman's place to be in the home, not on a minefield. Zouleikha grew up as the only girl in a family of nine boys, though, and is used to making her way in male-dominated environments.
"I talked a lot with my colleagues to get them to accept the idea of having a woman on their team. Now I don't get tired of talking to people who see the role of women as staying at home and I focus on those who accept the discussion,” she says defiantly.
It was 2017 when Zouleikha joined MAG. Two years later, thanks to the Demining and Economic Development Project (PRODECO) financed by the European Union, she passed her Explosive Ordnance Disposal level 3 qualification.
PRODECO is a partnership of MAG, Humanity & Inclusion, Secours catholique et développement (SECADEV) and the Fondation Suisse pour le déminage (FSD).
Zouleikha is already proudly inspiring change in her community. One of her neighbours, motivated by her example, has decided to encourage her own daughter to get involved in areas usually reserved for men.
In the future, Zouleikha wants to continue working with MAG but hopes to travel and support communities around the world achieve the global goal of a landmine free 2025.