Next week represents a key milestone for the mine action sector, as over 600 delegates gather in Oslo for the Fourth Review Conference of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) to agree the way forward for the next five years.
A critical issue that has been high on the agenda this year is gender mainstreaming and the Oslo outcome documents are expected to include some of the most ambitious gender mainstreaming objectives in the Convention to date. These include gender-specific actions and indicators in the draft Oslo Action Plan, as well as the mainstreaming of gender in the Committee structures of the Convention.
The mine action sector has realised the importance of gender equality for a while but this is a sign that the sector as a whole is more committed to doing something about it. However, as these are political and not legally binding commitments, there is no guarantee that significant change will result from this.
The challenge is that there is still limited understanding in the sector of what gender equality and mainstreaming means and there is general reluctance to have an honest conversation out of fear of getting it wrong. Some will say it is about counting women in, showcasing the numbers of women deminers or the women in delegations at sector meeting. Others will counter and say it’s not at all about that and it’s not about women at all, but understanding who is most at risk.
Gender equality encompasses equality between all people, regardless of their gender. Because women and girls have historically been oppressed, exploited or otherwise disadvantaged, addressing gender inequality is about promoting the interests of women and girls in order to address these disadvantages. So yes, it is about employing women in mine action and promoting women in leadership roles, including in delegations at sector meetings. But it is also about understanding the different risks that women, girls, boys and men are exposed to in relation to mine contamination, ensuring all groups are consulted and that mine action operations take into consideration their needs.
The challenge is when gender equality is treated as a game of one-upmanship, leading to a situation where those who don’t consider themselves experts prefer to stay silent and leave it to the ones who “know what they are talking about”. Or worse, leave it to women to deal with.
Gender equality is not an issue for women and girls only. Men and boys have a responsibility to challenge the traditions and customs that support and maintain gender inequalities, because achieving gender equality benefits entire societies. And while we need to rely on experts to understand how to get better at gender mainstreaming, we will never actually achieve it without the buy-in of both decision-makers and implementers. We all need to take responsibility for gender mainstreaming if we want to have an effective mine action sector that leaves no one behind – men, women, affected states, donor states, civil society, focal points, directors, ambassadors and deminers.
We need everyone’s commitment.
So while we all deserve a pat on the back for agreeing ambitious gender mainstreaming clauses in the Oslo outcome documents, we must not be fooled – this is not the end of the race, it’s the start of it. Or, perhaps, a mid-way point where everyone, I hope, realises we must move up a gear. As we advance towards the Landmine Free 2025 objective, we need to work together, with an open mind, to ensure all mine action activities consider the needs of all groups and attempt to level the playing field as much as possible. We need to try new things, learn from other sectors, draw lessons learned from previous work and have an honest conversation on how to improve.
It’s not just about achieving a landmine free 2025; of equal importance, arguably, is how we get there.