On World Humanitarian Day 2019, the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) is honouring women humanitarians who make an invaluable contribution to their communities and strive to make the world a better place.
MAG finds and destroys landmines, cluster munitions and unexploded bombs in places affected by conflict. Since 1989, the humanitarian charity has helped over 18 million people in 68 countries rebuild their lives and livelihoods after war.
Jane Cocking, MAG CEO, has spent 25 years working in the humanitarian sector, responding to multiple crises across the world, from Somalia to Syria.
For Jane, humanitarianism is about "recognising there are simply too many people in the world right now who are not able to access the basic safety, security and wellbeing to which everybody on the planet has a right."
Jane is one of only a handful of female executives in a male-dominated sector. She explains how self-belief has helped her overcome the challenges that brings, "the biggest barrier is always if you don't believe you can do something. Once you're over that and you believe you can, then there is always a way to do anything so long as your heart is in the right place.”
World Humanitarian Day provides the perfect opportunity to shine a spotlight on some of the many women humanitarians in MAG who have also overcome that barrier.
Valentina Stivanello has over fifteen years’ experience as a humanitarian, she is MAG's Country Director in Sri Lanka.
Asked about her route to humanitarianism, Valentina explained: "I travelled extensively as a child and saw other children like myself in a far worse situation, particularly those in the slums of Delhi and Rio. In Delhi, I recall seeing a child without legs moving around on a makeshift board with wheels and it touched me deeply. I knew from a young age that I wanted to somehow help people and that is what has led me to the work I do now. In Sri Lanka, we are helping people to regain access to their land and seeing them begin to slowly re-establish their lives and livelihoods."
But Valentina's journey has not been without challenges, "it’s not always easy for women to take a leadership position especially in certain contexts where women have very traditional roles and limited public visibility."
"I’ve often found myself being closely scrutinised and needing to prove my credentials because I am a woman. I, however, relish this challenge and am confident in my ability to lead without feeling the need to apologise for my gender. I think it’s important for national and international staff to have female role models. Diversity in humanitarian leadership is a key ingredient for success and I believe women can be powerful agents of change in humanitarian settings.”
Another one of those powerful agents for change in MAG is Delia Sandra Maphosa, the charity's Community Liaison Team Leader in Zimbabwe.
Delia was driven to humanitarianism because of her desire to "emancipate communities plagued by landmines". She has worked with MAG since 2017.
"MAG's work not only strives to save lives through landmine clearance and by promoting the adoption of safe behaviours, but it also plays a pivotal role in community development," she explains.
Asked about her favourite moment with MAG, Delia remembers with great pride her work with schools in the Mudzi district, “communicating safe behaviours to children" while also helping to "alleviate literacy challenges in the schools."
Delia's colleague in Cambodia, Phann Ling, a deputy team leader in Ratanak Kiri, has been with the charity for 15 years.
As a humanitarian, Phann is motivated by the opportunity to help save lives and free people in her community from a daily free of death and injury. But the work can be hard, she explains:
"We face many challenges but our team keep doing the best work we can do. The more unexploded bombs we remove, the more people we save, and the more safe land we release, the more livelihoods we can improve."
The work is empowering, Phann adds, "I feel so happy that now I can improve my family's life for the better and I can send my children to school... With this job, my team and I can fulfil our aspirations for the future such as building a family home and increasing our family's wellbeing."
For Jane, it is MAG staff working across the world that truly inspire her. "The people who I most admire are those working in their own countries who get up every day and do amazing things in and for their communities. We have amazing women working for MAG across the world. They are the lifeblood of our organisation and our work."
MAG works with hundreds of inspiring women humanitarians and the situations they face varies widely from country to country. But the one thing that is universal to all of them is their commitment to helping MAG achieve its mission of saving lives and building safer futures, and contributing to making as many countries as possible landmine free by 2025.