Hana Khider in Iraq

As a child, Hana Khider dreamed of Sinjar in northern Iraq. “I always imagined it in my mind,” she says, smiling. “It was beautiful and peaceful.”

Today, Sinjar is her home. She lives with her husband and three children in a village close to Mount Sinjar, which she describes as “very special to our community”. Khider is Yazidi and the rocky peak has long been considered a sacred refuge for persecuted people.

It was the mountain that saved her and more than 40,000 other Yazidis when they fled Islamic State in August 2014.

“We feared for our lives,” Khider, now 28, says, explaining how Isis fighters surrounded the mountain.

Luckily, she escaped to Kurdistan, where she lived in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp until her village was liberated. Her family returned in May 2016. A few months later, she applied to work as a deminer at the MAG.

“All Yazidis want to do something to make Sinjar as it was before the war,” Khider says. “So when I heard about an organisation that removes war remnants and frees the land from the danger of death, I felt eager to work with them.”

The Yazidi heartland remains infected with Isis’s legacy. As well as unexploded ordnance (UXO) such as mortars, projectiles and grenades, Isis purposefully left mines of an improvised nature and IEDs everywhere.

This is why Khider and many other Yazidi women are becoming deminers. “My work is a message to Isis: ‘We are strong and we cannot be defeated,’” she says.

This determination was evident in a recent documentary, Into The Fire, which followed Khider as she led an all-female team of deminers.

The job of a deminer used to be considered “men’s work”, partly because of the danger and partly because of the physical demands – it is slow and arduous. But this view is changing. Khider now oversees a mixed-sex team of 14 members.

Hiba Ghandour in Lebanon

In 2019, a Mines Action Canada survey of 12 NGOs involved in landmine clearance around the world, including MAG, the Halo Trust, and the Danish Demining Group, found that women made up only 20 per cent of operational staff.

Hiba Ghandour, MAG’s gender and diversity officer in Lebanon, says getting more women into operational positions will not happen overnight: “It’s a process, but we’re getting there. There’s no solid rule; we’re constantly learning. There shouldn’t be any area where someone says it’s not for women.”

Particularly with Lebanon’s current economic situation, giving women opportunities is now more crucial than ever. “I have heard 90 per cent of our female staff say, ‘We are helping our husbands, fathers, family – without us they could not survive,’” she says.

For the naysayers who think women are incapable of taking on the role of deminer, Ghandour says that in every training session she runs, someone will always ask: “Is it a woman’s job?” and a site supervisor will pipe up, saying the female deminers in their team are doing better than some of the males – and sometimes better than all the males.

Mofida Majzoub in Lebanon

So far this year, MAG has cleared close to 15,000 mines in Lebanon.

Mofida Majzoub, 40, from Sidon, is a MAG site supervisor in the north-east, an area close to the Syrian border. She was previously a freelance photographer, but after 25 days of training in 2016 she became a deminer.

In 2019, she was promoted to site supervisor and now looks after a team of 12.

“I make sure I am conducting the safety procedures in order to make the deminers safe. It’s a great responsibility, though some of my friends are like, ‘You’re crazy,’” she laughs.

"It’s a great responsibility, though some of my friends are like, ‘You’re crazy,’"