"The challenge is to overcome oneself in every way, to achieve the proposed goals and not to forget the calling that led us to pursue this dream," says Violeta Cristina Chica Mendoza when asked about being a female explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technician in Ecuador.
At MAG, we are committed to promoting women and girls’ full, equal and meaningful participation in the disarmament sector.
We know that only by reaching gender equality will we achieve the global ambition to leave no one behind.
"The first challenge I had was to fight against the stereotypes that still exist in our society and military life — since there are few women in the military," says Violeta. "We have been making our way into different fields. We have earned a position with dedication and sacrifice — that is the important thing."
With explosive ordnance disposal technicians like Violeta Cristina Chica Mendoza, MAG is working in Ecuador to support the Ecuadorian Military to reduce the threat of armed violence.
The past decade has seen an increase in the intensity and impact of conflict and violence on civilians globally. The uncontrolled spread and availability of guns and ammunition prolongs conflict and increases this impact.
Weapons and munitions are regularly stolen and trafficked across porous borders and traded on the illicit market, fuelling more armed violence against civilians. They are also too often insecurely stored in or near built-up areas.
The world has witnessed, too many times, the devastating consequences of improperly stored small arms and ammunition. Unplanned explosions at storage depots can kill and injure on a massive scale and destroy homes, schools and vital community infrastructure.
A reality of which Violeta is keenly aware: "It is important to know that so many accidents have been reported in different countries of the world due to the bad handling, storage or transport of explosive material," she says. "We want to prevent Ecuador from being another report in the world."
Improving the quality of storage facilities and destroying obsolete weapons and ammunition removes the chance of accidents and harm.
MAG has worked with experienced military personnel in Ecuador since May 2020, supporting the Ecuadorian authorities to destroy over 220,000 items of obsolete munitions, over a US ton of explosives and improve the physical security of storage facilities.
For Violeta, the key to building that vital experience is an investment in training: "It is necessary to emphasize that the training and experience that we as EOD technicians have is of high-quality thanks to continuous retraining."
Despite her experience, however, Violeta still remembers her first demolition: "It was incredible ... more than 2,000 pounds of explosives," she recalls. "Taking control of the detonation, priming the explosives, your adrenaline at 100% and, at the same time, you have to always be calm."
"The act of leaving the demolition pit, placing yourself at a safe distance and when you see your safety fuse burning and shouting, FIRE IN THE HOLE, FIRE IN THE HOLE, FIRE IN THE HOLE.
"Knowing that you did well and from afar and watching the smoke cloud form and being sure that your team trusts the work you do is so satisfying."
Thanks to experts like Violeta and support from the US government, MAG is working with the Ecuadorian Military to save lives and build a safer future for communities affected by armed violence.