Award-winning Zeina Saleh defies gender norms in clearing south Lebanon of mines
Women working in the field of demining are rare. Zeina Saleh of the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in south Lebanon is amongst those very few women working under extremely risky conditions. In November 2019, Zeina, along with six other young women working for UNMAS around the globe, received the UN Secretary-General Award for addressing the gender imbalance in the field of explosive ordnance disposal (EOD).
For Zeina, being an EOD operator has been an extraordinary professional experience. She joined UNMAS in 2013 as a Data Entry Clerk and, after getting required certifications, became Operations Quality Assurance Officer.
Zeina gives insight into her work, during a visit to a minefield in south Lebanon which is used as a training ground for UNIFIL de-miners.
“We support UNIFIL demining teams with regards to their trainings. We conduct the validation, which means that we ensure that their skills are aligned with the global demining standards. After that, I start conducting weekly Quality Assurance (QA) visits. I check all the aspects and the site elements if they are conducted in accordance with the Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs),” she says.
In addition, she also helps raise awareness about the impacts and dangers of landmines, and conducts trainings on Explosive Remnants of War (ERWs) and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) for UN personnel in Lebanon
Nowadays, UNIFIL’s demining teams are concentrated on the operational clearance, clearing the safe corridors in the minefields in order to get access to the Blue line. After the 2006 war, they were mainly involved in the clearance of orchards and fields belonging to rural southerners farmers.
“I feel so happy whenever a piece of land is cleaned from mines and cluster bombs, and in that way the landowners will be able to use their lands safely,” she continues.
For Zeina, growing professionally in the field of demining, one of the most dangerous professions, has been a dream come true.
“I am extremely passionate about the work that I do, and I am very happy and proud to be working for UNMAS,” Zeina adds. “Yes, I know that this is a risky profession, but I have learned how to protect myself and also to protect others.”
SG Award, “a great motivator to keep going”
On managing work-life balance, Zeina says, “Working with UNMAS and UNIFIL has been indeed an extraordinary opportunity for me where I had the chance to take care of my personal and professional life, and to diversify my skills with the proper support, inspiration and mentorship of my managers whom I also have considered mentors.”
Reminiscing about the Award, she says: “I was very thrilled to have received the UN SG Award and it is indeed, a good acknowledgement for what I love to do and it’s a great motivator for me to keep going.”
Defying gender norms
Zeina strongly believes that the demining field needs more women, notwithstanding the gender norms, “because, [women] can do it as good as any man can, given that they are trained properly.”
UNMAS Programme Manager in Lebanon and Zeina’s supervisor, Alan Macdonald, says he was delighted when Zeina received the Award. “In Zeina Saleh, we are very fortunate to have found such a young brave woman with her energy and drive – and the confidence she has to tackle jobs that 10 years ago were mainly restricted to men,” he says.
Large swathes of land cleared
UNIFIL peacekeepers dedicated in clearing mines in south Lebanon, from Cambodia and China, have cleared large swathes of land over the past year. In 2019 alone, they found and destroyed almost 3,400 mines and one unexploded ordnance (UXO). They also cleared almost 43,000 square metres of land.
Earlier this year, UNIFIL and its strategic partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) allowing for the two forces to enhance cooperation, after a decade, in humanitarian demining within the UNIFIL area of operations in south Lebanon.
UNMAS Lebanon seeks to ensure that UNIFIL military units conducting either operational or humanitarian demining do so in line with the Lebanese National Mine Action Standards.
Listen to UNIFIL Radio program "Salam from the South" - Zeina Saleh: