Landmines and other explosive remnants of war impact people differently – depending on their diverse needs, priorities, and capabilities. GMAP spoke with landmine survivor Firoz Alizada to learn about how diversity dimensions like access to medical care, living in a rural area, and having a disability have impacted the way that Firoz was exposed to and affected by these hazards and why Firoz thinks gender and diversity mainstreaming in mine action and victim assistance is important.
Firoz Alizada has over 10 years’ experience in the mine action sector and is the current Campaigns and Communications Manager for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines–Cluster Munition Coalition (ICBL-CMC). At the ICBL-CMC he works to ensure that its members, who consist of national and international NGOs, are supported and hold their respective governments accountable for the eradication of landmines and cluster munitions and for addressing the needs and rights of victims.
GMAP: Can you tell us a bit about your personal experience with landmines and how that led you into the mine action sector?
Firoz: In 1996, in my home country Afghanistan, I came into contact with a landmine where I lost both my legs. From then on, my personal experience with landmines was filled with challenges, starting with surviving. The accident happened far from the capital of Kabul and there was no hospital or first aid near me. It took six hours for me to get initial first aid care and even that did not stop the bleeding. To get to the hospital itself took 12 to 13 hours where finally the amputation took place. But to survive was extremely unexpected, I was very lucky.
I then went through six months of rehabilitation and numerous surgeries. Four or five months later, I received my first artificial legs. It was after this point that I began thinking of what to do next. Because of the Taliban regime, as a family we decided to immigrate to Pakistan until the removal of the Taliban in 2001. Returning to Afghanistan we saw that the whole country was suffering from the conflict and had to be rebuilt. And I had the added challenge of being a disabled person facing a lot of discrimination.
Once I found my way and got to know others with disabilities, we started a self-help group where we could discuss our needs and rights, approach the authorities and the government, and come up with ideas that could change certain discriminatory laws and policies against disabled people. One such law had to do with driving – driving was prohibited for anyone who was missing a limb. This law impacted a person’s social status, employment, or education as it stopped him or her from driving to work or school. Instead of adapting vehicles, the government thought it was easier to ban people with disabilities from driving.
At the time, the attitude towards disabled people in general was not good. As a result, so many people with disabilities that I knew were pushed to margins and isolation. But I decided to fight against all of this. That’s how I first got my job with Handicap International and eventually with the ICBL-CMC.
GMAP: How do you feel Afghanistan has progressed since your time there?
Firoz: Afghanistan has progressed a lot since my experiences there. To see people affected by landmines today has become normal as Afghanistan is the country most affected by landmines. Things are improving though. In 2003, the Afghan government joined the Mine Ban Treaty and they have set a goal to remove all landmines by 2023. Some 60% of the lands that were contaminated are now safe to use, so the number of casualties by landmines has come down. The rights and needs of disabled people have also begun to be recognized, stockpiled have been destroyed and landmines are now illegal. While more still needs to be done, Afghanistan has no doubt progressed.
GMAP: Why do you believe gender and diversity dimensions, including disabilities, are important aspects to take into consideration in mine action?
Firoz: Gender equality is a basic principle and a norm that should be considered in everything – whether it is development, policy making, or poverty reduction. It should be considered as a principle that cannot be ignored. As for GMAP, I’m really glad for the role of GMAP as it’s filling a big gap in the present mine action sector. I believe changing the perception that women can do equal work is integral to gender equality. Female employment in mine action must also be improved – in land release, the participation of women is just below one percent, which is a shame.
Governments should also be developing national strategies with gender at the forefront. This will allow for a trickledown effect, otherwise it may be difficult for people at the lower levels to consider it. Victim assistance is another aspect of mine action where gender is integral because while a lot more males are affected by landmines, their mothers and sisters also suffer. Support for them must be improved as well as ensuring women are part of the decision-making of relevant policies since their views are essential. That to me is an inclusive approach and one that takes into account the difference in needs of men, women, boys, and girls.
Photo Credit: Firoz Alizada