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Housewives Mine-Clearing Team in Kosovo
28 Jun 2000
A team of ethnic Albanian housewives has begun clearing Yugoslav mines in Kosovo in November 1999. The women, mostly from Pec, are led by a Bosnian Muslim and overseen by Scandinavian experts, who put them through weeks of training before allowing them to tackle mines. Boerge Hoeknes, a project manager with Norwegian People's Aid, which runs the team, said that the patience and commitment of the women make some of them much better than men at clearing mines. Mr Hoeknes said: "In Scandinavia, we believe that it is important to show there are a lot more equalities than differences between women and men. Demining is one area where you can see that clearly. With women you don't get Rambo types." He said the women were the first all-female mine-clearance team in the world. Vjolca Gashi, 28, one of the recruits, said: "I'm not scared. We're aware of the danger. I came to help my people and I'm proud of it. Anyway, women are better than men, they're more precise and careful."
In Scandinavian style, the women were allowed to bring their children to the five-week training course. Each woman receives about GPS 280 a month. On the first day of work, the team gathered outside the head office chatting as they sorted through the specialist protective clothing, anti- fragmentation jackets and face guards. Each woman has a tag with her blood group etched on to it.
Mr Hoeknes said: "In this job you don't get a second chance. We look for individuals from stable backgrounds, who are calm and patient and have a strong commitment towards helping their people."
In Kosovo's traditional society, few women work outside the home and the sight of them performing such a dangerous job raises eyebrows. Sometimes, the mine-clearers in their distinctive outfits are applauded by passers-by as they drive through town. As they arrived at the end of a track in a heavily-mined area, Lekaj Maxhun, an old farmer, said: "Oh my poor dears you are so beautiful. How would the men cope without you?"
Valbona Berisha, 29, said: "When I told them at home what I am doing my brother shouted at me that I was sick and didn't know the meaning of the word danger. But my husband was killed by the Serbs. I like this job. I help the people of Kosovo and most all I help the children."
Nora Kelmendi, 28, a mother of two, with immaculately applied lipstick and several gold rings on her fingers, said: "I heard of the children being killed by mines and took the opportunity to do something. It's normal to be a bit scared, but we know if we follow the rules there will be no problem. The men I meet just congratulate me." Source: Article by Julius Strauss in Issue 1636 of the "Electronic Telegraph" (www.telegraph.co.uk), reprint with kind permission of Telegraph Group Ltd.