These Female Pilots Are Breaking Gender Barriers In Countries Previously Thought Impossible

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This is awesome news and will be added to our list of “women breaking gender barriers in order that the headline ‘First Female’ anything becomes a thing of the past one day”.

Because that’s what it’s all about for us when it comes to gender equality and feminism. When we reach a stage when men and women have an equal share of every pie globally, perhaps all that fuss about the movement and what it stands for will be recognized.

While we fully believe we are on our way there, along the way we also believe it is our duty to share the stories of women who dare to trod on the path never taken in order to inspire countless other women to do the same.

PRI recently featured a story about two female pilots from two different countries who have broken a barrier that, let’s be honest, many of us probably didn’t even know needed breaking.

Niloofar Rahmani, pictured above, has become the first female pilot in the Afghanistan Air Force since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. We would also wager that before the Taliban fell, there were also no women flying planes, so there’s that.

The 23 year old has been awarded the US Secretary of State’s International Woman of Courage Award, but has also faced much opposition and threats from the Taliban for her bravery to step into a man’s world.

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Ever since she was a little girl she dreamed of becoming a pilot but at the age of 18 when she heard the Air Force was looking for new recruits, she knew this was her chance. She initially wanted to be a commercial pilot but because Afghanistan doesn’t have civilian aviation the military was her only option. Her family has had to move several times because they fear the Taliban may hurt them, but Niloofar will not give up the important work she is doing in the skies as well as on the ground.

You can’t just see yourself as a woman, but as a human and believe in yourself. It was not easy finishing flight school, it was very hard, but someone had to accept the risk so that other women can do what they dream,” Captain Rahmani told the press in April 2015 after receiving her award.

She’s not the only woman encouraging other girls to follow their dreams. Over in Rwanda, 26 year old Esther Mbabazi has become the country’s first female commercial pilot for Rwanda Air. Although the two women’s journeys are equally inspiring, the different climates in their respective countries have meant a different path to success.

Unlike Afghanistan, Rwanda is very welcoming toward women in civilian and public life, and this happened in large part after the horrific genocide in 1994 when, afterward, women were the majority of people who worked to rebuild the nation after such a tragic time. The have equality measures built into their constitution, and they also have a quota requirement for females in government (30% of seats must go to women) which means today they are the nation with the highest percentage (64%) of women in government, taking every powerful Western nation to task with that statistic alone!

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Esther’s opposition came mostly in the form of cultural objections. Some of the criticism she received asked why she wanted to be a pilot when it was a man’s job, and men are stronger than women.

“And then you have to explain to them that flying does not really require you to carry the whole aircraft,” she says.

Some people have even gone as far as to refuse to get on the flight when she is in the cockpit, to which she responds they have evert right to get off the flight, but good luck getting a refund! Like Niloofar, Esther isn’t about to give up her day job any time soon because she knows the statement she is sending to a generation of young Rwandan women.

“I always tell them there’s nothing that is too difficult for women. Anything that can be done by men we can do, probably even better,” she believes.

“[You just have to] believe that you can do anything, because nothing is easy in this world. If you want to achieve something, or if you want to do something, you have to fight,” she added.

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These women aren’t the only female pilots breaking ground. There are other countries where women are taking to the skies to prove it is not a gendered thing.

In December 2014, four Chinese pilots became the first female recruits in the People’s Liberation Army and showcased their piloting skills in a Aerobatic exhibition.

From Pakistan, 26 year old Flight Lieutenant Ayeesha Farooq became the first woman assigned to one of Pakistan’s front line dogfighting squadrons in 2013.

Over in the United Arab Emirates, Mariam Al-Mansouri is their lone female pilot and recently took part in the coalition forces who were part of the US-led airstrikes against ISIS.

Closer to home, Captain Katie Higgins became the first female pilot in the US Navy’s Blue Angels demonstration squadron. This was significant because the Blue Angels are the second oldest demo squad in the world and it took 69 freaking years for the most powerful nation on earth do something that should’ve happened a long time ago.

Nevertheless, each of these women prove change is happening worldwide. Perhaps there will be a day soon where we don’t think of certain jobs as a “man’s job” or a “woman’s job”, but simply jobs and tasks that a capable human being, regardless of gender, is doing.

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