Female Pilots Fly Through Gender Barriers In The Middle East

Female Pilots Fly Through Gender Barriers In The Middle East

f you thought Amelia Earhart broke all gender barriers in the flight industry in the 1930's, think again. Recently I picked up an issue of Flight International, which featured an article about female airline pilots in the Middle East. What struck me first about the photo of the two trailblazing female cadets profiled, Aisha Al Mansoori and Salma Al Balooshi, was that their heads were covered by veils worn beneath their pilot caps, which made my feminist-senses tingle.

DM_EtihadPilots.jpgThese women are the first female cadet pilots to be recruited by Etihad (which means "unity"), the national airline of the United Arab Emirates. Based in very westernized Dubai, the airlines flight attendant's uniform also includes loose head scarves attached to pillbox-ish hats as a reflection of the culture. Though on the up side, rather than oppressive, it looks quite Jackie O actually.

My second feminist jolt happened when I read about the first accredited female pilot in Saudi Arabia, Capt. Hanadi Zakariya Hinda, who flies private jets that belong to a prince. Because women aren't allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, she still needs to be driven by a male chauffeur to the airport. That seems a bit backwards, but apparently it's not about her competency behind the wheel. It is my understanding that the reason women aren't allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia is to minimize their exposure to strange men, but still...

According to Air Odyssey.net, Helen Ritchey, the first "documented and verified" female pilot flying for a scheduled airline in the U.S. was hired in December 1934 by Central Airlines. She left less than a year later, falling victim to all-male pilot union discrimination. Check out the above Candid Camera clip to see where American's heads were at in the early 1960's (click HERE to view).

We've flown a long way since then, but not far enough. By 1973 four different airlines in America had woman pilots in their cockpits. Today the International Society of Women Airline Pilots says that there are around 4,000 female commercial airline pilots worldwide, with the majority of them being in the U.S. But when you consider that's out of a total of 80,000, females still only account for a pitiful 5%. Is it too silly to suggest that we rename the cockpit something less gender specific? Certainly if women who face such extreme gender challenges in the Middle East are making such headway in that area, shouldn't we be looking to make a little more progress in redressing the balance here in America.

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