Despite good progress, the aviation sector has still not achieved gender parity, and it is considered even unusual to find women from the Muslim community as pilots, but this trend is slowly getting brushed off, as several names are changing the perception.
Although there is still a long way to go in achieving gender parity in the aviation sector, the industry is opening up for women pilots, as in recent years more and more airlines and aviation organizations have been actively recruiting and supporting women pilots.
For example, in 2018, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) launched the "25by2025" initiative, which aims to increase the number of women in senior leadership positions and in the aviation industry overall to 25 per cent by the year 2025.
Many airlines have also launched initiatives to increase the number of female pilots in their ranks, such as easyJet's Amy Johnson Initiative and Qantas' 'IATA Diversity & Inclusion Awards' program.
Furthermore, there are now many organizations and networks that support women in aviation, such as Women in Aviation International, the Ninety-Nines, and the International Society of Women Airline Pilots. These organizations provide mentorship, networking opportunities, and support for women pilots and other aviation professionals.
The one place where it was considered surprising to see Muslim women, was as pilots. But, even this is now fast becoming a trend for women of Islamic heritage.
There have been several Muslim women who have made their mark in the aviation industry. For example, India witnessed three Indian Muslim female pilots as early as the twentieth century - Abida Sultan, Begum Hijab Imtiyaz Ali, and Zeenat Harooon Rasheed.
Begum Imtiyaz Hijab Ali, Abida Sultan and Zeenat Haroo Rashid
India has always remained a progressive nation. Right from the very beginning, both males and females have achieved great heights in many fields.
Abida Sultan, the first female Indian Muslim pilot was the eldest daughter of the Last Nawab of the princely state of Bhopal, Haji Nawab Hafiz also known as Hamidullah Khan. Abida was born in August 1913, and died at the age of 88 in May 2002.
Right from her childhood, she was extremely fond of flying planes and her dream turned into a reality after she successfully got her license to fly a plane in the late 1920s, making her the first female Indian pilot. Abida took training to fly planes from the Bombay flying club and Calcutta flying club. Sultan had hobbies that were unusual among the women of her era. She loved driving cars as a pastime.
It is said that Begum Hijab Imtiyaz Ali was the first Indian female pilot of the British Empire. She belonged to an extremely progressive family that allowed her to pursue her dream even after getting married and having a daughter. Hijab was an excellent writer too. She wrote multiple stories and remained an editor of a magazine, Tehzeeb-e-Nizwaan.
Zeenat Haroon Rasheed, daughter of Sir Abdullah Haroon, a well-known politician of British India, who made major contributions towards developing and defining the role of Muslims in economics, was one of the first pilots of British India and one of the forty-nine women to have organized an association of the Australian Women Pilots during early 1951.
Now, Syeda Salva Fatima is one of the four Muslim women in India who hold a Commercial Pilot's Licence (CPL). After her multi-engine training in New Zealand and type-rating in Bahrain, this Hyderabad woman was endorsed by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) which enabled her to fly the Airbus A320.
Syed Salva Fatima
The daughter of a bakery worker, Syeda comes from the poverty-stricken neighbourhood of Sultan Shahi in the old city of Hyderabad. What makes Syeda's story stand out is her lower middle-class background and the fact that she wore a hijab during the entire course of training in India and abroad.
Saarah Hameed Ahmed is an Indian pilot from Bangalore, Karnataka. As of March 2015, she worked for SpiceJet. According to Ahmed's father, in the traditional community in which she was raised, a woman's responsibility is to her home and children, with few seeking outside jobs without an escort.
Ahmed did not initially receive support within the community and her family tried to discourage her. But they relented when she insisted and a friend of her father's who is a pilot with Southwest Airlines offered reassurances. After a year of study and logging 200 flight hours, Ahmed received her commercial pilot's license in 2008. She returned to India and undertook the process to convert her license to an Indian certification, which required both a waiting period and additional training in Lithuania to learn about specific commercial aircraft types.
Saarah Hameed Ahmed
However, Muslim women may face several challenges in the aviation sector. For example, they may face discrimination, hatred and negative perceptions about women wearing hijab. They may also be concerned about their personal safety due to internal theological contradictions regarding Muslim women's rights, roles, and responsibilities, which the ulema enforce and the liberal intelligentsia hesitate to tackle. Plus, the rise of anti-Muslim bigotry in public and online spaces, hate crimes and prejudices about Muslims of Islamic heritage also make it a challenging profession.
So, one way to support Muslim women in aviation is by promoting cultural awareness. This can help combat damaging stereotypes and anti-Muslim bias. There have been some famous Muslim women pilots globally such as Shaesta Waiz, an Afghan American pilot who became the youngest woman to fly solo around the world in a single-engine aircraft. She is also the founder of the non-profit organization 'Dreams Soar', which aims to inspire and empower young women to pursue careers in aviation and STEM.
Then there is Ayesha Farooq, a Pakistani fighter pilot who became the first female fighter pilot in the history of the Pakistan Air Force. She has flown various combat missions and is considered a role model for young women in Pakistan.
Sabiha Gokcen was a Turkish aviator who was adopted by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. She became the world's first female fighter pilot and flew more than 22 types of aircraft during her career.
Asli Hassan Abade is a Somali pilot who became the first female pilot in the Somali Air Force. She is also the first woman in her family to receive a formal education and has been recognized for her contribution to promoting gender equality in Somalia.
Hanadi Zakaria al-Hindi was a Saudi Arabian pilot who was one of the first female pilots in the Saudi Royal Air Force. She died during a suicide attack on a commercial airliner in 2003 and is considered a hero and a symbol of women's empowerment in Saudi Arabia.
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Overall, while progress has been made in recent years, there is still work to be done to ensure that women have equal opportunities and representation in the aviation industry.