Women Who Fly

Breaking dusk, a C-130 takes off from Shindand Air Base.

Being a pilot takes a lot of work. A lot of time. And an obnoxious amount of math. For the women I’m about to highlight, rising to the aforementioned challenges is the easy part.

For Flight Lt. Ayesha Farooq, her path to the sky was riddled with turbulence. Just a couple years ago, the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) was lagging behind other nations’, holding women back (although not blatently) from attaining the rank of fighter pilot. In fact, at the time of Binah Shah’s 2015 article (a great read if you have the time,) Farooq was the only woman to claim the title of combat ready pilot. Big deal? Well yes, it is. Because women in Pakistan are still expected to fulfill wifely roles, and joining the air force for Farooq did not come without the usual disdain from her family. She took the rebuke, turned it to fuel, and transformed herself into a pilot.

Now in a Muslim country, doing what Farooq did is gutsy to say the least, but for this next fighter pilot, getting the position was only half the battle.

“You knew this was going to happen, (Rahmani) said they told her” in response to a plea for help from her superiors in the Afghan Air Force. Al Jazeera has a long article trying to get this story straight. It starts out as a classic tale, a Muslim woman rises in the ranks of a male-dominated occupation, in this case a fighter pilot. Afghanistan’s first fixed wing fighter pilot, to be exact. Less than a decade later, and after two years of training to fly a C-130, she was applying for asylum in America. So what happened? First the Taliban decided she had to die (a threat she still fears,) and then her extended family harassed her family so that the latter had to move several times.

More women have trained as fighter pilots in the Afghan Air Force, but pressure, and probably fear, has kept many from taking up active duty. At least one other female fixed wing fighter pilot exists, but she (for obvious reasons) stays out of the lime light. But Rahmani maintains a Facebook and Twitter profile, because she wants to inspire other young women to reach for the sky.

It’s inspiring to hear about stories like these, and I am sure there are thousands more like them, in many occupations, and many nations, and many religions. But inspiration comes at a cost. And once you’re in that situation that is so inspirational, you feel every penny of the price to be paid.