by Mitchelle Uzorka
India leads the world when it comes to women pilots – by a significant margin.
In all, 12.4% of pilots working for the southeast Asian nation’s airlines are women. (For comparison, just 5.5% of pilots in the United States are women.) But it’s a hard-won victory. “There are huge stereotypes in the roles that men and women still play,” pilot Michele Halleran said in a new BBC Business report. And she’s experienced those herself. “I was literally told … that women don’t belong in aviation.”
So what makes the difference for Indian women?
An increase in representation for starters. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” Kara Hatzai, vice president at the International Society of Women Airline Pilots, told BBC Business. Without the Indian women who paved the way, you end up “with not a lot of women pilots out there.” And in countries where women pilots still lag behind, future generations may still think, “‘Well, it’s not a career for me because it’s mostly male-dominated.’”
Captain Zoya Agarwal, who became the youngest woman pilot ever to fly a Boeing 777 in 2013, is another pilot who, like Khan, has found opportunity in this field still sorely lacking in women. But despite some of the help on offer, it wasn’t smooth sailing. She says she had to rise up in a society, and a family, where she was “supposed to grow up and get married … and have children.”
“I did not know how to break out of that societal stigma,” Agarwal added. She laughed while continuing, “I was never one of those traditional girls who kind of followed that path. So I think I started disappointing my parents from the very beginning.”
Sexist perceptions of women pilots as less competent also come into play, added the pilot who spoke with BBC Business. And there’s another hurdle, for women in particular: the price of training programs. “I had no idea how I was going to go about gathering the finances, because I came from very humble beginnings,” Agarwal recalled. Tuitions can cost $60,000.
Captain Zoya Agarwal, while talking to a news agency said that she is the only human being to have made it into the San Francisco Aviation Luis A Turpen Aviation museum, also commonly known as the SFO Aviation Museum, as a pilot. She states that she was amazed to see that she was the only living object there and feels humbled by the fact.