“My mother raised me to be strong, to a point that if one day, I was left alone, I would be able to take care of myself,” says Ayesha, the first female war pilot of Pakistan. Who is a man and who is a woman? Are we not one? According to the gender stereotypes, no. But according to people like Ayesha, yes. We are one and we are equal.
“I don’t feel any different. We do the same activities, the same precision bombing,” the soft-spoken 26-year-old said of her male colleagues. A growing number of women have joined Pakistan’s defense forces in recent years as attitudes towards women change. We live in a society where girls do not even think of things such as flying a fighter jet, let alone taking steps towards actually doing it.
Of her life and experience in PAF, Farooq spoke about fun-filled experiences with her juniors and seniors, rigorous training and emotional goodbyes. “Life at PAF wasn’t just about hardcore training and brutal seniors; it included fun memories with friends,” Farooq said.
In response to a question about the physical training one undergoes at the flight school, Farooq briefly explained: “You have to wake up for a one-mile run every morning at about 4:30am – so you’d run first, and then you’d wake up.”
There are now about 4,000 women in Pakistan’s armed forces, largely confined to desk jobs and medical work.
But over the last decade, women have became sky marshals, defending Pakistan’s commercial liners against insurgent attacks, and a select few are serving in the elite anti-terrorist force. Like most female soldiers in the world, Pakistani women are still banned from ground combat.
Ayesha, in an interview, encouraged Pakistani women and girls to step out of the fear of men. She emphasized upon the point that there is no such thing as the males being superior in any field; women are able to compete with men at any point.
When asked if she faced gender discrimination, Ayesha replied: “I didn’t face that at all, but of course I had to work harder to prove myself. Being inducted as a female fighter pilot was a great experience, but all eyes were on you at that point.”
Ayesha’s mother was completely supportive for her decision to join the air force. Her extended family, however, did not approve. But Ayesha was too determined to be defeated. Today, they ask for her advice as to how their daughters can join the air force. Moreover, Ayesha’s male colleagues treat her as one of them, often being surprised when asked about their “female colleague”.
Even though Pakistan has had a female head of state, our complicated society continues to be narrow-minded when it comes to women roles. But in this era, we are witnessing this huge wave of change which is providing platforms to women and there are many instances which prove that although in minor amount, but there are people who believe in gender equality.
Hopefully, this wave of change will continue to grow as long as there are talented and challenging people like Ayesha.