Afghan women soar to new heights

  • 03 Mar. 2011 -
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  • Last updated: 07 Mar. 2011 15:35

The Afghan Air Force can now count on Afghan women to help defend their country alongside their male compatriots, a significant milestone and an inspiration to women, considering how women’s rights in Afghanistan were so brutally restricted under Taliban rule just ten years ago.

Since October 2010, five female lieutenants have been preparing for a career as pilot officers in Afghanistan’s fledgling air force. Their training programme includes full English language immersion at the Kabul Thunder Lab, part of NATO’s Training Mission – Afghanistan, to ensure students have a solid command of English before moving on to more specialised pilot training.

While at the Thunder Lab, the female and male lieutenants compete on equal terms, and train shoulder to shoulder with their advisors. However, they retain segregated living quarters. “I am excited to be here... It is my big wish, my big dream to join the air force. First, I want to be a good pilot -- after that an engineer,” says 2nd Lt. Mary.

The five lieutenants previously graduated from a 20-week basic military training programme at the officer candidate school (OCS).

Graduating third in her class from OCS, 2nd Lt. Sourya explains that her father offered her the opportunity to join the programme when he saw a television announcement that women could join the army. Sourya’s father was very supportive and strongly encouraged her to apply. “You can go, you can do your job for your country, for your family and for yourself,’” he said.

The next step for the five graduates is advanced English language training at the Kabul English and Language Training Center in conjunction with the ongoing immersion training they are receiving at Thunder Lab.

Graduating candidates will then move on to the Afghan Air Force School Pohantoon-e-Hawayee for further education in history, ethics and leadership, as well as intensive aviation and professional training.

There are approximately 1,400 women in uniformed positions across the Afghan national security forces, which currently represents less than 1% of Afghan army and police personnel strength. However, this remains a historic milestone for the Afghan women who up until just 10 years ago had been deprived of their fundamental rights. As Col. Mohammed Marif, Pohantoon-e-Hawayee commander, says: "I can only imagine how much of a personal honor it is for these five females to inspire the females who will come up through the ranks after them".