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Zimbabwe’s female pilots fly into history

March 21st, 2016
in:Humans
by:Bob Koigi
located in:Zimbabwe
tags:aviator, Ruanda, Zimbabwe pilot

Last year, two Zimbabwean ladies flew into history when they became the first all-woman pilot team.

In a country where one in three girls are married before their eighteenth birthday and women struggle to access formal employment due to lack of education and cultural beliefs, this was no mean feat.

But Captain Chipo M. Matimba and Captain Elizabeth Simbi Petros have surmounted such odds and inspired the hopes of millions of Zimbabwean women after having flown an Air Zimbabwe Boeing 737 from the capital Harare to the idyllic Victoria Falls.

“History has been made! First all female flight deck crew on the Air Zimbabwe Boeing 737! Two CAPTAINS!! Absolute pleasure Captain Elizabeth Simbi Petros! #FLYBABES. #PaintingTheSkyPink!” wrote Captain Matimba on her Facebook page after landing the Boeing.

Captain Simbi Petros equally shared the historic moment on social media. “Air Zim First:- All Women 737 Flight Deck Crew!!!! Flt to Vic Falls This Morning.Was A pleasure Skipper Chipo Matimba!!!!!!”

Having come from a background that majority of the Zimbabwean girls identify with, this landmark achievement is being greeted with enthusiasm and pride among the Zimbabwean women.

The duo are among the only six female pilots in Air Zimbabwe, and the only captains while the others are first officers. They represent a growing number of women who are defying the odds to venture into a highly male dominated profession. While the number of female pilots globally has been rising, the percentage is still negligible. Currently there are a paltry three per cent of women pilots, about 4,000 of the 130,000 pilots globally according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots.

In Harare, local media reports on a wave of excitement and pride that the two female pilots have inspired with news having been celebrated especially by young ones in schools. In social media news went viral with Captain Chipo and Petro trending on Twitter for three days while an outpouring of congratulatory messages rained on Facebook.

Ally Mazero wrote on Facebook. Great minds soaring high like an eagle. Beautiful girls doing what they know best. National pride you are!” while Abigail Angel Zim also from Zimbabwe said. “Well-done ladies (Girl Power). We are super proud of you.

And as the Zimbabweans continue to marvel and take pride in their own, Africa continue recording a marked growth in female pilots, an unprecedented phenomenon with such careers being a preserve of men. “There is a very interesting and inspiring growth in the number of female students pursuing aviation with a keen interest in being captains. They are being inspired by these amazing stories of women who are making up their minds to break longstanding stereotypes and take on careers traditionally perceived to belong to men,” said Captain Damaris Odera a lecturer at the East African School of Aviation.

When news broke that the Zimbabwean female pilots had successfully flown a Boeing for the first time, Captain Odera recalls getting numerous calls from her female students. “I was attending a conference in Arusha Tanzania. My phone kept ringing and I had to excuse myself to pick the incessant calls. They were from my students telling me about the female pilots of Zimbabwe. From the voices on the other end of the line I could read excitement and passion. They had become even more inspired. I was so emotional,” recalled Captain Odera.

The two pilots are now used as case studies in aviation colleges in Kenya on women and aviation studies. “It is not easy training to be a female pilot, pockets of stereotypes still exist. But everytime we read about major breakthroughs especially by the women pilot, whether it is an award, or they have been entrusted with a bigger role, we feel motivated to be like them. One day the world will celebrate me like they celebrated those two amazing ladies,” said Michelle Kiunga, an aviation student at the Moi University School of Aerospace and Sciences.

In Niger, 28 year old Lieutenant Ouma Laouali recently became the first female pilot to serve in Niger’s Armed Forces. She is now tasked with flying the specialized Cessna aircraft after receiving training on military combat in USA.

28 year old Esther Mbabazi from Rwanda who became a pilot at 24 with the national carrier Rwanda Air, has also become a source of inspiration to the young girls in aviation schools and those who harbor dreams of taking the skies.

Though she lives to inspire young girls she regrets the stereotypes society still place on women pilots. She narrated to CNN how on one occasion one passenger refused to board a plane when he realized the pilot was a woman. “But stereotypes are being overshadowed by an emerging crop of young educated female pilots who are working their best to inspire and mentor young souls. Africa will register more pilots if the passions of our young girls are encouraged,” said Captain Odera.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
Current Map: Our coverage
“History has been made! First all female flight deck crew on the Air Zimbabwe Boeing 737! Two CAPTAINS!! Absolute pleasure Captain Elizabeth Simbi Petros! #FLYBABES. #PaintingTheSkyPink!” wrote Captain Matimba on her Facebook page after landing the Boeing.
Having come from a background that majority of the Zimbabwean girls identify with, this landmark achievement is being greeted with enthusiasm and pride among the Zimbabwean women.
While the number of female pilots globally has been rising, the percentage is still negligible. Currently there are a paltry three per cent of women pilots, about 4,000 of the 130,000 pilots globally according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots.

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