‘If I can get a plane up in the sky, I can do anything’: female Afghan pilot refuses to be put on the ground | Women’s rights and equality

Salone in his small apartment in Bulgaria, Mohadese Mirzaee is considering the future. Three months ago, she left her family and her dream job in Afghanistan. As a 23-year-old, Mirzaee was the country’s first female commercial airline pilot.

“Today I do not know where to go, but I do not give up. I have started looking for pilot jobs anywhere because I know I have to go back to flying, ”she says by phone from the capital Sofia.

When the news came that the Taliban had conquered Kabul, Mirzaee was already at the airport in his uniform, preparing for his evening flight to Istanbul. She had left home early that morning and waved goodbye to her mother and two sisters.

The plane never took off. As thousands of Afghans stormed the city’s international airport, desperate to leave the country, Mirzaee was diverted to a plane to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev – this time as a passenger.

“It was dark when we took off, that’s all I remember,” she says. “It was a roller coaster of emotions because everything happened so fast. I could not believe that Kabul had fallen. When I left my house in the morning and said goodbye to my family, I could not have imagined that by evening time I would leave home permanently.

“I saw my country crumble,” she recalls.

Just months earlier, Mirzaee had made headlines as one of the pilots on a Kam Air Boeing 737 – the country’s first flight with a female crew.

“It was a huge achievement for Afghanistan and for the male-dominated aviation industry in general,” Mirzaee said. She believed at the time that change in the country’s conservative society was possible and that she and the airline would be a part of it.

But when the Taliban established an exclusively male government that saw hundreds of women removed from their jobs, Mirzaee says she was deprived of her hope for the future.

“Afghan women have done amazingly over the last few decades. We have used all the opportunities we have been given. We fought for our rights and achieved great things. I was hoping a window would be opened. I was contacted by many young women who also dreamed of becoming pilots, ”says Mirzaee.

Mohadese Mirzaee, Afghanistan's first female pilot
“I hope another airline will give me a chance to continue my career,” says Mohadese Mirzaee. ‘I want to fight for my passion.’ Photo: Handout

“With the Taliban’s takeover, it all disappeared. They are the same barbaric group that they have been in the past and they want to silence women. If I give up my passion, they have reached their goal. ”

Mirzaee attended Kabul’s Afghan-Turkish Maarif school, but ended her final year in Port Colborne, Canada, where she first considered a career in aviation.

She stayed in Canada for another year after her studies, where she worked as a cashier and barista to scrape the money together for flying lessons.

“My flight instructor said to me, ‘you have control, so fly the plane,’ before I boarded my first ever flight. I was nervous, but I also felt free. I figured if I could get a plane up in heaven, I can do anything, ”she says.

Back in Afghanistan, Mirzaee spoke to airlines to see if she could continue her training, but they initially all said no. “I kept annoying them,” she laughs.

“Kam Air, one of Afghanistan’s airlines, decided to give me a chance – and I took it very seriously. ” license

She became Afghanistan’s first female commercial airline pilot last September when she flew to Turkey, Saudi Arabia and India.

Mirzaee was able to travel to Bulgaria on an already existing visa. It has just expired and she has been advised to seek asylum.

Her mother and sisters were also evacuated from Afghanistan, flying to Albania the same day as an explosion tore through the crowds outside Kabul airport, killing nearly 200 people and wounding several hundred.

Most of her friends are now scattered all over the globe.

“When I was studying, my mother always told me that I should return to Afghanistan and work for my country. I shared her conviction. But today, even though I want to return, I can not. There is no room for women like “I lost my job, my home, my crew – everything.”

But she says: “I hope another airline will give me a chance to continue my career. A lot has been taken from me, but I want to fight for my passion. That’s what makes me, me.”

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