To celebrate International Women’s Day, an all-female flight crew from Ethiopian Airlines flew from Addis Ababa to Washington D.C. The flight marked the sixth consecutive year the airline has made the symbolically important flight with a female crew.
“Ethiopian Airlines aims to show African girls that there are no professions reserved for men only and inspire them to have no limits to their dream of becoming anything they set their hearts to,” said Rahel Assefa, marketing vice president for the airline. “In short, as we say back home at Ethiopian, on this day we fly to inspire.”
The largest airline in Africa has made hiring women a priority and said 40% of its employees are female including 32% of management positions. The airline has female pilots, aircraft technicians, engineers, flight dispatchers, load controllers and ramp operators.
Rahel said too often on the African continent girls are taught that their only worth is to be married and live a domestic life.
“When their brothers are sent off to schools, girls are mostly held back at home, to help out as well as groomed on how to be a good wife, a good mother, a good homemaker,” she said. “Much work is needed to educate parents and communities in general, that their daughters can be anything and everything their sons can.”
Captain Amsale Gualu, who piloted the transatlantic flight, became the first female captain in Ethiopian history in 2010. She said it is important for women to support one another in fields whether they are underrepresented.
“The main thing is networking. Women should have a connection among one another and exchange ideas,” she told VOA’s Amharic service. “The other thing is supporting each other. For example when we fly with an all-female crew, even when there are standard procedures, there are things that make you happy.”
Amsale said at the time of the first all-female flight in 2015, there were only eight female pilots at the airline. Today, she said, there are 20 with another 24 training in aviation school.
“The change has come. Women support each other, we have our own groups and we show that it is possible. And by supporting each other, showing that it is achievable is our responsibility,” she said.
‘Educate a woman, educate a nation’
Ethiopian Ambassador to the U.S. Fitsum Arega said the country’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has made it a priority to promote women to positions of power. His cabinet is made up of 50% women and the country now has a female president and chief justice of the supreme court.
“There's an African proverb that says, ‘if you educate a man, you educate one person. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation,’” Fitsum said.
He added that empowering women is a boost to the nation’s economy.
“When half of the population is empowered with higher education and actively engaging in the workforce in the formal economy, this accelerates technological innovation, productivity and economic prosperity, which in turn will have a far-reaching multiplier effect on families, communities and the entire nation,” he said.
Hostess and team leader on the flight Bizuayehu Yilma said there was a special feeling on board. She hopes it inspires women worldwide.
“Any woman can reach any position she aspires to reach,” she said. “This is not charity but the duty or the responsibility of all. Everyone should support us. This is a show of our strength and how we can stand on equal footing. So I think that we have given a big education to all.”
This story originated in the Africa Division with reporting contributions by VOA Amharic Service’s Habtamu Seyoum and Eden Geremew.