After years of resistance, the push for gender equality in India’s air force is slowly beginning to take flight.

Less than a month after Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha announced plans to recruit women as fighter pilots for the first time, the agency has confirmed a timeline for putting women in the cockpit.

The inaugural group of women pilots will be chosen from those currently in training at India’s Air Force Academy and will be appointed into the fighter stream in June 2016, Ministry of Defense spokesperson Sitanshu Kar tweeted on Saturday. The selected pilots will then undergo advanced training for a year and could enter into combat as soon as June 2017.

“This progressive step is in keeping with the aspirations of Indian women and is in line with contemporary trends in Armed Forces of developed nations,” Kar announced in the press release. “Since their induction into the transport and helicopter streams of the IAF, their performance has been praiseworthy and at par with their male counterparts.”

The move is positioned to give women an equal shot in combat roles and makes them eligible to join all branches of the Indian Air Force, according to the military statement.

The decision represents a steep policy reversal in a country where men consistently outnumber women because of discriminatory practices including sex-biased selection, and where sexual assault and gender-based violence are widespread. In March of last year, Raha made headlines when he dismissed the notion of women piloting fighter planes, telling reporters that women “by nature are not physically suited” to do so, especially when pregnant.

He was responding to questions about why women in India were still barred from the position while Pakistan and China’s air forces have no gender restrictions, according to the Times of India.

While the United States military officially lifted its ban on women serving in combat in 2013, American women have been piloting fighter jets since 1991, when the Senate overturned a law prohibiting it.

But even compared with other countries in the region, India has been slow to embrace women in such roles. Pakistan made the decision to allow women as fighter pilots in 2002, but more than a decade later, just one of the country’s 21 female military pilots is ready for combat, according to The New York Times.

Major Mariam Al Mansouri became the United Arab Emirates’ first female fighter pilot after it lifted its ban in 2007. Afghanistan followed suit four years later, but the country’s only woman fighter pilot, Niloofar Rahmani, faces so much harassment that she’s considering quitting the job, The Wall Street Journal reported in August.

Kar said in a statement on Twitter that the military is completing a “comprehensive review” of induction of women in the armed forces and, once it is finalized, plans to open up more branches for women “to give them the space which they deserve.”

Facebook Comments

About the Author

Brent Lindeque is the founder and editor in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *