An all-female pilot crew from the Royal Brunei Airlines has made history by completing a landmark landing in Saudi Arabia, a country notorious for its stifling and repressive laws against women. Ironically, despite this historic feat, the pilots will almost certainly be restricted from driving motor vehicles in the kingdom.
Captain Sharifah Czarena Surainy, Senior First Officer Dk Nadiah Pg Khashiem, and Senior First Officer Sariana Nordin marked their country’s independence day by flying “flight BI081” to the Middle Eastern kingdom on February 24. The feat stands out as an embodiment of the many strides women have made in modern times and offers abundant food for thought for the host country’s law makers.
According to Sharifa Czarena Surainy, flying remains an occupation perceived as essentially male-dominated.
“As a woman, a Bruneian woman, it is such a great achievement. It’s really showing the younger generation or the girls especially that whatever they dream of, they can achieve it”
Saudi Arabia’s human rights record particularly with regard to women has been nothing short of abysmal over the years. Although the struggle against repressive anti-women laws has gained substantial ground in the kingdom in recent years, human rights activists believe more needs to be done to ensure “women’s rights” surfaces as a more pressing concern for the authorities.
Last year, women were allowed to independently partake in elections for the first time, a move which was hailed as an unprecedented development. According to official statistics, about 130,000 women had formally registered to vote in what was only the third time Saudis of either gender have gone to the polls in the country’s history. Despite this development, rights groups continue to voice their concerns about other appallingly discriminatory legislations drafted to stifle women’s empowerment in the Middle Eastern country.
The Kingdom’s blanket driving ban enforced on women for years has continued to attract the ire of leading human rights activists like Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director for Human Rights Watch.
“After years of false promises to end its absurd restrictions on women, Saudi authorities are still arresting them for getting behind the wheel. The Saudi government’s degrading restrictions on women are what bring shame to the country, not the brave activists standing up for their rights.”
According to Human Rights Watch World Report 2015, Saudi Arabia’s long-standing predisposition toward a highly prejudiced “male guardianship” system remains entrenched in its existing body of laws despite the government’s numerous pledges to abolish it.
“Under this system, ministerial policies and practices forbid women from obtaining a passport, marrying, traveling, or accessing higher education without the approval of a male guardian, usually a husband, father, brother, or son”
In light of the facts, February’s extraordinary achievement of these history-making women commanding the controls of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s historic flight from Brunei to Jeddah is indubitably relevant.
Captain Czarena trained at the Cabair Flying School in Cranfield, Bedfordshire, and is routinely tasked with flying to a number of the airline’s major international destinations. Three years ago, she created history by becoming the first female captain of a Southeast Asian airline ever. In the succeeding year, she became the first Royal Brunei pilot to fly out of London Heathrow in its “flagship” Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Royal Brunei Airlines is the national flag carrier of Brunei Darussalam; it operates international scheduled services across Asia, the Middle East, Australasia, and Europe. Its home base is the Brunei International Airport, located on Borneo Island in Southeast Asia. According to its officials, Royal Brunei has been actively encouraging women to launch their respective professional careers in commercial aviation.
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