Meet two women who are the first female pilots in their countries

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Aaron Schachter: I'm Aaron Schachter with "The World". Our next story is about two aviation trailblazers. Niloofar Rahmani is Afghanistan's first female Air Force pilot to fly a plane and Esther Mbabazi is Rwanda's first female commercial airline pilot. The two women were recently features by our colleagues at the BBC in a program called "The Conversation". Kim Chakanetsa is the host.

 

Kim Chakanetsa: Niloofar, I was looking at several pictures of you in your khaki flight suit with your aviator shades and your head scarf. But in the background what captured my attention was the size of the aircraft behind you. Can you just describe the type of aircraft you fly?

 

Niloofar Rahmani: I fly the C28. It's a small aircraft, but it's a very good aircraft and it's fast. Lots of missions we are doing with these aircrafts like carrying the passengers, the ANA, like the soldiers, the officers from one province to other provinces. Some people get injured. We carry them to the capital.

 

Esther Mbabazi: Who was your role model, Niloofar? When you wanted to be a pilot did you have any mentors?

 

Rahmani: My father, he really wanted to be a pilot, but unfortunately the situation in my country was like no one could be a pilot. When I grew up, when I went to high school it was always in my mind, but because in our religion, we are Muslim countries and some things are not allowed for females. And I searched a lot for any aviation school. I really wanted to be a commercial pilot and unfortunately in my county there is no aviation in the civilians. The only way we had, it was military.

 

Chakanetsa: Esther, can you relate to this as a young woman growing up in Rwanda and Uganda?

 

Mbabazi: Well, our restrictions are not as tight as I would say Niloofar's side. Whereas on my side the only thing I get maybe is criticism from people.

 

Chakanetsa: What sort of comments were you getting?

 

Mbabazi: "Why would you want to be a pilot? It's a male field. Women are not as strong as men." Then you have to explain to them that flying does not really require you to carry the whole aircraft because it's all hydraulics and everything. Also as a pilot, I've had passengers come on my flight and say they won't fly with me.

 

Chakanetsa: Wait, so you're saying a person will come up to you, seek you out, and say, "Because you're a woman I don't feel comfortable flying with you."?

 

Mbabazi: Yeah.

 

Chakanetsa: And so what do you say to them?

 

Mbabazi: Well, I say, "You paid your ticket, so be my guest. You can just jump off and good luck trying to get a refund.

 

Rahmani: Esther, do you see yourself as a symbol?

 

Mbabazi: Usually women of my country, I always tell them there's nothing that's too difficult for women. If anything can be done by men we can do probably even better. So, Niloofar, are there young Afghans who come to you, that want to follow your footsteps?

 

Rahmani: Yeah, like many people when they see me in the flight suit they are getting so surprised. And I say it's not that hard. If you just believe that you can do anything.

 

Schachter: Pilots Niloofar Rahmani from Afghanistan and Esther Mbabazi from Rwanda speaking to the BBC program "The Conversation".