Mar­ried mother goes from refugee camp to the cock­pit

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Kabul

From a child­hood as a refugee, Cap­tain Safia Ferozi is now fly­ing a trans­port plane for Afghanistan’s air force as the coun­try’s sec­ond fe­male pilot, a sign of the ef­forts to bring more women into the armed forces.

Along the way, the 26-year-old Ferozi also mar­ried an­other pilot, who flies in the same unit sup­port­ing army ground forces. They are part of a small Afghan air force that is try­ing to take a greater role in fight­ing the Tal­iban in­sur­gency.

“When I wear mil­i­tary uni­form, I re­ally, re­ally feel proud of my­self as a wo­man,” Ferozi said while pre­par­ing for a flight at the air force base in the cap­i­tal, Kabul. She flies a C-208, a tur­bo­prop plane used as trans­port for the armed forces.

Nearly 16 years since the col­lapse of the mil­i­tant Tal­iban regime af­ter the United States-led in­va­sion in 2001, Afghan women are tak­ing steps to in­crease their pres­ence in so­ci­ety, in­clud­ing in par­lia­ment, gov­ern­ment and the mil­i­tary. Still, they face re­sis­tance in a deeply con- ser­va­tive so­ci­ety where women are largely ex­pected to stay in the home and where vi­o­lence against women re­mains a wide­spread prob­lem.

When she was a child, Ferozi’s fam­ily fled from their home in Kabul in the 1990s, dur­ing the civil war among Afghanistan’s war­lords. They took refuge in Pak­istan, re­turn­ing only af­ter the fall of the Tal­iban.

In high school in post-Tal­iban Afghanistan, Ferozi saw a TV com­mer­cial urg­ing women to join the mil­i­tary. So af­ter grad­u­a­tion she en­rolled in the mil­i­tary acad­emy, study­ing to be­come a com­mu­ni­ca­tion of­fi­cer. Then it was an­nounced at the acad­emy that the air force was look­ing for women to be­come pi­lots.

Ferozi and 12 other women ap­plied, and she was the only one who passed the tests to en­ter train­ing.

While she was train­ing at an air­field in the western prov­ince of Herat, she first met Cap­tain Mo­ham­mad Jawad Na­jafi, the pilot who would later be­come her hus­band. They mar­ried nearly two years ago, and he has since backed her am­bi­tions.

She grad­u­ated from train­ing in 2015. She gave birth to their first child, daugh­ter Ner­gis, now nearly 8 months old, and is back fly­ing mis­sions.

Ferozi is one of only two fe­male pi­lots in the Afghan air force, but five other women are cur­rently go­ing through train­ing.

Ferozi says she hopes to in­spire other women.

“As a wo­man you face many chal­lenges, but you have to deal some­how with all those prob­lems,” she said.

When I wear mil­i­tary uni­form, I re­ally, re­ally feel proud of my­self as a wo­man.” Cap­tain Safia Ferozi, Afghanistan air force pilot

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