The first all-female pilot crew for Royal Brunei Airlines has touched down Saudi Arabia.
The flight was a milestone for the airline, but the crew’s destination also happened to be a country where women are still not allowed to drive a car.
Once grounded, the flight crew would have risked arrest if they attempted to drive a vehicle on Saudi Arabia’s roads.
To mark Brunei’s National Day on February 23, which celebrates the country’s independence, Captain Sharifah Czarena Surainy Syed Hashim, Senior First Officer Dk Nadiah Pg Khashiem and Senior First Officer Sariana Nordin flew flight BI081 to Jeddah in the Middle Eastern country.
The occasion came three years after Captain Sharifa Czarena Surainy became the first female captain of a flag carrier in Southeast Asia.
In 2012, she told The Brunei Times:
Being a pilot, people normally see it as being a male dominant occupation.
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.
And the airline is committed to getting more women in the industry.
But Royal Brunei’s destination in the 2016 voyage to Saudi Arabia also highlighted the restrictions the country’s women face.
In Saudi Arabia, the male guardianship system is not just law: It’s a set of bylaws that determine and restrict a woman’s rights and opportunities. Her choices are generally restricted unless permitted by, typically, a husband, father, brother, or even son.
In 2015, women in the Middle Eastern country were able to stand in election and vote for the first time.
But they still are not able to drive. In recent years, Saudi Arabian women have taken to social media to protest against the rule. The Women to Drive campaign currently has over 37,000 likes on Facebook.
In December 2014, after Loujain al-Hathloul was detained for attempting to drive into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates, Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director for Human Rights Watch said: “The Saudi government’s degrading restrictions on women are what bring shame to the country.”
And this is why we still need an International Women’s Day.