I was in Grade six and participating in a public speaking competition at my school. An all-girl school in Grahamstown. The topics we could choose from were; a horse's reproduction system, dolphins, Mark Shuttleworth and Rosie Motene (she was in Hotel Rwanda that year, so she was kind of a big deal.) I, sure as hell, was not about to speak about horses, dolphins or Mark Shuttleworth. So there I was, a scrawny preteen standing in front of a hall full of people, talking about women's rights in South Africa. In case you missed it, I chose Rosie Motene. I ended my talk by raising my fist to the sky, bellowing "WATHINTA BAFAZI WATHINTA IMBOKODO. You strike a woman; you strike a rock." Needless to say, my audience was a little confused. They gave me nothing but blank stares. I walked off the stage thinking, "Damn it! I should've gone with the dolphins."
And I think that's when I knew – when I was walking off stage thinking about dolphins – that I had something important to say.
I remember the day I knew I was going to be a pilot. I went home and told my parents I want to fly. I can't remember a single time they dissuaded me. My parents have always encouraged my brothers and I to think differently. I've always valued a different perspective. When we visited flight schools the gender disparity was shamefully obvious. I remember wondering if the girls are kept somewhere else. That thing I felt when I was walking off stage thinking about dolphins, the thing I had to make noise about – this was it.
I dream of the day little girls realize that their dreams are valid.
It's no secret that women are horribly underrepresented in the aviation industry. Just to give you a sobering statistic – of the 3306 Airline Transport Licence (highest licence) holders in South Africa, 184 are held by women. A meagre 184. Why? What are we not telling young girls? The sky is the only place free from prejudices, right? In fact, flying is such a great equalizer. The plane doesn't care about your gender. Amelia Earhart, one of the greatest aviators once said, "Aviation, this young modern giant, exemplifies the possible relationship of women and the creations of science. Although women have not taken full advantage of its use and benefits, air travel is as available to them as to men."
It's a sad reality that there aren't many visible role models in aviation for young girls. It's a sad reality that girls aren't encouraged to fly. I dream of the day little girls realize that their dreams are valid. That whatever they want to become, they can be. Lane Wallace was once asked, "if you could speak to a plane, what would you say?" Her response; "I'll run my hand gently over the wing of a small airplane and say to him, "This plane can teach you more things and give you more gifts than I ever could. It won't get you a better job, a faster car, or a bigger house. But if you treat it with respect and keep your eyes open, it may remind you of some things you used to know — that life is in the moment, joy matters more than money, the world is a beautiful place, and that dreams really, truly are possible." And then, because airplanes speak in a language beyond words, I'll take him up in the evening summer sky and let the airplane show him what I mean."
Girls, be like the bird in flight... pausing a while on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, yet sings knowing yet, that she has wings. You are valuable. You are powerful. You are deserving of every chance and every opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your dreams. What are we doing here if not reaching for the stars?
'til next time.