During the month of March, as the world observed Women’s History Month, advocates for women’s empowerment in Ethiopia held a celebration of their own. On March 8, Ethiopian Airlines sent an all-female flight crew from the country’s capital, Addis Ababa, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in observation of International Women’s Day.
This was a historical feat, as the group became the first all-female flight crew to fly from Ethiopia to the South American city. However, this event was not the first time Ethiopian Airlines made history by dispatching an all-female crew to another city.
As the premier airline of Africa, Ethiopian Airlines has the largest share of revenue in Africa’s airline industry and operates flights to 50 cities in Africa and 95 countries worldwide. The airline is also home to the continent’s largest aviation academy, which trains students from all over Africa to fulfill careers as pilots, cabin crew members, ground staff and maintenance technicians, among other positions. As of 2016, the airline’s academy enrolled 1,300 students in training and the number of enrolled students is expected to grow to 4,000 in the near future.
History in the Making
Ethiopian Airlines first made headlines in 2015 after it dispatched its first all-female flight crew from Addis Ababa to Bangkok, Thailand. Not only were the pilots and cabin crew members women, but so were the baggage handlers, ramp operators, ticket officers and air traffic controllers.
Furthermore, in 2017, the airline dispatched another all-female flight crew in a flight from Addis Ababa to Lagos, Nigeria, the first flight of its kind in Africa. President and CEO of Ethiopian Airlines Tewolde GebreMariam stated that the historical flights made to different cities are part of its efforts to promote women’s empowerment in Africa and that the historic flight on International Women’s Day reflects the airline’s values to mainstream gender into its business.
Educational Challenges for Women in Ethiopia
Due to cultural traditions in Ethiopia, women are not encouraged as much as men to pursue a secondary education of their choice and many have struggled to pursue professional careers. UNESCO reported that as of 2009, only 30 percent of Ethiopian women were enrolled in a secondary education program, compared to 39 percent of Ethiopian men. Furthermore, the literacy rate among Ethiopian adults was only 18 percent for women, compared to 42 percent for men.
A Time for Change in the Aviation Industry
This gesture by GebreMariam to promote women’s empowerment in Africa comes at a significant time, while the number of males to females in the aviation industry is still largely disproportionate. According to the Royal Aeronautical Society, “only 3 percent, or 4,000, of the world’s 130,000 pilots are women, and only 450 are captains.” GebreMariam is hoping to change this statistic by inspiring young girls in school to be optimistic about their futures with the opportunity to pursue a career in the aviation industry.
Besides establishing a platform to promote women’s empowerment in Africa, the historical flights are also helping bring attention to Africa’s aviation industry. GebreMariam stated that airlines in Africa only receive about a 20 percent share of the global airline market. He hopes that more efforts made to promote Africa’s airlines in distinct ways will help educate youth throughout Africa and, over time, create a greater market share for Africa in the airline industry.
– Lois Charm