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Emirati women scale new heights in aviation

From left: Reem Al Midwali, Salma Al Beloushi, Mariam Al Obaidli, Alya Al Matroushi and MizaAl Beloushi during a panel discussion at the Etihad Training Academy in Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi

The glass ceiling may be real everywhere, but Emirati women shattered it years ago in the field of aviation, a group of women pioneers said in the capital today (August 22).

Reaching the ranks of pilots, managers and senior executives, Emirati women are continuing to demonstrate their versatility, and remain models of the UAE’s full support towards women empowerment, they said at a panel convened by Etihad Airways to celebrate Emirati Women’s Day.

“When I interviewed to become a pilot, I had to answer one of the most commonplace questions posed to professional women everywhere: how will you balance your career with family? I told my interviewers that I would excel in both, and who knew, I might even find a husband within the company,” Salma Al Beloushi, 30, first officer at the Airways, told Gulf News.

Al Beloushi’s prediction came true, and five years ago she piloted her first flight to Athens. The following year, she married an aircraft engineer she met at Etihad. Now mother to two young children, Al Beloushi continues to break new ground in a field where female contributions around the world are still limited.

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The ambitious first officer is one of 13 pilots at the Etihad, one of the UAE’s flagship carriers that boasts more Emirati women than men among its workforce. At present, 51.2 per cent of all Emirati employees at the airline are women. 295 of these women are engineers and technicians, 237 are managers, and 32 hold positions of senior management.

But the seeds for such women empowerment were laid decades ago by the nation’s founding father, Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, said Fathiya Al Nizari, 50, long-term volunteer at the Emirates Red Crescent, long-serving member of the General Women’s Union and one-time member of Shaikh Zayed’s personal office.

“I still remember accompanying our wise leader and the Mother of the Nation, Her Highness Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, as they actively travelled the country, by road and by air, meeting women to find out where and what they needed. Today’s women achievers are the fruit of their push to educate women across the UAE,” Al Nizari said.

Following this leadership, the community is not far behind today in supporting women’s dreams, Al Beloushi added.

“When I have to go on long-haul flights, my husband takes care of the children. He can cook, he changes diapers and he even does the laundry, and this is the kind of support that Emirati women need to excel in their chosen fields,” she said.

Mariam Al Obaidli, 21, a trainee aircraft maintenance engineer at Etihad, said she could not be where she was without her parents’ support.

“I start work at 5.30 am and often work for 12 hours, and my parents have only ever wished me more and more success,” she said.