KARACHI: “Gender should not be the driving force behind one’s life,” said Flight Lieutenant Ayesha Farooq at a lecture, part of a special series, held at the Aga Khan University on Thursday. This was in the context of the troubling times she and her family faced after the death of her father and the trajectory of her life that led her to ultimately fulfil her dream of becoming a part of the Pakistan Air Force.
Ayesha’s career at the PAF has been a soaring high and the seven years she has dedicated so far yielded honours beyond what many may have imagined. Initially shortlisted as one of the 19 female candidates, Ayesha is internationally among the very few “female fighter pilots to be trained in combat, and the first in Pakistan”. Her journey was shared in detail, with anecdotes peppered generously to give a flavour of what it meant to be part of the PAF. Ironically, nowhere did it seem as if she had been singled out, deemed an outsider, or even special because of her gender. The treatment extended to her was the same as the other cadets and she felt no discrimination in her rise in her professional life. For this she gave credit to her colleagues, seniors and instructors. However, she did acknowledge how she made it her mission to work harder than the rest, for she considered herself not just a separate entity, but representing 52 per cent of the population that faced widespread marginalisation as a result of their gender.
A particular incident that resonated with the audience was a narration of her initial flying endeavours and how she had to overcome her fears. While flying under the supervision of her instructor, in a jet devoid of a pressurised cockpit, Ayesha felt extremely nauseous because of the fumes. Right after informing her instructor about the queasy feeling she was experiencing, her instructor promptly handed her control of the jet, asking her to fly solo. This Ayesha fondly remembers as one of the defining moments of her training, when her entire focus was suddenly shifted to flying, making her forget about everything else. Such incidents were shared to highlight the sheer dedication of the instructors at the academy who worked to groom cadets like Ayesha.
‘Look up to role models, but become one yourself’
From her first solo journey and flying a T-37 aircraft, to moving on to fighter jet training for more “combat related missions”, Ayesha believed that “determination and self-motivation” are what propelled her forward. Her witty reminiscences about the early mornings of her training in which they “ran first and woke up later” were indeed trying times and challenging enough for the faint-hearted, but ultimately her accomplishments made all those times a mere shadow.
The talk had two themes running throughout that were a great source of inspiration for all those present; the honour Ayesha felt for serving her country and the regard and admiration she had for her mother’s innumerable sacrifices. Referring to her as the “ultimate example of strength”, Ayesha’s intimate discourse brought many in the audience to tears.
She also took advantage of the platform provided and emphasised on how a woman was very much capable of balancing various facets of her life, regardless of her professional ambitions. The armed forces, according to her, are in need of the selfless dedication of its citizens, especially women, and she felt her struggle and ultimate rise was an indication of how women also could succeed.
Her advice to all women was to not just “look up to role models, but become one yourself.”
Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2014