Feminist Chronicles: Diary 17: Emilia Njovana

Activism, Feminist Chronicles, Gender, Women, Zimbabwe

When most men, at least in my country, hear the phrase gender equality, they think you are talking about women and how women want men to cook for them, change diapers, clean the house and basically dance to women’s tune. You know why, because the men in Zimbabwe assume what women are doing today , that is cooking, changing babies’ diapers, cleaning the house and looking after the family is what we want them to do, and that it is what we mean when we talk of equality. But let me be clear and let all those who are this misguided know that gender equality is about recognising that we are all human beings and should be treated equally with dignity and respect regardless of our sex.

Gender equality is about men and women having the right to education; with equal opportunities to pursue the furthest studies available as long as the individual, be they male or female is yielding the relevant results to proceed to the next level. The inequality comes when societies assume that educating a girl child is a waste of money or when preference is given to boys in pursuing certain subjects, with the sciences such as medicine, engineering, and veterinary science being the most commonly stereotyped fields where it is believed women will not cope.

Gender equality is about recognising and valuing the work that both men and women do equally, hence within a marriage a working husband and a housewife both contribute in their own unique ways to the running of the house. The man is usually boss of the finances while the woman is usually boss of the welfare of her family. The inequality comes when the man and society in general thinks that the woman’s job as a housewife is of no value and hence upon separation or divorce she should be chased away with nothing.

Gender equality is about giving equal pay for equal work and awarding promotions to both men and women for equal performance. The inequality comes when men ask for sexual favors to promote women who deserve to be promoted anyway.

I can go on and on giving examples of when inequality is gendered. The examples are too many especially in patriarchal societies, as Zimbabwe is. But there is a woman, a Zimbabwean woman who defied the odds and shattered these stereotypes. She proved that women are capable of doing what they are deemed incapable of doing. She is a trendsetter, the most notable woman in Zimbabwe’s aviation history.

I am positive that when most Zimbabweans saw today’s feature, the first question they asked was “who the hell is she?” Indeed despite her groundbreaking achievement, very few people know about her.

Her name is Captain Emilia Njovana and she was the first female and black commercial pilot in Zimbabwe. Educated at Monte Cassino Girls High, a Catholic Mission school in Macheke, in the Manicaland Province of Zimbabwe she is living proof that when individuals and institutions invest their confidence in women, women can make it to the top.

Today she trains other women AND MEN how to fly aeroplanes, AND jets AND helicopters.  And oh what a wonderful job she does. I mean yes, Air Zimbabwe has a reputation of being unreliable in terms of being on time but NEVER before have we heard of inefficiency among the staff in that little closed cabin. The only accident recorded occurred in July 1984 when a Vickers 756D Viscount, registration Z-YNI, was damaged beyond repair in an incident on the grounds of Harare International Airport. No one was hurt and the plane was immediately withdrawn from service and transferred to the airport fire department for use as a training aid. Zimbabwean pilots are sharp and extremely good at what they do and guess what, some of them were trained by this woman, the same woman whom society PROBABLY thought would not be worthy of an education, or would not be capable of achieving anything and would not turn out to be as good as a man.

And now there are more Zimbabwean female pilots

She believed she could do it, she worked hard at it and indeed she did it. She set the first foot forward in making strides into previously male-dominated spheres and has done exceptionally well, maybe even better than the men she found there. So yes a vision coupled with determination are the two ingredients to success and Emily Njovana is living proof of that. Indeed Emilia is one of the women who have made it possible for women to be seen in their own eyes and in men’s eyes as individuals capable of achieving a lot.

Gender stereotypes that placed men in a superior position to women designated the role of pilot to the men while women could only be aboard planes either as passengers or airhostesses. Today women like Emilia have turned the tables and sit in the cockpits of huge airplanes, while men attend to passengers. The term airhostess has been removed and we have flight attendants.

And she flies the planes and flies them well

Growing up, I wanted to be a pilot but I could not. I am too short, my eye sight is not good enough and I found a new passion as I grew older. Today I am lawyer and I suppose I did not turn out too bad. But, for the little girls that are out there and want to be pilots and think it is unattainable, here is an example that it can be done. And the rest of society should learn that our society can only improve if we inculcate in our children positive mindsets rather than hammering negative stereotypes into their little brains.