Ayesha Farooq, Pakistan’s first ever female fighter pilot, is ready for combat. The 26-year-old from Punjab province’s historic city of Bahawalpur is one of only 19 women to become a pilot in the Pakistan Air Force in the last decade, and is the first of five other female fighter pilots to qualify for battle. Here, Farooq, who wears a green headscarf underneath her helmet, climbs aboard a Chinese-made F-7PG fighter jet at Mushaf base in Sargodha, north Pakistan. Take a look at more photos of the only war-ready Pakistani female fighter pilot.
“It’s all set and planned, but I haven’t talked to him,” she admits, her face scrubbed clean and wearing a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) jumpsuit – a far cry from the make-up and ornate gown she’ll wear for the wedding.
The wedding between Flight Lieutenant Ambreen Gul, 25, and an engineer from Islamabad has been arranged by their families in the best Pakistani tradition.
When she wakes up on Monday – International Women’s Day – she’ll be married to a man she has only seen once before and with whom she has barely exchanged a word.
Pakistan is a conservative Muslim country, where the United Nations says only 40 per cent of adult women are literate. Women are victims of violence and abuse, and the country still lacks a law against domestic violence.
But in 2006, seven women broke into one of Pakistan’s most exclusive male clubs to graduate as fighter pilots – perhaps the most prestigious job in the military and for six decades closed to the fairer sex.
Ambreen’s company manager father was delighted. Ironically it was her housewife mother who initially feared her daughter would bring shame on the family.