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High Altitude Sexism?

Ghui /

In our modern day and age, it is accepted that both men and women are equally entitled to pursue their careers to the best of their ability. One's gender does not generally affect one's chances for promotion as long as he or she performs. It is therefore disturbing that Singapore Airlines has a practice of not recruiting female pilots. Although not official policy, there remains, to this day, no female pilots in SIA.

Perhaps, SIA's justifications for not hiring female pilots are issues such as pregnancy, maternity leave and family obligations. While these are legitimate concerns for a profit-making commercial entity, consideration has to be given for females who may not want to be part of the social stereotype of mother and caregiver.

A majority of women in the 21st century from developed countries (such as Singapore) are just as well-qualified as men. In fact, I would venture to say that some women are far more qualified than their male counterparts. Why then, does SIA still preserve this somewhat antiquated practice?

Most households in Singapore are dual-income households. Both male and female contribute to household expenses. In some cases, this is by choice. In many, however, it is essential to have two breadwinners. All professions should recognise this contribution and women should be free to pursue any profession they choose.

Usually, any one aircraft will have two to four pilots depending on the size and type of aircraft, and the length of the journey. The captain is the pilot who has overall command of the plane as well as the responsibility of cabin crew and passengers.

There are four Kebaya colours that represent the ranking of the female cabin crew:

- Blue: "Flight Stewardess"

- Green: "Leading Stewardess"

- Red: "Chief Stewardess"

- Burgundy: "In-Flight Supervisor”

This would mean that the highest-ranking woman on the plane will always be subject to the authority of a male pilot! With cabin crew being the only option for women, a female can never hope to rise above a man! This practice is discriminatory because:

1. It assumes that all women want to get married and have children;

2. It assumes that women cannot cope with both a high flying job and family life; and

3. It implies that women are not capable enough to lead on the plane!

Most modern women have a career and a family, and are adept at balancing both obligations. Why should being a pilot be any different? One might cite the frequent travel but many high-ranking female executives travel often for work as well.

I understand that it is expensive to train a pilot and therefore it may cost the airline if female pilots get pregnant and go on maternity leave. However, does this concern for costs override the need for equality? On top of that, it unnecessarily penalises women for being the sex that is able to give birth!

With the government advocating more babies, should Singapore women be made to choose between a dream career and a family?

The qualifications to becoming a pilot are stringent and the preparations are rigorous. Unsuitable candidates are weeded out at this training stage and women who make the grade will be savvy enough to understand what the job entails. They are there because they are committed to the profession. It therefore seems unfair to rule them out on the basis of their sex.

Women are permitted to fly for Silkair, perhaps on the basis that Silkair flights are short haul and therefore less affected by the demands of children and family. Again, this is a sweeping assertion that assumes that all women are unable to cope with the demands of a gruelling job and family commitments.

In keeping with the 21st century, it is time for this practice to be reviewed to take into account women who may wish to become pilots with SIA.

One could argue that women could join other airlines should they wish to be pilots. The counter argument to that is this: why should Singaporean women join a foreign airline, if they could join their own? While Singapore Airlines is a private enterprise, it is world famous, and a representative of Singapore. As such, Singaporean women may wish to join Singapore Airlines as pilots to achieve the dual result of representing Singapore and flying for a renowned airline.

Women make up half the population in Singapore. By ruling out women, SIA is in effect reducing its own talent pool from which to choose potential pilots from.

There are female pilots in many international airlines these days, Cathay Pacific, JAL, ANA and Qatar Airways, to name a few. These are all profit-driven commercial entities. If they can have female pilots, so too can SIA.

To take this further, perhaps specific anti-discriminatory laws should be put in place. Currently, only the Constitution provides men and women with equal political, economic and social rights. However, this practice suggests that despite the Constitution, discrimination between the sexes still exists.