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Meet The Youngest Woman To Fly A Boeing 777

People

In a world where roughly 95 percent of pilots are men, 30-year old Anny Diyva, a full-time pilot for Air India, is boldly flying in the face of stereotypes.


The youngest woman to ever command a Boeing 777, Diyva, says that her journey to the high skies was not without struggle. “I had my share of success and failures," Divya tells SWAAY in an exclusive interview. “As one of the youngest women in this industry from the time I came into aviation, I had to overcome preconceived notions and build trust and confidence amongst my peers through grit, hard work and patience."

Divya faced tough opposition from the people around her, which even made her parents re-think their decision of enrolling her into flight school (which they did anyway) for a time. After becoming a certified pilot and earning her four-yellow-striped epaulette at the age of 19, Divya has become an inspiration for many young women looking to earn their wings.

“In my small town of Vijaywada in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, with no aviation school and no knowledge of becoming a pilot, I have faced and been through plenty of challenges; language barriers, cultural differences, financial issues, no knowledge of aviation and even my sense of fashion to name few," she says. “ Initially, I used to feel bad and I also was very timid but soon I overcame those with the support of family, my teachers who helped me to recognize my strengths and most importantly my determination to succeed which helped me to focus on what was wrong and how to correct the mistakes. By the time I finished my training, I was completely transformed and got the job immediately.

Here, SWAAY asks Divya more about her uncommon path to greatness in the sky.

1. Where were you born? What kind of child were you?

I was born in Pathankot in state of Punjab (India) . I was very naughty as a child, I know from many childhood stories I heard about myself which I remember very faintly.

2. Do you have any influences as a young girl that you think helped you find the aviation industry?

Not as such for the aviation industry, but I think my first teacher, my mother, has built confidence in me which helped me dream without any obligations, for every small thing I did she encouraged me and reminding me that I'm capable of doing very well.

3. You entered flight school at age 17, how was that? Were you accepted by the men around you?
That was the turning point in my life. Suddenly from leading a sheltered life I was on my own. There were girls much older than me at the flying school. Some of them in their early 20s. We were all accepted but there was a lot of learning. For me, it began with communicating because I could barely speak English. Then there was understanding the social norms because despite all the love and caring my parents gave me, I did have some tough times. I had economical constraints too and this school helped me understand people and the world around me. The school was the best thing that happened to me.

4. How many flights do you do per day/week/month? What is a typical day like of a female Air India pilot?

Air India has been my dream job, it's given me a platform to be where I am today. It's a very professional airline to work with, I enjoy working with AirIndia. I mostly do ultra long haul flights, which are 14 to 16 hours long , five flights about 70 to 80 hours a month. Since I mostly do international flights, I have three kinds of days:

1) Flight day: First, I make sure to get enough rest before the flight, pack my bags and get ready for the flight. Then I reach dispatch, do the flight briefing, meet the entire crew and head for the aircraft. Next comes flight preparation and then take off.
2) Jet lag day: Typically it's the day I land and reach the hotel or my home. I rest a lot, mostly sleeping and waking up at odd hours, and trying to adjust with the various time zones and adapting my eating habits.
3) Normal day: The days I am not flying and not jet lagged, I like to start my day with a hot cup of tea or coffee followed by a workout depending on where I am so it could be anything from yoga to Zumba. Then, if I am traveling I like sight seeing and shopping, but if I am home then I try catch up on some reading and spend some time with friends.
5. Can you share your short-term and long-term goals?
My short term goal is to enjoy what I am doing, because I love it, I waited for this for very long. Long term-wise, I made a list of 10 things I must to when I was in Grade 9. I don't want to disclose all now but I have a lot more to do, but I will say being a pilot was on the list.
6. It seems that flying a plane is part technical, part mental. How do you put yourself in the headspace to fly such big planes?

There is a lot of training that goes into this. Many many years and man-hours are spent training, learning, testing and conditioning your mind and your body for it to become second nature to you.

7. How do you maintain a social life with so much running around? What do you do for fun?
Whenever I am home, I try to catchup with my friends, which I love to do. I like cycling, singing, dancing and lot of times I like doing nothing, I just want to be in peace and meditate.
8. What are your favorite cities to travel to? Do you get time to explore different countries/cities?

I absolutely love traveling and exploring new cities and I absolutely love love New York. It's my favorite city but I also like Paris, London, Frankfurt and Chicago. I live in Mumbai because of my job but my home is where my parents live - Vijayawada in the state of Andhra Pradesh (India). And when I am traveling on work then it's hotels that my airline puts me up in.

9. What is the reaction when passengers realize you were the pilot? Are they surprised?

They are quite pleasantly surprised. They don't expect the pilot to be so young. And when they realize that I am the commander, their expressions are quite amusing, they are kind of awestruck. It's like I can almost hear them saying 'Wow was she our commander?" Sometimes some people reach out to shake my hand. It's quite humbling actually.

10. What advice would you give to young women who want to pursue a career like yours. Also, do you have a life philosophy?
I want all young women to pursue their dreams. While choosing your career, consider all the options available to you without thinking that you are a girl, and choose the one you are passionate about because then you will not only do well but also you will love what you are doing. And, my life philosophy is I am still learning.
Culture

A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.


Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.