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Let Women Soar! Efforts to Develop Gender Equality in Civil Aviation

Doç.Dr. Ferhan KUYUCAK ŞENGÜR - Eskişehir Technical University Faculty of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Associate Professor of Aviation Management and Strategy

Biological Sex one of the characteristics that each individual comes with when they born into this world: We are born as girls or boys. Our biological gender characteristics, as biological attributes, are one of the first determinants of us. This is our biological gender. Then, what is Gender? As a matter of fact, aside from these fundamental biological differences, we are born into this world as babies that are not very different from each other, however, the society we live in “raises” us as “girls” or “boys”. We “learn” how to be women or men with these patterns. Society, our family and individuals have different expectations from us as men and women, and we are expected to act accordingly to this difference. In other words, when we talk about gender, the socio-cultural origins of women and men concepts are taken into consideration instead of biological and innate differences in the creation of these concepts. While biological gender is an innate characteristic, social gender is a social and cultural construct.

Basically, gender only differentiates us from each other, just like biological gender. In this context, gender is not supposed to be a problem for equal individuals who have different roles and responsibilities. The problem here is not the difference, but when this difference creates the basis for discrimination. Generally, we see that the distribution of possibilities, opportunities, and resources in society is distributed mainly based on gender indicators rather than individual differences. And this distribution causes large-scale inequality for women. Aksu Bora from Ankara University Faculty of Communication Women’s Studies Center (KASAUM) summarizes this issue in her Gender Guidelines prepared for NGOs: 

“The patterns of femininity and masculinity not only differentiate us from each other but also greatly affect our access to social resources. In short, gender is an essential factor in the distribution of resources. We see the effect of this factor clearly in the figures.”

The gender imbalance against women is a phenomenon that has been going on for centuries. Not only women’s work and contributions to the economy are not reflected in official figures, but also the wages of women participated in various fields of labor are lower than the men who do the same job. According to the calculations made by the World Economic Forum (WEF) based on economical, health, educational and political indicators, if the current conditions continue in the same way, the equality of men and women in the world can only be achieved after 217 years. This survey conducted among 144 countries reveals the extent of the gender inequality gap in employment and wage.

When we talk about gender and gender relations, we often think of women and “women’s issues”. As Bora says: “This is understandable because comprehending gender as a social and political phenomenon only became possible after the long struggles of women. When women, who demanded political and social rights, exposed gender-based discrimination in a clear and powerful manner that cannot be ignored, they also showed how social, economic and political relations could be perceived as gender relations at the same time... However, not only gender relations entirely consist of “women’s problems”, but also those perceived as “women’s problems” are not exclusively women’s problems.”

We can fight against social discrimination between genders only through cultural change. The United Nations defines the concept of “Gender Equality” as accessing equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities between women and men, girls and boys. What is actually meant by Gender Equality is equal possibilities for accessing those rights rather than pure numerical equality. Therefore, it would be more meaningful to talk about a “Gender Balance”. The aim of gender studies is to achieve a social order that will maximize our benefits as a society in employment, social and cultural life by benefiting from the advantageous and disadvantaged aspects that women and men bring biologically.

Aviation is one of the technology-intensive, international and team-based safety-critical industries. It is also seen that women assumed major roles in aviation from the very beginning. When we look at world and Turkish history, we see that female aviators are quite active in aviation compared to other fields. However, the gender imbalance we mentioned above is an undeniable fact in aviation as well. Developing gender balance in a global industry with such a high impact on economic and social life is also a vital necessity.

There are very positive developments in our country in order to improve this balance. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), published the Instruction on Development of Gender Balance in Civil Aviation (SHT-TCD) in 2018 in order to ensure gender balance among employees in the civil aviation sector, to provide equality of opportunity for the genders in the selection of aviation professions and to encourage women to participate in education and training in aviation-related areas. Following this, the Gender Balance Fostering Commission (GBFC) was established under The Directorate General of Civil Aviation. The “Gender Balance Fostering Commission (GBFC)” has been established in the Turkish civil aviation sector; in order to oversee and develop recommendations to improve gender balance, work towards the creation of equality of opportunity for the genders in the selection of aviation professions, and especially encourage women to participate in education and training in aviation-related areas. 

The first and most comprehensive event in this field, a symposium on “Development of Gender Balance in Aviation” was organized by DGCA on March 8, 2018, in Ankara. The symposium organized by the Gender Balance Fostering Commission (GBFC) of the DGCA for the “Women of Aviation Worldwide Week” and “March 8, International Women’s Day” was held under the motto of “Let Women Soar!” with the participation of women aviators who works in the aviation sector. March 8th is recognized/celebrated as International Women’s Day around the world. In addition, for the first time in the world a woman, Baroness Raymonde De Laroche, obtained a pilot license on March 8, 1910. Consequently, March 8 is also important in aviation and celebrated by the Institute for Women of Aviation Worldwide (iWOAW). Therefore, in the first meeting of DGCA - GBFC, it was decided that the entire week of March (from Monday to Sunday), which includes 8 March, was recognized as “Women of Aviation Worldwide Week” in Turkish Civil Aviation as it coincides with Women of Aviation Day on March 8th. It was decided to schedule the planned activities throughout this week thus the efficiency of the events will not decrease. Moreover, the theme of the GBFC activities in 2019, was determined as “Let Women Soar - Women in Airport” considering the largest aviation project of this year in Turkey is the Istanbul New Airport project. In 2019, the week of March 4-10 will be celebrated as Women of Aviation Worldwide Week.

With the approval of the DGCA - GBFC, activities in aviation with the “Gender” theme continue to be organized. On April 26, 2018, a symposium themed “Women in Air & Space” was organized under the Eurasia Airshow 2018 in Antalya.

While we achieve promising results in the development of gender balance in aviation in our country, the ICAO has also begun to place special emphasis on gender issues. On 08 - 10 August 2018, the 1st Global Aviation Gender Summit was held in Cape Town, South Africa with the support of UNESCO. GBFC secretary Gonca KÜRÜM represented the GBFC and Turkish civil aviation organizations at this summit and made a presentation on the activities of our country. This presentation attracted quite an amount of attention and portrayed our efforts and experiences as a guide to other countries. The Summit, which will be held for the second time this year, is extremely valuable in terms of globalization of efforts related to Gender in Aviation.

The DGCA - GBFC, which I am a member of, continues its activities and we have recently held our second meeting with the participation of our Advisory Board members, hosted in Istanbul by TAV Airports Holding. Our Commission and Advisory Board consists of all valuable senior executives from our aviation industry. We believe that this initiative will expand further with the contributions that will increase in the following years. We would also like to honor the efforts of the Deputy Director General of the DGCA, Mr. Can EREL, our Chairman of the Commission, who has been working for the Development of Gender Balance as well as the establishment of our Commission and we express our gratitude as women aviators.

According to the WEF report, although gender inequality decreased in 82 countries compared to last year, it is increasing in 60 countries. Unfortunately, Turkey is one of the countries with increased inequality. Our country, which ranked 130th in gender inequality last year, fell to the 131st place this year. Unmistakably, we should do something about it, we must do something! Aviation is a field that allows extensive female employment compared to many industries. The steps to be taken towards developing gender balance in this field can also have a tremendous impact on transforming our society.

Let’s work together on this! As we said, this is not a women’s problem this is a problem for all of us. Essentially, there is no “woman aviator” it is “aviator”! We will achieve real equality and equilibrium when we do not need to mention this.

You can access studies about the DGCA - GBFC at the following address:

http://web.shgm.gov.tr/tr/shgm-calisma-gruplari/5771-sivil-havacilik-genel-mudurlugu-toplumsal-cinsiyet-dengesi-gelistirme-komisyonu

You can also contact our Commission at the following e-mail address:

DGCA - GBFC shgm-tcdgk@shgm.gov.tr