Global and Iranian history are both closely intertwined with the lives and destinies of prominent figures. Every one of them has laid a brick on history’s wall, sometimes paying the price with their lives, men and women alike. Women have been especially influential in the last 200 years, writing much of contemporary Iranian history.
In Iran, women have increased public awareness about gender discrimination, raised the profile of and improved women’s rights, fought for literacy among women, and promoted the social status of women by counteracting religious pressures, participating in scientific projects, being involved in politics, influencing music, cinema… And so the list goes on.
This series aims to celebrate these renowned and respected Iranian women. They are women who represent the millions of women that influence their families and societies on a daily basis. Not all of the people profiled in the series are endorsed by IranWire, but their influence and impact cannot be overlooked. These articles are biographical stories that consider the lives of influential women in Iran.
Pilot Neshat Jahandari became Iran's first female certified captain in July 2019. Awarded four stripes, she is qualified to take full control of an aircraft, either on her own or supported by a copilot. In an industry still largely closed to women in the Islamic Republic, this is a significant achievement.
Jahandari, the daughter of a pilot, posted on Instagram about her experience while training and the flights she made, as well as a video of her being awarded the four-stripe captain's badge from her teacher, known as "Shokrabi," at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport. She also thanked her husband and family for their support and understanding while she realized her ambition.
There are no options for women to train as pilots within Iran’s traditional education structure and the government does not offer scholarships to train them, but women can qualify at private aviation schools as long as they are able to pay the full tuition themselves.
The first aviation college for women, Aseman Vocational School, was established in 2004, offering undergraduate and post-graduate degrees and teaching courses on Private Pilot Instruction (PPI), avionics, repairs and maintenance, and flight guidance. Since then, further aviation colleges have been established. All charge tuition fees, but IranWire’s request for details of the fee structures were refused or unanswered.
After she qualified as a pilot, Jahandari's Instagram followers, mainly young men and women interested in pursuing aviation as a career or a hobby, contacted her to ask about her experiences during training, and also about how she could afford it. One female follower, although she had praise for Jahandari, pointed out that her success was probably due to the financial support her father and family had given her, and shared her own experience of being unable to pursue her goals due to financial problems. Jahandari was sympathetic, acknowledging that effort alone was not enough and rueing the fact that there were no scholarships for women in Iran who wanted to become pilots.
There is some disagreement about who was actuallyu the first woman to become a pilot in Iran. Some refer to an interview with Efat Tejaratchi in Etelaat-e Banovan [Women's Information] magazine in May 1973, in which she said she was the first female volunteer to join the Aviation Club soon after it was established.
Some hail Akram Monfared Arya, who worked as a pilot up until the 1979 revolution, as Iran’s first female pilot, raising children at the same time. Other female pilots have also been given the unofficial accolade as the first female pilot, including Ghodsieh Farrokhzad Naraghi, Ina Ushid, Ozra Rahimi, Derakhshandeh Malakouti, and Safieh Partovi. There is no agreement on who the first Iranian female pilot was after the revolution either. Many names have been put forward, including Shahrzad Shams, Fahimeh Ahmadi Dastjerdi and Anahita Nikookar.
“Under the Pahlavi monarchy training women to become pilots moved very slowly but the will was there,” says Hossein Aryan, a military affairs analyst. “For instance, a woman could become a police officer or even an officer in the navy. To be a member of the navy, you must board a battleship where you cannot separate genders the way you do on land. But, in those days, several women joined the navy and took training courses on long sea voyages. Training woman pilots was also becoming common but after 1979, the religious environment would not allow it.”
Keyvan Veismoradi, a former Iranian Air Force fighter pilot who now lives in Canada, told IranWire, "Three stripes identifies a copilot but when a copilot receives four stripes he is qualified to be the captain and take independent command of a flight.”
The news of Neshat Jahandari becoming a captain in July 2019 was shared widely — and Iranians hoping for greater advances for women in the airline industry, and across other industries in Iran, were encouraged and inspired by her achievements against so many odds and against the prejudice so deeply entrenched within Iranian society.
Read more about Jahandari and the history of female pilots in Iran
Read IranWire's interview with pilot Akram Monfared Arya
Other articles in the series: