First photo (by Jonathan Levinson): Latifa Nabizada, Afghanistan’s first woman military helicopter pilot, and her daughter Malalai, who flies with her. Second photo (by Armando Perez) shows them with other women honored for their service.
“My name is Latifa. I am Colonel. I am an active helicopter pilot in the Afghan Air Force.
I wish to become a very good pilot and train other women to become pilots.
I have a five-year-old daughter who has been flying with me since she was two months of age. This is because there is nobody to look after her in the Air Force. I am trying to convince them to have a kindergarten, so women can be calm and do their job very well.
My message to other women in the world is that they should work hard to achieve their goals. They should be ambitious and have confidence in themselves. They should stand by Afghan women and share their experiences with Afghan women.”
She was the one of the two first female pilots in the history of Afghan aviation, who travels to some of the most remote and dangerous corners of her country with a devoted partner next to her in the cockpit — her daughter, Malalai.
When she and her sister joined the airforce they were repeatedly denied admission to the Afghan military school on medical grounds, but they eventually joined in 1989 after being certified fit by a civilian doctor. No women’s uniforms existed, so they made their own. They were the first two women pilots in Afghan air force history.
In 1996, when the Taliban secured Kabul, she and her sister were supported by general Dostum who gave them a secure place to live while they flew missions and fought the Taliban.
Since there was no kindergarten in the military at the time, she took her 2 month old daughter Malalai with her in the helicopter. “She has grown up in a helicopter - sometimes I think she’s not my daughter, but the helicopter’s daughter!”
They have flown together on more than 300 missions over the past few years, and she acknowledged the risks of having her daughter onboard.
Being a woman in the Afghan military is still not easy, but it has toughened her, she says. She is no longer harassed, she says, citing an Afghan saying that translates roughly as “steel gets harder with the hammering.“
Latifa Nabizada, the first female to join the Afghan Air Force, has piloted helicopters on risky medevac missions and the Afghan frontlines and has fought against the Taliban for two governments and an Uzbek warlord. Latifa, now 40, is a colonel and pilot in the fledgling Afghan Air Force and a role model for other courageous women of her nation.
Read more from Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai’s interview with Latifa for The Daily Beast.
Col Latifa Nabizada, the first female pilot in the Afghan air force, has battled prejudice, the Taliban and personal tragedy - but her ambitions for her young daughter soar even higher.
My sister and I always talked about the stars and the universe.
We talked about how aeroplanes were made and what it would be like to fly one - how it would feel to be a pilot. There were water butts near where we lived and I used to climb on top and imagine I was flying a helicopter.
After we had finished school, Laliuma and I told our parents we wanted to be professional pilots. They were quite shocked. At the time, not many women in Afghanistan could work and there we were, thinking of becoming pilots. But we managed to convince them. My father’s support was huge and it helped us a lot.