Windhoek - Coming out of the teenage world in 2011, Namibian pilot Li Rossouw (28) started flying a plane at 20 years.
Breaking all the sexist hate language that portrayed women as inferior which was thrown right on her face in the aviation industry, Rossouw remained committed in living her dream.
Today, she is almost a decade in the industry and looking forward to be a captain. Last week she shared a story with The Southern Times on how she managed to live her dream of being a pilot despite all the negative forces.
“I was told that my nails are too long to fly an airplane. In some cases, some men would tell me that I was too small and too girly to be a pilot. This, however, did not stop me from living my dreams, and here I am eight years in the industry,” said Rossouw.
She is one of the most courageous women in Southern Africa who break sexist barriers which deprive women from being in leadership roles, decision-making posts and surviving in male dominated industries such as aviation.
Rossouw said the aviation industry is male dominated with at least 4% of the posts being occupied by women. Her secret to victory was turning a deaf ear to all negative statements and focusing on delivering best results.
“At first, I used to be offended by the things that some men would say to me in the industry and would respond by telling them that they were wrong. However, I stopped the verbal battle after the revelation I got to use results to shut them up,” she said.
“When you successfully do something, credibility is given where it is due. You cannot mock someone who has delivered something good. As such I silenced them by delivering best results.”
She always wanted to be a pilot at a very tender age despite the fact that the industry is men dominated. In her eight years of experience, the latest five years were in commercial flights of which three-and-a-half years she has been with the Air Namibia.
“I never saw myself having an office life, there is something about office life that I thought would drive me crazy. I chose to study to be a pilot because the industry itself is challenging, the studies, getting a good job and actually doing the job is generally challenging and I can do ‘challenges’,” she said.
“I have always been an A-student, I always push myself to accelerate because I want the best. As for the aircraft studies, knowing the huge amounts of money that has been invested in the studies and the passion I have in my carrier pushing for excellency was made easier.”
She said the challenge was made better by the passion she has on aircraft and support that she received from her family. Her parents gave her unwavering support even though her mother was a bit skeptical about the decision at the initial stages.
Like any mother would do, Rossouw’s mother was always scared about the risks associated with aircraft until a few years back when she finally adjusted.
“My dad has always been very supportive. He is always like a ‘cool man’ and he was totally fine with it, but my mum was not so much supportive in the beginning. She was insecure about my career, scared of losing me because I am the only child she has. She always asked me: ‘What if something happens to you?’ She was mostly concerned about my safety which I understood very well. Fortunately, with time she eventually started adapting.”
She said her first time flying was a mixture of anxiety and excitement, the excitement being driven by the fact that she was doing it for the first time and the nervousness by seeing passengers entering the plane with their families, spouses and children.
Rossouw said when she landed for the first time, she felt great and it was quite an achievement. Since then, her confidence has been boosted.
The African society continues to portray women as individuals who should only participate in easy and light roles far away from roles such as leadership positions, decision-making and jobs like aircraft pilot.
As much as some women may try to fit it, the notion somehow acts as a barrier that can only be taken by the courageous and those that get support from within.
However, there has been efforts to ensure gender mainstreaming is obtained as the region strives to attain the Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states adopted the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development in August 2008 with the objectives of empowering women, eliminate discrimination and achieve gender equality and equality through development.
The protocol aims at implementing gender responsive legislation, policies, programmes and projects, among other commitments on gender equality and women empowerment. Since then, the programmes have been implemented on national and regional level.