Bandar Seri Begawan - The women of Brunei Darussalam have yet another reason to celebrate this year following the appointment of the country's first female captain for national carrier Royal Brunei (RB), marking what has been described as a momentous achievement in a field dominated by men.
Earlier in the month, on November 6, 2012, at approximately 5.40pm, Captain Sharifah Czarena Suriany Syed Hj Hashim officially clocked in 5,000 flight hours under the guidance and supervision of Deputy Chief Operating Officer Captain Khalidkhan Hj Asmakhan, and together with consistent high assessment grades obtained during her career as a Senior First Officer as well as an intensive three-month command training programme prior to the final check flight, the 31-year-old woman has now been recognised as a trailblazer within the commercial flight domain - not just within the Sultanate, but throughout Southeast Asia.
The first female pilot to be granted captain status among the nine other national carrier airlines within Asean, Sharifah Czarena's triumph was highly lauded by the Deputy Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, Datin Paduka Hjh Adina binti Othman yesterday during a ceremony to commemorate a milestone for both RB and Brunei as a whole.
"This is something that we are all very proud of and something that we should celebrate. We are showing not only the people in Brunei but also the people in Asean that Brunei is paving the way for female pilots in the region," Datin Paduka Hjh Adina said in her address delivered at the Royal Brunei Recreation Club in Berakas.
When accumulated, the strides that have been made by women throughout the nation, especially with the appointments of two female Legislative Council members who made their first appearance this year, as well as the first female Olympian who represented the Abode of Peace in London, and the reforms in legislations to accommodate the needs of the fairer sex that have taken shape over the past few years "have been particularly good", especially since gender equality has been pegged as one of the many main points that is in need of further support as Brunei inches towards the Vision 2035 target.
"All these developments reflect Brunei Darussalam's ongoing commitment to gender equity and to provide girls and women access to all services, regardless of gender," said the deputy minister. "With such accomplishments, Brunei has been ranked as among the top players in the Global Gender Gap Report 2012 complied by the World Economic Forum."
Despite the fact that the art of piloting any form of aircraft is generally considered a masculine occupation, the captain in an interview explained that gender discrimination was never an issue throughout her career' that started in 2003.
"Throughout my whole training as a cadet and when I became a Junior First Officer and progressed, never did I think I had to work harder than my male colleagues because we were treated equally and the opportunities were equal."
Her success, she explained, "was just a matter of me putting in the hard work".
With a dream that continued to bloom ever since she was young, Capt Sharifah Czarena said that the hope of becoming a pilot a little over two decades ago was slim when RB only had male pilots.
"Growing up, I thought, well, we live in Brunei and it's never going to happen... but obviously, things have changed," she said, especially after the recruitment of RB's first female pilot and then flourished to total of six women, with five who fly the Boeing fleet and one on its Airbus fleet.
"The whole glass ceiling effect is (non-existent) in Brunei Darussalam," she acknowledged.
"However, being a pilot, people normally see it as being a male-dominated occupation. So, as a woman, this is such a great achievement and it really shows the younger generation, especially the girls, that whatever they dream, they can achieve."
Being the first female captain in the region for a national carrier, she describes the experience as being "very, very overwhelming" but behind these emotions, "I am extremely happy".
In encouraging the other female pilots under the wings of RB, she first congratulated them for having come so far. The next step, she said, "is work hard and be determined. If they want to progress in their career they can do it. It has been done and today has proven it".
For those within the community including women who are interested in the career, "if it is their dream, then believe in themselves".
The captain was trained in the United Kingdom for intensive initial pilot training in 2003 at the Cabair Flying School in Cranfield. After graduating in 2004, she was sent on secondment to Loganair as a Junior First Officer on the Saab 340 turbo prop aircraft prior to her return to Brunei in 2006 to join RB as a First Officer on the B767-300ER.
She was then promoted to Senior First Officer shortly thereafter and in 2010, underwent training to fly the B777-200ER.--Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin