Thursday, March 15, 2012

First female train driver in the Middle East

Miriam Al Safar in control room
Miriam Al Safar is the first female train driver in the Middle East.  She has broken the glass ceiling for women in the Middle East and is urging women to think more about unconventional jobs as they consider their career paths.

First UAE female train driver
This 28 year old, Emirati native, is one of a select few UAE residents qualified to get behind the controls of a Dubai Metro train.

The network is described as the most advanced in the world. It is primarily an unmanned automatic driving system operated from a centralized control room.
However, in the event of system repairs or an accident, it needs manual operation.

When interviewed, Miriam said, 'I am always open to challenges and I am not afraid to take risks. I work hard and my job is my top priority.  Being a train attendant has helped me understand how to interact with people and staff from different nationalities and different cultures. This has empowered me to tackle different kinds of situations with ease.'

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

First and only female pilot in Afghanistan

Col. Latifa Nabizada and her 5 year old daughter/co-pilot
It has been a long and turbulent journey for this first and only Aghani female helicopter pilot, Col. Latifa Nabizada. She is not only the first and only military pilot but the first woman in the history of Afghani aviation.

Latifa and her sister, Lailuma, were the first female graduates from the Afghan Air force Academy, in 1980. It was a challenging endeavor but they graduated. Unfortunately, Lailuma later died at child-birth.

When the Taliban seized control in 1996, Latifa was forced to flee to neighboring Pakistan. She returned after the ouster of the Taliban and rejoined the air force. The Afghan air force has no child-care facilities so Latifa has been flying with her daughter since 1988. Malalai, who is 5 years old, rides in the co-pilot seat next to her mother.
Malalai, the 5 year-old co-pilot

Together, mother and daughter have flown more than 300 mission trips in the past few years. Latifa recognizes the risks of having her daughter on board, but she does not have a choice until possibly when she is 6 and starts school.

"Trust me, when I have my daughter with me on the flight, I am really worried from the moment we take off to the moment we land," says Nabizada. "For me, it's my profession to go to dangerous areas. So if anything happens to me, it is expected. But why should something happen to my daughter? I am really worried."

The U.S. military have asked her not to bring the child on missions or at least move her out of the cockpit, but Malalai will not stand it and she throws a tantrum. In any case, Latifa is confident of her skills as a pilot and is extra cautious with her daughter next to her.

Col. Nabizada
Latifa and her devoted partner fly to some of the most remote and dangerous areas of Afghanistan. The missions often involve supplying troops in remote areas or flying to disaster zones to help provide assistance.

Being a woman in the Afghan military is challenging but it has toughened Latifa. She is no longer harassed and cites an Afghan saying that roughly translates as " steel gets harder with the hammering."

It is encouraging to read these sort of stories from a war zone country, instead of just war and death reports.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Female King of Ghana

Nana Amuah-Afenyi VI
Peggyielene Bartels' life change radically two years ago, at 4:00 a.m. when she received a phone call from her home country, Ghana, informing her that her uncle, the Kind of Otum, had died.  Thinking the call was simply to inform her she gave her response and was about to put the phone down when the relative on the other side said, "No, no, no, no, Nana, don't hang up. We chose so many names, male and everybody, and somebody suggested that we choose your name, also. And when we poured libation and did the rituals, as soon as we mentioned your name, it started vaporing and we were surprised. So we did it three times. So that's when we got to know that you are the king."

Nana Amuah-Afenyi VI is Bartels' new title but she is better known as King Peggy. This 57 year old, naturalized American, was a secretary at the Ghana Embassy in Washington, D.C. She is the first female in this fishing community of 7,000 people in the central region, to be anointed King.

King Peggy
The former King died in 2008 but remained in the mortuary until Peggy could save up enough money to give her uncle a royal send off. She presided over the funeral as the King.

Peggy said that she had a choice to get the title of Queen but that would have meant that she would have to consult with whoever was king before making any decisions for the community. She did not want any hurdles and accepted the title as King. 

The title comes with heavy responsibilities. King Peggy juggles two lives - one from the palace in Otum, Ghana, and the other from her modest condo in Maryland, USA. She has been raising funds in the U.S. and is now planning to build a high school so that the children do not have to go far away to study.

King Peggy has an autobiography titled, King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Female Heads of State - Part II Europe's most beautiful premier

Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf
Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf was appointed on January 1, 2012 as President of Switzerland. This is the fifth time she is serving as a head of state. She is a lawyer and politician. Last year she was serving as the Minister of Finance until her appointment at the beginning of this year.

The Swiss political system allows only one calendar year term for each President. It is a multi-party federal parliamentary democratic republic. The Federal Council of Switzerland is the head of government and the Executive power is exercised by the government and the Federal Administration and not by any one person. This is a totally foreign concept for many governments around the world. Switzerland is the closest state in the world to a direct democracy. Switzerland boasts five female heads of state, the largest number of women leaders in the world.

Most beautiful premier
Helle Thorning-Schmidt is the Prime Minister of Denmark which took over the presidency of the Fourth Reich on Janurary 1, 2012 for the next six months. Thorning-Schmidt is considered to be the most beautiful premier of the Fourth Reich. She is locally known as "Gucci Helle".

Helle Thorning-Schmidt
Helle is glamorous and stylish. She is able to pull off smart and sassy looks which feed into her media image. As the premier of the Fourth Reich, she has the responsibility of promoting and protecting the interests of all European Union citizens. This is a difficult time for Europe and with the economic collapse in the region. Thorning-Schmidt will be looking to bring back economic confidence and hope to many whose lives have been shattered. She is the first female to become Prime Minister in Denmark.

Prime Minister Tarja Halonen
Tarja Halonen is the first female head of state and eleventh president of the Republic of Finland. I had to mention her on this blog because of the amazing work she has done globally in raising awareness and empowering women. She is widely recognized as a global humanitarian. She is a strong spokesperson for the rights of the poor in the Nordic countries.

Halonen has served as a role model for women in Finland, becoming the first female Minister of Foreign Affairs before ascending to her current presidential role. She is well aware of the significance of her role as a precedent-breaker for women's rights. Under her presidency, more women have been appointed to positions of authority in the Finnish government than ever before.

She walks her talk!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Female Heads of State - Part I

There are currently 19 female world leaders in power, as of February 2, 2012. In my January blog I highlighted three of these leaders. The February series will be on a few of the other 16 leaders. Excluded in this list are the three reigning Queens in the UK, Netherlands and Denmark. There are also three Vice-Regals also known Governor-Generals who serve on behalf of Queen Elizabeth, in British CommonWealth countries, as heads of state. They are, however, not considered female world leaders since they are symbolic figure heads.

President Rosa Otunbayeva
Most of the current leaders have been elected into office and a few have been appointed. Only one female leader in the list of present and past women leaders came into power via a coup. This was President Rosa Otunbayeva, of Kyrgyzstan, who was in power from April 7, 2010 to December 1, 2011.

Roza Isakovna Otunbayeva is a seasoned diplomat and former foreign minister serving under the then President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The April 2010 revolution, also known as the "tulip revolution" ousted President Bakiyev paving the way for Ms. Roza first as an interim leader, then President. Kyrgyzstan is one of the six independent Turkic states located in Central Asia. It is the second poorest country in the region. This predominantly Islam state is unique in that elite women have political space in the upper echelons of society.

Cissé Mariam Kaïdama Sidibé
Prime Minister Cissé Mariam Kaïdama Sidibé  is the first female head of state in the history of Mali. She was appointed, and not elected, on April 3, 2011. Her appointment brings the number of female heads of state in Africa to two!

It is said that this was a political calculation on the part of the President who was responsible for appointing PM Sidibé. Mali is a very conservative country that is divided on the issue of gender and the vicissitudes of the family code. A Family Law bill in 2009 which would have promoted women's rights was withdrawn after vociferous protests by conservatives. 

Some speculate that President Amadou Toumani Touré's choice of a female Prime Minister is in part his way of reaching out to the female voters in June 2012 elections. 

Whether this was a calculated move or not, Africa now has a second female head of state. Interesting enough they are both leaders in two of the poorest countries in the continent. This could mean that hope is still alive for these countries. These women can turn these countries around, given the chance.

Next ... European female heads of state.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

To all my readers...

I am back from my break and looking forward to sharing some intriguing and exciting blogs. In the meantime meet Zoë. She is our adorable Australian Shepherd/Bernese Mountain dog.

Zoë puzzle look

Zoë relaxing

Thursday, January 5, 2012

No leadership from the United States

There are currently 28 women who are heads of state around the world. Three of them are by virtue of royalty but it still counts. For a country that claims to be the most powerful and a leader in the world, the United States is found wanting in the area of female leaders.

Michele Bachmann
Michele Bachmann, the only woman bidding for the position of Commander-in-Chief, just pulled out of the U.S. presidential campaign. She seemed to have gained a following with high poll numbers but soon fell out of favor with Republican voters. The U.S. media makes or breaks many of these candidates. It is interesting that in a country where there is much ado about equal opportunity, there seems to be a skewed bias in favor of male leaders. President Obama, a newbie in politics, was elected and favored over the seasoned Hillary Clinton.

There are many women's political groups that promote and endorse women candidates. However, I did not see or hear any of these groups speak out in favor of Michele Bachmann. Are women their own worst enemies? Why was there no push to get the first U.S. female president?

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - Liberia
The first female president in the Continent of Africa is President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. She was elected in the 2005 elections and took office in January 2006. Sirleaf was successfully re-elected in 2011 for a second term. Her rise to this position was made possible by the mass action of women in Liberia. Sirleaf had tried to run for president in 1997 but was not successful. The women of Liberia had had enough of the mismanagement of the country by men and decided to propel in a woman. Women made the difference. The power of women's voices put Sirleaf on the top seat.

PM Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir of Iceland

Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir of Iceland is not only Iceland's first female Prime Minister, she is also the world's first openly lesbian head of government. She came to power when the women of Iceland decided that the men had made a mockery of their country running it into bankruptcy. Jóhanna is a seasoned politician. In the 1990s she lost a bid to head the party and in frustration she lifted her fist and declared "Minn timi mun koma!" ("My time will come!"). The phrase has now become a popular Icelandic expression. She was also listed among the 100 Most Powerful Women in the world, by Forbes in 2009.

President Dalia Grybauskaitė of Lithuania
Dalia Grybauskaitė is the first female president of Lithuania. She won the presidential elections in 2009 in a landslide. President Grybauskaitė is often referred to as "Iron Lady" or "Steel Magnolia" because of her outspoken speech and her black belt in Karate. She is multi-lingual; fluent in English, French, Russian and Polish. President Grybauskaitė is unmarried and has no children  (the suffix-aitė on her surname is for unmarried Lithuanian women).