"It wasn't easy. Whichever title I have today I had to struggle for. I faced too many issues to get where I am," reminisces Yasmeen Al Maimani, the first female Saudi pilot to fly a commercial plane, as she looks back on her long journey to get where she is today.
While Al Maimani knew the journey wasn't going to be easy, she probably didn't think it would take the better part of a decade. "I started my flying in 2010, and I took my first license from Jordan," she says. She came back then, working as a chief pilot assistant at a flight school, before she realized she should pursue her dreams. "In 2012, I decided to go to the United States to continue my training and get all the licenses from there."
She was back again by 2013, and from there started her very long journey to land a job as a female pilot. "The main challenge was getting a job, as we had no female pilots in commercial airlines here," Al Maimani adds. While the country started opening up to the prospect of women doing more important things and taking on more relevant roles, it took time. "I kept myself busy all these years with working in aviation. I didn't get a job from 2013 to 2019, so I took courses and got involved in airline operations, flights safety, and management," she adds.
Fortunately, the country started having a change of heart concerning women and a new vision for the role of females in Saudi Arabia. And in June of 2019, Yasmeen Al Maimani became the first woman to become a commercial pilot in Saudi Arabia. "It felt amazing! I didn't expect to be the first one. It's an honour for me to represent my country. I'm really thankful to King Salman and Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and their 'Vision 2030', and my airline who really took a big step to introduce a female pilot in this field," she adds.
With the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia finally lifted last year, and now this, things are definitely taking a turn for the best when it comes to women's rights in that part of the world. And hopefully, the best is yet to come after Al Maimani took the step of becoming the first female commercial pilot. "I hope this step will open the eyes of many women out there and let them know that if they want to do something, nothing is impossible. If they really work hard and have the passion for something, they will get it," Al Maimani says. "Last year women started driving, and this year I did my first flight on the same date almost. Maybe next year we'll have a Saudi woman going to space!"
The road to get where she is wasn't easy, and it was filled with road bumps, but Al Maimani has no regrets. "If I had the chance to go back, I would change nothing. All this struggle taught me something, and today I'm not just a pilot. I'm a pilot with a lot of experience in airline management, operation, and safety," she says. That experience is something she could build on, and she believes it makes her a better pilot -- not to mention the fact that it could open many more doors for her in the future.
"Work hard and find your passion for something. Believe in yourself and believe in God, and if you want something so bad, the whole universe will help you get it. Don't give up; sometimes it seems so hard and far, and you'll feel maybe this thing isn't for you. But if you really have that passion, just go with flow; go get it," Al Maimani says to everybody out there pursuing their dreams, not just women.
All photos via Yasmeen Al Maimani