In celebration of the many achievements of Egyptian and Arab women over the years, Ahram Online republishes this article as part of a nine-day special series of gratitude and pride for women's achievements — from 8 March, which is International Women’s day, to 16 March, which is Egyptian Women’s Day.
The series aims to refresh the collective memory of our nation of the many, and often forgotten, women who excelled against all odds.
While Egyptian women in the 21st century are still lobbying for basic human rights, these republished stories serve as a reminder to society that Egyptian and Arab women fought for and enjoyed similar rights as men across many decades.
From the first woman doctor in the world, to the first woman to fly in Egypt and the Middle East, these women's stories are interweaved, and all deserve to be shared with a younger generation that needs to learn the truth about the accomplishments of their grandmothers and great grandmothers.
In 1933, Al-Ahram newspaper published a picture of a young and pretty girl, with a broad victorious smile, next to an airplane she is about to pilot.
Meet Lotfia El-Nadi, an Egyptian girl who wanted to fly. Deviating from the social barriers that come by default with being a woman, this young girl sent a loud and clear message to all her peers: Yes, you can!
Lotfia El-Nadi infront of her airplane (Photo: Al-Ahram)
Born to a middle class family, El-Nadi did not settle for the typical housewife dream. When she realised that an aviation school was opening in Egypt, she applied to work there as a starting point. Eight months later, she managed to save up and attend the flying course, turning to be Egypt's first woman pilot. The achievement made quite a buzz, since she was the first woman in the Middle East to fly.
Lotfia El-Nadi first Egyptian woman to fly (Photo: Al-Ahram)
A few days later, a call for a national fundraising campaign was started by Egypt's feminist icon Hoda Shaarawy, in order to buy Ms Lotfia El-Nadi an airplane. El-Nadi flew at age 26.
The argument, aside from granting her support as the first woman to fly, was more from a social responsibility angle. "Religious beliefs ordered humans to be charitable, and charities come in all kinds and forms, depending upon the eras and generations they are set within. At first, [charity] was limited to mosques and churches, providing free treatment for the underprivileged and homeless. Then charity extended to build hospitals and schools and orphanages. Aviation will play a great role in health issues. For it could be the fastest way to aid and transport patients. It can save people from natural catastrophes, such as flood and earthquakes."
Lotfia El-Nadi honored in the early 90's (Photo: Al-Ahram)
El-Nadi flew for the first time alone on 24 August 1933 after finishing her piloting course in the EgyptAir aviation school in Almaza. There was only three more hours left in her training before she could attain her Grade "A" Certificate, which would grant her a license to fly her own private airplane.
Captain Linda Massoud first Egyptian Woman to teach aviation (Photo: Al-Ahram)
The following month El-Nadi was applauded by young high school and Egyptian university students. A few years later, Egypt had her first Lady Aviation Teacher: Captain Linda Massoud, in 1944.
Honoring of first female aviation teacher 1944 (Photo: Al-Ahram)
*Compiled By Amira El-Noshokaty
*All Data Courtesy of Al-Ahram Organisation and Information Technology Centre (Microfilm)
*All Photos courtesy of Al-Ahram digital archive
*This article was first published on 7 December, 2014.