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Executive director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has called for special measures to be put in place to transform the aviation industry.

Speaking at the first-ever Global Aviation Gender Summit, held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, she said of the low number of women in the industry: “There is something that needs to be done in terms of government policy and the enforcement thereof.”

However, the situation “should not be the problem of government alone, and of the young people who want to get into the industry.

“The industry, in all its formations, needs to work together (with the government) to solve the problem.

“Airlines have a responsibility to support the training (of pilots) and make sure that students don’t only get their theory without the (flying) practise and requisite hours.

“Public policy must force them (airlines) to each produce a percentage of the required skills for the industry, and within that there must also be a set percentage for women (entering the sector).”

Nearly 500 top-ranking representatives of governments and the aviation industry from across the world attended the two-day event, which ended yesterday. The event was hosted by the SA Civil Aviation Authority (Sacaa) in co-operation with the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a UN agency responsible for managing civil aviation activities.

Sacaa director of civil aviation Poppy Khoza said the lack of gender equality in the industry and the tendency to overlook women had long past their respective due dates.

“The hardships faced by women in the aviation sector will stop only when we start confronting the truth,” she said. Deputy Minister of Transport Sindisiwe Chikunga said 105 years after its founding the aviation sector still told a story of “discrimination and exclusion based on racial and gender inequality”.

“When and where transformation in terms of race and gender is taking place, it is either too slow, or deliberately skewed. Aviation is the industry that practises gate-keeping because aviation academies are privately owned by men, and truthfully, white men,” Chikunga said.

She said 9.02% of pilots were female. “Gender equality is a founding principle in the Constitution. We will learn that while the government has taken this proactive stance to combat gender inequality and promote women empowerment, the transport sector, especially aviation, has remained a very sticky area.

“The Transport Sector Transformation Strategy aims to fast-track transformation and gender equality in the sector.” [email protected]