Sabaa Thnaibat, the first Jordanian woman to ever fly an F-16 fighter jet is being celebrated as a hero in the country. Jordanians on social media embraced their latest "nashama" (hero in Jordanian), and touted her achievement.
Thnaibat flew the American-made military aircraft from the Muwaffaq Salti Air Base in eastern Jordan. Air Force Brig. Gen. Muhammad Fathi Hiasat said her achievement was the result of King Abdullah II’s support for female participation in the military, the state-owned Al-Mamlaka reported.
Some Jordanians celebrated Thnaibat’s feat on social media. One Twitter user wrote “very proud of our heroes” in response to the news.
سبأ الذنيبات أول أردنية تقود طائرة حربية من طراز F16.— بكبك🇯🇴 (@ArslanShishani) January 26, 2023
🇯🇴♥️فخورين جدًا بنشمياتنا 🇯🇴♥️ pic.twitter.com/sueD2QnWbT
Though Thnaibat is the first Jordanian woman to fly an F-16, she is not the first pilot in the Jordanian military. Abdullah’s daughter, Princess Salma bint Abdullah, became the first Jordanian woman to pass the Jordanian military’s pilot training in 2020. Reports at the time did not indicate which aircraft she flew.
Why it matters: The role of Jordanian women in the country’s armed forces has gradually increased since Jordan became an independent state in 1946. Women first began serving in the Jordanian armed forces as teachers in 1950. Female participation increased in 1965 when a group of Jordanian women joined the military’s medical corps as nurses, according to a report from NATO.
The Jordanian military instituted a Gender Mainstreaming Strategy in 2021 with the purpose of advancing women in the armed forces. The strategy set a target of 3% female participation in field officer, ie infantry, positions. However, a variety of societal and logistical obstacles remain in place that deter Jordanian women from serving in larger numbers, according to a 2022 report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“Important structural and infrastructural obstacles must first be surmounted, however, ranging from the small numbers of women in leadership positions to the lack of appropriate transportation and accommodation for women deployed to field units,” read the report. “These last two challenges are especially significant given conservative norms surrounding women leaving and sleeping away from their homes.”
Women make up 17% of the military at present, though the majority are in non-combat roles, according to the Carnegie Endowment.
Jordan is not the first country in the region to use women in its air force. The following is a breakdown of some other notable female military pilots in the Middle East:
All Jewish Israeli women must serve in the Israel Defense Forces, as do Jewish and Druze Israeli men. As such, women have been serving in the air force for decades. Yael Rom became the first woman to graduate from the IDF’s pilot course back in 1951, according to The Jerusalem Post.
Berna Sen Senol became the first Turkish woman to fly an F-16 for the Turkish air force in 2000. “It was a great experience since I felt as if I had wings just like a bird,” Senol, who is now a commercial pilot, told the Runway Girl Network in an interview last month.
In 2014, Maj. Mariam Al Mansouri became the first female fighter pilot in the United Arab Emirates to participate in a combat mission against the Islamic State. Mansouri likewise flew an F-16.
The BBC reported in 2019 that two Lebanese women, Lt. Chantal Kallas and Lt. Rita Zaher, became the first to qualify for the Lebanese air force pilot program. “A woman has to overcome all of the challenges with their family or society to realise her ambition,” Kallas told the outlet at the time.