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Sky’s the Limit for these South African Girls

Sky’s the Limit for these South African Girls

Refilwe Ledwaba is first black woman to fly for the South African Police Services.

Refilwe Ledwaba is the first black female pilot to have flown for the South African Police Services (SAPS). 

Her success is a great boost both for the country and for its women, with aviation being a seriously male-dominated industry. 

According to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots there are fewer than 7,500 female airline pilots worldwide — with women accounting for just 5% of pilots at 34 leading airlines. 

But through her nonprofit, the Girl Fly Programme in Africa Foundation, Ledwaba is working to empower and inspire young women and girls to take up science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects — by showing them that there is a space for women in science. 

“I want the girls to be successful,” Ledwaba told the BBC. “Not necessarily to choose to become pilots but to become confident young women who can contribute to society, our economy, and give back to our communities.” 

Ledwaba’s own personal journey with aviation began at the age of 17, when she travelled in a plane from Johannesburg to Cape Town — and discovered that the pilot who had flown the plane was a woman. 

This discovery was life-changing for her, a young woman from the Limpopo province, and helped her believe that she too could fly all over the world. Ledwaba then swapped her dream of becoming a doctor for instead dreaming of becoming a pilot. 

Now, Ledwaba is 12 years into her aviation career — but it hasn’t come easily. 

The Girl Fly Programme organises a yearly camp for about 100 young women aged between 14 and 18, where they can learn about robotics, coding, and aviation. 

And through their attendance at the camp, each girl gets a free flying lesson. 

The initiative girls young women the chance to prepare for their futures, and dream big, by exposing them to different opportunities at a young age. 

Ledwaba hopes to see the camp become a contributing factor in empowering young women to become leaders of change, working to break the cycle of poverty in their communities. 

“It is important that we are not only focusing on aviation and space but STEM as a whole because this will set these girls to be very competitive for future jobs,” Ledwaba told the BBC. “Perhaps they will go back and help their communities to break their cycle of poverty.” 

“In the long run that inequality gap might perhaps start narrowing down a little bit,” she added. “That’s why we do what we do.” 

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