Shukriya Khanum
Khanum was offered the job of flight instructor at PIA's training centre - File photo REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

Shukriya Khanum, the first female commercial pilot of Pakistan, died on Sunday (14 May) after suffering from cancer for years. The 82-year-old breathed her last at a hospital in the city of Lahore.

Khanum made history when she was given a commercial pilot licence (CPL) in 1959, soon after her graduation from the city's Government College. However, the country's sole airline – Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) – did not allow women to fly commercial planes, which led to Khanum being given the job of flight instructor at PIA's training centre.

At the centre, she taught young cadets the CPL ground subjects. She also used to take flying enthusiasts on joy rides at Karachi Flying Club.

In the late 1970s, the military government of General Zia ul-Haq took over and a martial law was enforced. Zia was strictly against "the idea of a woman flying with a man together in the cockpit" and Khanum was barred from flying.

She was then restricted to work only as a ground instructor.

TV anchor Dr Shahid Masood, who is Shukriya Khanum's nephew, recalls his aunt telling him "I work with these men. Some of them are my students, others are colleagues and I spend a lot of time with them, so what is wrong in flying together? And there are stewardesses on board as well, so are they going to stop them too?'"

However, Khanum was not the only one who was the victim of patriarchy and male chauvinism. Two other women pilots – Ayesha Rabia and Maliha Sami – faced similar discrimination after taking the PIA pilot test in 1980.

But after the death of General Zia in 1989, situation changed and Rabia and Sami were called by PIA to attend formal pilot training.

"For nine years I waited, because rules did not allow women to fly," Rabia, who became the first female Pakistani captain of a commercial scheduled flight in 2005, told the BBC. She also recalled the time when she met Khanum in Karachi.

She said Khanum was happy to see her and also advised her "to focus on professionalism and never let anybody think that because you are a woman you cannot do that".

Qaiser Ansari, who was working as a flight instructor at a flying club in Rawalpindi, also recalled her and said "Shukriya throughout her life tried her best to prove that girls can do anything."

He also said that PIA had failed miserably by not giving her the status that she deserved.

Dr Masood also remembered his aunt as a "brave and bold woman and she belonged to an age that was more enlightened", who was not given the chance to took her dreams on air during her golden age.