Why It’s Really Tough for an Indian Woman to Fly Gaganyaan First

India is all set to launch astronauts into outer space and even though many people are criticizing the government’s move to focus on this rather than the larger issues in the country like the environment and the mass felling of trees, no doubt this is a big step for Indian from the point of view of history-making. However, it is unfortunate that not a single woman was chosen as part of the team of astronauts. Is it because no woman was seen as physically fit enough to be a “vyomanaut” or is it that India is simply following the trend of the lack of representation of women in fields like business, politics and so many more areas? Imagine the history India would create if a woman would be sent to space?

Is it because there are too few women candidates in the hiring pool?

Back in 1963, Valentina Tereshkova was only a textile worker when she became the first woman to go to space, however, this was also because the Soviets were really good at putting forth their propaganda. On the other hand, even though NASA wanted to catch up to the Soviets, they could only send a woman as late as 1983, Sally Ride. The space race for definitely more important than the gender race and this is being mirrored in the Gaganyaan mission. Moreover, even though it’s still 2020, Indian women are still not permitted to be in combat and the number of women who are flying fighter pilots is still extremely low. ‘In 2015, when it allowed women to become fighter pilots, the force had 94 female pilots. In response to a parliamentary question, the government revealed that the force had 1,905 female officers of which only eight were fighter pilots, in July 2019. But only military test pilots were to be chosen for the mission, as a senior ISRO official said in August, and there were no women in such roles.’ Hence, one reason for the lack of women for Gaganyaan could be that there were barely any women candidates in the hiring pool.

How would you feel if you woke up and found that ISRO decided to send a woman to space?

Interestingly, Tereshkova was more than your average “textile worker” who happened to bag a chance to travel to space; at age 22 she had already made her first amateur skydive at the local aeroclub and by 1962, she became a member of the communist party and eventually became one among 4 women who would be trained as astronauts. Did you know that she spent three days in space as compared to Yuri Gagarin’s 108 minutes? She even logged in more flight time in one single flight than all the American astronauts put together so surely she has surpassed them greatly, it’s all in the details. Imagine if you woke up tomorrow to find that a woman has been chosen to fly Gaganyaan, how would that make the average Indian woman and man feel? Everyone including women, would that truly a woman can do anything, not to mention that it would boost the number of women in STEM fields, because believe it or not that’s where it all begins, at the grassroots level.

Image credit: Public Radio International

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