Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 1, Issue 10, Tuesday, August 12, 2003







MEN and women are both creations of god. Though men and women are of different sexes, they are made of the same flesh and blood. They posses the same knowledge, same intelligence, same emotions, same feelings, sometimes the same perspectives and even similar thoughts. So if there is so much in common between men and women, why do people consider women to be the weaker sex and men the stronger one? Why is there segregation between the work that a woman can do and the ones that a male does? All right, they might be physically different but there is no scientific evidence that a person's sex affects the ability to do creative work or make decisions.

"The journey of my life
Begins from home,
Ends at the graveyard.
My life is spent
Like a corpse,
Carried on the shoulders
Of my father and brother,
Husband and son.
Bathed in religion,
Attired in customs,
And buried in a grave of ignorance."

These words of Atiya Dawood, the famous Pakistani poet perfectly describes the lives of most women of the world. But then again there are many women in our society who are as compatible as their male counterparts in various occupations and have been successful in making their mark. The Woman has played many roles in various societies throughout history. She has been a wife, a mother, a farmer, a laborer, a business executive, a teacher, or a volunteer worker. In many countries throughout the world, and now even in Bangladesh, women are increasingly challenging society's traditional image of what a women chooses to be.

Sigma Huda

Women in court
"I've grown up listening to the music of Beethoven, The Beetles, Chaikovsky Frank Sinatra and Cliff Richards. I'm a die-hard fan of Elvis Presley and I idolize great men like Mohammed Ali Kasuri, Manzul Kader, Ishtiaque Ahmed and Kamal Hussein. I was quite an active girl and enjoyed partying, riding and cycling. I loved doing adventurous things and from a very young age my nose was always into books of Charles Dickens, Parkinson's law books and anything which was full of mystery."
These are the words of the famous lady Advocate Sigma Huda, who is undoubtedly one of Bangladesh's most famous women lawyers. She has gathered so much fame that there are hardly any people who don't know her. She is well-known among all classes of people. She is the savior of the poor and ones who are helpless. She is one woman who has multiple personalities and I really had a difficult time when writing about her life.
After finishing her schooling and doing her Senior Cambridge this dynamic lady became the country's first female lawyer, at the age of 21. In those days there were hardly any female lawyers and she was practically the first one to come into this profession. Coming from a very well-reputed and well off family where no one had any obstacles to realizing their dreams, this lady wanted to become one of the most famous and renowned persons of this country. She dreamed of handling those cases which no lawyer would dare to take. She dreamed of wining every case that her clients would bring to her. She is one lady who knows how to achieve success in life.
"Life has been not so harsh to me. I came from a liberal family where no one had to follow any strict rules and regulations, but had strong family values to be maintained. I shared a very good rapport with my father who was a civil servant at that time. He has been one of my greatest sources of inspiration. I even think that I am blessed to have such a good husband. His family was really supportive in making my dreams come true. The relationship that I shared with my mother-in-law was not the typical mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship but was something more than that. Actually, when I got married, my husband and I started our life from scratch. We had our dreams ahead of us and the only thing we had to do was chase them. So we planned our conjugal life accordingly since we were both very young. I was actually very lucky since being a young lawyer I enjoyed a lot of privileges as well. The judges allowed me to handle any case that I wished since they had complete faith in me. I could even use the court's library whenever I wanted, although it had a strict timing to be followed. I knew my goal well and did everything to achieve it."
When interviewing this workaholic lady in her cabin in the Supreme Court, I was totally captivated by her self-confidence and composedness. Her positive attitude towards life left me further attracted to her character. Sigma Huda actively participates in social works besides her time-demanding profession. She was the one who established the Bangladesh Society for the Enforcement of Human Rights, she is a member of the Bangladesh Bar Council Secretary General, Co Chairman Of The Breast Feeding Foundation, member of BNWLA, CTRDW, SAHAR and many more organizations. I realized from the very beginning how dedicated she was towards her work, because I saw a group of ordinary people sitting outside her room, all of whom had come for help. Sigma Huda loves making people happy. This compassionate and at the same time ambitious lady wishes nothing in life but the blessings of God to make her dreams come true. Although she has achieved fame, she still yearns for more and it is this quality of her character that keeps her going.
When I asked of her five points to be kept in mind by a woman who wants to succeed today, she said in a very determined voice, "if you want to succeed, then you have to keep your priorities straight, have a very optimistic outlook towards life, be committed towards your work, have strong values and don't give in to life easily."
The lives of these ladies very skillfully portray the fact that we women are in no way inferior to men, our stories of success, though late, are now for the whole world to see.

Fatema Begum

Women in police
She is one of the renowned police officers of Bangladesh, and happens to be the first woman to join this force. Her name is synonymous with bravery and courage and she is none other than Fatema Begum, who is now SS special branch security and protection (Special Superintendent Of Police). Her village is in Thakurgaon of Bikrampur where she grew up and completed her studies. From the very beginning of her life this bold determined lady wanted to serve her country. In the year 1984 she appeared for her BCS examination to make her wish come true. Among the many cadres Fatema selected the police service as her first and foremost choice.
"I was lucky that I received no opposition from my family in making any decisions of my life. My parents never interfered and gave me complete freedom in doing anything I wanted. So I was very independent minded and level headed from the very beginning," said Mrs. Fatema thoughtfully. "I was actually to some extent also spoilt and pampered since I was the only daughter and grew up among brothers. My brothers even used to keep magazine cuttings for me in those early days since they knew I loved the life of the filmstars which were so full of fame, glitz and glamour. That was my personal life where I had no obstacles to doing anything but you'll be surprised to know that I literally had to struggle for getting this police job just because I was the first female in this male's occupation.
"Since at that time it was absolutely unheard of for a woman to do a man's job the news of my selection took wings and was even flashed in the newspapers. There was a totally chaotic situation and everyone, even my well-wishers told me to quit the job, but I didn't give up. I still remember the words of the great person who was the Inspector General of police at that time. He told me to rethink my decision and even told me how difficult it was for a man to cope in this profession and that I was merely a woman. He even told me how many times he fell from his horse during his training period and bruised himself. But I wasn't discouraged. Rather I was motivated by his words. I had a point to prove and I wanted to show everyone that was I was totally capable enough for this profession"
Fatema had to tackle a lot of pressure alone from the unkind male chauvinistic society. She still followed her dreams and was stubborn enough to realize them no matter what. Even when she was in Sardha police academy for her training, followed by her BATC training, she had to stand up for her rights since she was not given the permission from the higher officials to begin her training course. Finally, after confronting the principal of the academy, who was very much impressed by her dedication, she was allowed her to take part in the training. But her struggle did not end there.
"I was even at first told to parade alone without my male co-workers. But I refused to parade alone and demanded to my chief instructor whom we used to call 'ustad' that I will only parade if my other partners are present. He was probably happy to see my outspokenness and agreed at last,'' said the officer smiling. "When everyone saw how dedicated I was towards my profession, after a few weeks they all started to take me seriously. Even IG sir became impressed by my performance, and supported me in following my dream- which was to become a successful police officer."
There were times in this training period which can also be called the foundation course when this lady had to do her PT right early in the bitterly cold winter mornings when things were hardly visible because of the morning dew. There were times when she had to deal with a hectic routine of life like a robot. There were times when she was unwell but still managed to participate in various physical training routines despite her pathetic health condition. There were even times when this diminutive lady had to face unimaginable challenges from her male counterparts and at the same time also received immense attention for her attractive features. Later, this confident and assertive lady did many works in various important posts and in different districts of Bangladesh. She became the ASP and eventually in the year 1999 occupied the position of SP. No one at first glance can actually understand the toughness and boldness of this humble looking married woman who is thoroughly in love with her profession. The power with which she speaks is simply amazing. An avid reader of novels and various travel stories and whose principle is "not to give up till one has gotten what one wants," Mrs.Fatema Begum is truly a woman of substance who can set examples for other young girls who are interested in entering this kind of challenging profession.

Iffat Ahmed

Women in the construction industry
Boulders and chips, these are the tools of this young but impressive lady who is the director of the company Green and White Ltd., which was established in the year 1951. Her name is Iffat Ahmed. She is the first woman in our country to be working in this kind of field and when I asked how she came into this profession, the woman said in a warm voice, "It wasn't a deliberate decision to come into this profession, which is a male dominated hardcore business. After doing my honours in Accounting from Dhaka University, I got married to the person I loved. Since I did not come from a very conservative minded family it was easier for me to make my life's decisions. It was after the sudden death of my father that I had to enter this job. My father was a great and dynamic man who established this business in the early years. But his death was a great shock to us. I never really had the time to mourn. There were serious financial crises at work and someone needed to handle those effectively since my siblings were away in America. It was then that I made up my mind to take over this business, as my father always dreamed of making his work internationally recognized. It was from him that I learnt all the techniques of running this business out of sheer curiosity. The whole idea of working with stones, granite, and boulders really appealed to me. Since I had an inquisitive nature since childhood, I knew practically everything that was required to run the business. But still it was difficult, as at first I was only a housewife. So the big leap that I had to make from one world to the other wasn't that easy."
When I asked what specifically drove her, inspired her to succeed despite the challenges involved, Iffat said seriously, "I needed to prove a point to myself, to believe that I could be useful, successful and capable. Many factors, both in my professional and personal life, at that point brought about the need for reassurance, and I really needed to be endorsed. The woman in me was seething inside! That emotion had to be requited, and the only solution was to prove to society, my business peers and mainly to myself, that I could do it!"
Now being a mother and a single parent, she has more responsibilities than one. She tries to be a good mother, a capable housekeeper and an efficient business official. She knows her priorities well and works accordingly.
Iffat is a strong believer in fate. She knows nothing is possible in life without the will of god. She is ambitious but at the same time very much down to earth. When I asked how important it is for a woman especially in a male dominated profession like hers to be well turned out, the lady said in very cheerful voice, "I usually spend very little time on my looks. I usually prefer to stay natural rather than looking all made up at 6:30 in the morning. There isn't any skin care regime that I follow since I always have to stay really busy. But yes, I believe it is very important for a women to be well groomed and attractive, not only for her own sense of self confidence, but also, let's be honest, for the human race that has always been visually biased. I believe that we should celebrate our femininity no matter what profession we are in, and look beautiful."
Currently, Green and White is involved in supplying boulders and chips to India. Iffat also worked on big projects, such as supplying building materials for the Jamuna bridge, the Rupsha bridge and even got contracts from the Bangladesh railway. After her work, this hardworking and passionate woman loves to spend time with her friends and family. When I asked her what was her wish for the coming year, the lady concluded in a very clear voice 'do more and more work'.


Women on wheels
Meet Fatema-nur-Mojumdar. When I stepped onto the path that led to the small BRAC training office in Uttara, I was at first greeted by the line of motorbikes that were kept outside. Upon entering the room I was impressed to find not only her but two other female motorbike drivers who were meticulously doing their file work. As Fatema spoke to me about her life I found a terrific frankness in her attitude. Shades of honesty, sincerity and dedication in her eyes highlighted her character further.
After passing her degree examination, the village girl from Noakhali wanted to do something different with her life. She wanted to work and be independent. At this time she met one of her cousin brothers, whom Fatema lovingly calls "dada", and he encouraged her to get involved with the organization of BRAC. Fatema who loves challenges and who thinks nothing is impossible in life, at once sat for the examination that was required for getting the job. She was particularly attracted by the offer since it required women to ride motorbikes for doing various organization related jobs. Women drivers hardly existed at that time and the whole idea of driving a motorbike seemed really amazing to her.
"My father was at first very stubborn and objected to me doing anything that needed me to work outside home. Even when I was selected for the job, he wasn't happy and tried to make me understand that it wasn't wise for an unmarried girl to do work that required her to ride alone on a motorbike on the streets of Dhaka city. He was particularly worried about my security since I belonged to a very conservative middle-class family and he being in the army thought that he knew our nasty society well. Even you'll be very surprised to know that my father even accompanied me to Chadpur to see my hostel where I lived to receive my training," said Fatema laughing. "It was annoying but I had no choice. So after much of tantrums and occasional fights my father agreed to accept my job. But that too took a long time for him, completing his investigation, to find out whether the workplace was safe, as my job needed me to interact a great deal with male people.
Before Fatema started her work she went through an intensive training course in the BRAC training center of Mymensingh, There she had to attend an orientation. After six months of practicing how to ride a bicycle, she was trained to ride a motorbike within three days. So after she learnt her skill well there was simply no looking back.
Currently, this confident lady is holding the rank of the manager of this training course. Her work involves supervision of the staff and the students of the BRAC schools that are located in Tongi and Uttara. Beside her supervisory work she also works as a teacher when the actual teachers working at the BRAC schools fail to be present. It's also Fatema's duty to see that the students are regularly attending their schools and to submit a regular report on these children's performances.
Since most of the children who study in these schools are poor, Fatema says that they also have to ensure that regular pamphlets and leaflets are spread among the poor parents and they are encouraged in various ways to send their children to school.
When asked whether she has to face any kind of criticisms when traveling on her bike, Fatema, who is a self proclaimed feminist says, 'I often don't bother about the occasional comments of people on the road. They'll say a lot of things but if we sit there and fret about it then it is of no use. I feel great when I ride my bike because it gives me the opportunity to be both physically and financially independent."
Now Fatema is happily married with two kids and lives in Mogbazar. Although her work requires her to go to work three days a week, Fatema still manages some time out of her work to be a dutiful daughter-in-law and a loving wife. Fatema now wishes nothing in life but expects to see within the next five years women in various spheres of our society working shoulder to shoulder with men.

Star Lifetsyle regrets the fact that despite our sincerest effort, it was simply not possible to present all the groundbreakers who waged war against the gender taboo. By presenting only a selected few, our attempt has been to pay homage to all the great ladies who had, have and will excel in professions till the time when the term 'men's profession' becomes obsolete.
By Sarah Zermin Huq

By Sarah Zermin Huq; Photo: Zahedul I Khan




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