Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 4, Issue 9, Tuesday March 06, 2007




The next frontier

For a populace toyed with by two leading ladies, feminism or female emancipation is in least need of emphasis in our society- or so one would think. Despite the legacies being carried forward of husbands and fathers, Bangladesh is yet to step out of its conservative, in a not so good way, shell when it comes to professional women. Discouraged, dissuaded, threatened or compelled, working women in our society still raise one too many unfriendly eyebrows. It is thus all the more commendable when someone from this suppressed gender crosses the thresholds of barriers and takes their career to heights even men daren't reach.

This Women's Day, Lifestyle brings to the limelight one such success story- sparsely known because the industry she has braced, unlike fashion or make-up, does not grant her the luxury of her being repeatedly and unduly flaunted in gloss and print but still heavily inspirational for all that she has and will achieve. This Women's Day, we tip our hats and raise our glasses to Nasreen Sattar, newly appointed CEO of Standard Chartered Bank, Afghanistan.

LS: Background is perhaps the easiest and most apt beginning to any story. How did it all begin for you?

NS: Now that I think about it in hindsight, it almost seems as if my banking career was born out of fluke. I applied for a vacancy in the then ANZ Grindlays Bank in the latter part of the 80s with little more than a desire to pursue a professional career to my name. I was neither educated nor experienced for employment in this industry.

LS: At a time when working women was still somewhat an alien concept in Bangladesh, what odds did you have to face when your contemporaries opted for the safer and more acceptable choices of teaching or homemaking?

NS: Although I would not call them odds as such, the most glaring realisation was the extent of just how undiscovered this territory was for women. Back in a time when banking was entirely male dominated, only two women held managerial posts within the system. However, the unfamiliarity or exclusiveness of my situation was two-sided: the men I worked with were just as aware of it as I was and hence they tried to overcome it to the best of their ability.

One important concern about working in this sector, both then and now is the long hours one has to put in. Whereas working in a school means getting off work in the afternoon, banking hours stretch till evening. Although I too was worried about this initially, all it takes is a bit of getting used to.

LS: Not to literally look for prejudice, but it must be asked, did that result in discrimination of any sort?

NS: Not at all. I feel I have been very lucky in this regard. Although women in banking was a completely new concept twenty years ago, my colleagues have always proved to be more than accepting. Any element of unease that they might have felt was simply to do with the fact that they were not accustomed to women in this profession.

LS: A good two decades have passed between then and now. How has the banking industry changed so far as women are concerned?

NS: As far as banking is concerned, the number of women bracing this industry has increased by such drastic amounts that banking can undoubtedly be considered a definitive career choice for women in Bangladesh. Today a total of 16 percent of managerial roles are held by women and Standard Chartered even has a separate department facilitating diversity and inclusion of minorities, which covers the employment of women.

Of course certain disincentives such as family and children still exist but that is true of any profession. Luckily, we live in a society where extended families play a big role in our lives and therefore it is not uncommon for children to be cared for by grandmothers, aunts, cousins and so on. Aside that, other measures are also being taken to accommodate working mothers, for example the new Standard Chartered branch in Gulshan will have a day-care centre for the children of employees who cannot leave their children elsewhere.

LS: Moving on to the appointment that you have recently been given, could you elaborate on your assignment in Kabul?

NS: Standard Chartered Bank has recently begun operating in Afghanistan to look after the accounts of many international organisations that have concerns there and although there were many contenders, I was chosen for the post of CEO. It will be a two year assignment during which I will have the opportunity of living and working in a different country.

Nasreen Sattar has been writing for the Banking Tips column of Lifestyle ever since its inception and will now be replaced by Tahia Khalil of the same bank. She is the first Bangladeshi woman to be appointed as the CEO of an international bank and for the courage and enthusiasm she has shown in taking up her position, we hold her high in respect.

Interviewed by Subhi Shama Reehu

1. Are all Bangladeshis allowed to open a foreign currency account?

A) Bagladeshis who live abroad can open foreign currency accounts with Bangladeshi Banks showing evidence of their income in USD/GBP/Euro etc.

B) Resident Bangaldeshis can only open an RFCD (Resident foreign currency Deposit) account. This is a travel related account. Every time a resident Bangladeshi goes abroad he/she can bring in undeclared USD 5000/-. Beyond USD 5000/- can be brought in with declaration. With this currency one can open an RFCD account.

2. Who are eligible for purchasing Bangladesh Bank Bonds?

A) Any Bangladeshi can purchase the Bonds through their respective Banks or the Sanchay Bureau up to the threshold set by Bangladesh Bank.

B) The US Dollar Bonds on the other hand can only be purchased by the non resident Bangladeshis holding Foreign currency account. US Dollar Premium Bonds can be purchased by foreign nationals also.

3. What is the purpose of TP (Transaction Profile)?

This is a form which needs to be filled up while opening an account, under Anti Money Laundering Circular of BB 2002. TP captures the anticipated transactions to be conducted by a customer in monthly frequencies.

By The Way

Get into the habit of applying a daily conditioner to hair ends every time you shampoo. This will reduce split ends, discolouration when colouring, damage when heat styling and reduce the need for frequent trims. Use a product designed for thermal styling if you frequently blow-dry, use a curling iron or hot rollers.

Under A Different Sky

By Iffat Nawaz

Not because of my mother

I didn't understand her and she infuriated me- the woman who decided my fate after my father passed away. While we sat in a trauma room, in the middle of a land with deserts all around, I obeyed her, but I couldn't understand her and later I felt anger towards her. A sort of anger that doesn't only typify a mother and teenage daughter relationship but something more, and I didn't want to understand her.

I was never a Mama's girl. My father always stole the show, and my mother like a silent beauty always added to the circumstances, good and bad. She was the one who disciplined us, fed us, bought our clothes, decided when we should do our homework, how long I should talk on the phone, and to whom. She wasn't strict but she also knew that she was raising a daughter who had a mind of her own from early on so she made sure she kept a tight grip, which made me lean more towards my father from a young age.

She was nineteen when she got married. The youngest of nine brothers and sisters, she became the youngest bride in my father's family, and she blended in, with her timid yet mesmerising sweetness she won everyone's heart. But I never thought of her as a leader, my father was and she followed him. He guided her, and she never questioned her confidence because she never had to prove it.

And then there was that day in the trauma room, when she sat there facing her childrens' tearful faces; her husband's dead boy was still warm in the next room, and she made the most important decision of her life. She decided to stay in America for her children's future; she didn't have a plan but she just knew that was the only right decision.

I didn't agree with her, for a long time. But at that time I was happy not to think but to be guided. And she started her journey, a new life at thirty six, with a fifteen and ten year old.

It wasn't easy for her, and she didn't think it would be, but perhaps she also didn't think it would be that hard, from working long hours to having weekend jobs she raised us…I still didn't understand her, my life was flipped upside down and all my daily luxuries and comforts were taken away. We could have had a more wealthy and relaxed life in Dhaka with friends all around, yet she chose to be here alone, and I didn't understand.

Our two bedroom apartment and its walls were witness to our numerous fights over how late I stayed after school to the high phone bills I hiked up by talking to a long distance friend who seemed at eighteen my true love. I didn't understand her, because I didn't know. I didn't know how many times she skipped her meals every week, how many tears she shed every month, how much of her own wishes she sacrificed to put me and my brother through university. I only saw her stern face and always overlooked the borders and lines of sadness that piled over within a few short years.

I also overlooked something bigger than the sadness during those years, a transformation. I overlooked when the shy, sweet-faced woman turned into a strong, open minded, wise soul. A type of person I have only read about in the best of fictions, someone I didn't even think I would meet in real life.

And then one day, long after a couple deaths, a divorce, two college graduations, a new house and a few fresh starts I saw her again. It wasn't that I hadn't seen her often, I saw her for weeks or months at a time, but it was one morning when I sat with her having our morning tea and I was in the middle of an enthusiastic sentence that I realised who she was. Just like that, a moment with all its simplicities, nothing complex, just the plain truth and I was stunned. She looked at me and asked if I was okay, we smiled more now, so I smiled and told her I thought I had seen something.

And I did, I saw her, for the first time in my life. I saw who she was, a leader, a true leader, a woman stronger than any I have known, and I am not writing about her because she is my mother. I am certain I would have written about her if I had met her anywhere, because she has done the impossible- she has found a balance better than all of us so-called progress women of today, she has proved her silent courage, her quiet yet amazing strength, and I am still learning to understand her.


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