Breaking the mold: Profiles of brave and bold women bringing change in Bangladesh

Written by Afrose Jahan Chaity & Nawaz Farhin | Published on: March 8, 2017

For International Women's Day 2017, the Dhaka Tribune interviewed some of the trend-setting, trail-blazing women who are breaking new barriers every day.

Womens day
 
 
Nasrin Sultana, 48
Warehouse inspector, Fire Services & Civil Defence
Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune
 

Nasrin is a recipient of the President Award for her courageous service to people in disaster prone areas, fire victims, and fire control. 35 fire fighters work under her command at the Lalbagk Fire Station.

Who is your biggest supporter?
My elder sister Hasina Begum who gave me the courage to pursue my career.

What is the biggest obstacle for you?
I do not see any barriers. My job is risky but there is no room for excuses in my job. I am a fire fighter first and a woman second.

Why this profession?
Having the ability to save someone’s life is what made me become a fire fighter in 1984. There is also this sense of adventure which makes every day different and unique.

How do you balance professional and personal life?
My husband Yousof Ali is my support system, without him I would not be able to balance my personal and professional life. We have two sons and they all know that my work comes before everything else. They are the secret behind my success.



Fahmida Mohsin, 33
Lieutenant Commander, Bangladesh Navy
Navy staff officer of Information and Technology Department and mother of twins

Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune
 

Who is your biggest supporter?
My parents, they were both very supportive of my career choice. I saw my mother balancing a job and maintaining a family and realised that I could do that too. My father taught me to believe in myself and have courage.

What is your biggest obstacle?
It is having to spend so much time away from home. I have to be on call 24 hours a day and spend up to nine months at sea with mostly male colleagues. My supervisors are supportive and I have not experienced any gender  discrimination.

Why this profession?
The orderliness of men in naval uniforms made me want to join the Navy. I also graduated with an electrical engineering degree from Buet.

How do you balance professional and personal life?
With the support of family. When my twins were only a year old I had to go to India for three months. My husband who is also a naval officer and my in-laws took care of our children. Without them I would not be able to balance my career and personal life.




Nazia Afrin, 27
Flight Lieutenant, Bangladesh Air Force
The first woman pilot to fly the Basic Trainer Transport Aircraft L410

Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune
 

Who is your biggest supporter?
My father (retd) Group Captain Ilyas Akhand.

What is your biggest obstacle?
I refused to let anything get in the way of me becoming a pilot. I focused on the goal and did not stop until I made it.

Why this profession?
I grew up dreaming to be a pilot just like my father.

ow do you balance professional and personal life?
I have strict divisions between my personal and professional life.



Sadia Binte Siddique, 23
Flight Lieutenant, Bangladesh Air Force

Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune
 

She has been flying the helicopter known as Bell 212 for last two years which is mostly used for rescue and medical evacuation.

Who is your biggest supporter?
Coming from Barisal, one would not particularly have aspirations like mine but I had very progressively minded parents who supported my career choice wholeheartedly.

What is your biggest obstacle?
Men who think women should only be a housewife. It is a choice but women should be able to make any kind of career choices she wants and believes she can do.

Why this profession?
Being a pilot is exceptional. We also have very few female pilots in the force. I love the challenge and the adventure of being a pilot.

How do you balance professional and personal life?
Strict division between work and leisure time.



Parbati Roy, 29
Lecturer, North South University
Parbati comes from the indigenous Chakma community
Courtesy
 

Who is your biggest supporter?
My mother. My aunt, my mother and a family friend supported me during my higher education at Dhaka University which led to a scholarship in Australia that changed my life.

What is the biggest obstacle for you?
Overcoming parental disapproval and work place discrimination. My father was so conservative that he did not want me to come to Dhaka for higher studies. I had to break that barrier and prove independence. At my old work place, I did not get support because of being an indigenous woman.

Why this profession?
I found more security and safety in the teaching profession.

How do you balance professional and personal life?
With support from my mother and husband.


Afrosa Hasan Bindiya, 25
Hair and makeup artist, Deepto TV
A transgendered woman who has been working in the makeup industry for the past 12 years
Courtesy

 

Who is your biggest supporter?
My mother and sister.

What is the biggest obstacle for you?
People’s judgement. My father made me move out of our house because of the gossip I generated in our building. When I was in school kids treated me different but I slowly grew to accept who I was.

Why this profession?
When I first moved in with the transgender community, I felt I had finally found my home. I was happy. But I realised that there was no respect in the work that we do. I went back home and overcame many obstacles to find a 
Pakistani beautician, Naznin Khan, who trained me and now I am self-sufficient financially.

How do you balance professional and personal life?
With the support of my mother and boyfriend.



Banchi Khatun, 42
A hawker selling cigarettes on the street, the breadwinner of her family
Courtesy


Banchi sells cigarettes to meet ends meet. She is the only person in her family with an income.

With the money she earns, she pays for her husband’s medical treatment and tries to send her son to school.

But she does not quit.

“I walk all day to sell cigarettes. After work, I go home to do chores, cook breakfast, lunch and sometime dinner.”



Parvin Talukdar, 35
Street food vendor
Courtesy


Parvin is a street food vendor feeding rickshaw-pullers, day labourers, and drivers on the sidewalk.

Her husband is unemployed but helps with the chores.

“My workplace is not friendly and safe for a woman and I face many threats all the time.”



Courtesy: The Dhaka Tribune