About two and a half years ago, Zerin Akhter came to Bandarban as the Superintendent of Police (SP) taking charge of the district’s law and order. Since then she has been successfully leading the police in the seven upazilas of Bandarban.

Zerin Akhter, while talking to Prothom Alo from the SP office, said she was a woman but she considers herself as a human first in fulfilling her duties and responsibilities.

Zerin Akhter’s work indeed bears proof of this. She reached this level only after proving herself at every step. She said, throughout her career she never noticed any difference in treatment from her senior or junior colleagues for being a woman. And she also had family support and assistance.

She added, “I never saw my father, mother or husband committing gender discrimination. Otherwise, it would have been difficult for me to perform the 24-hour duties of an SP, alongside being a mother. My only daughter is an O-level student in an English medium school.”

Like the police administration, the responsibilities of Bandarban district administration also went to a woman. Yasmin Parvin arrived as the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of the district in January, 2021. She has been in that post for almost one and a half years.

Yasmin comes to her office everyday on time. She never refuses to meet anyone who comes to see her, even amidst her busy schedule. She said, “My office is always open to all. Common people never visit the deputy commissioner unless they are in trouble. That is why I try to listen to their sufferings and solve their problems.”

Yasmin Parvin believes, there are certain challenges of being a woman administrator such as coming to the workplace after managing everything at the family as the homemaker and spending quality time with children. This responsibility is somewhat relaxed for the men.

She considers gaining acceptability to everyone irrespective of caste, religion and class as well as representing Bandarban’s tourism in front of the whole world has been the most notable achievement during her one-and-a-half-year term.

Apart from the deputy commissioner, the additional district magistrate Umme Kulsum, additional deputy commissioner (general) Suraya Akter, Naikhangchhari UNO Salma Ferdous and Alikadam UNO Mehruba Islam are also serving in top posts in Bandarban.

Sabrina Afrin, the last UNO of Bandarban Sadar upazila has been transferred recently while, her successor Shazia Afroze has not joined yet.

Beyond administration, Sharmistha Acharjee is working as the executive engineer of the Department of Public Health Engineering and Sharmi Chakma is working in the public works department in Bandarban.

Besides, Bhanu Marma works as the health and family planning officer in Bandarban sadar upazila, Atia Chowdhury works as district women’s affairs officer and Suikraching Marma works as the deputy director of rural development board.

Both additional district magistrate Umme Kulsum and additional deputy commissioner (general) Suraya Akter said the mindset of considering an officer as woman officer has to be altered. An officer is an officer anf that's it. There is no concept of a male officer or a female officer.

Umme Kulsum said, she enjoyed working with common people at the field level the most while working as an upazila nirbahi officer.

Naikhangchhari upazila nirbahi officer Salma Ferdous often travels to the remote hilly areas on foot in performing her duties. Salma Ferdous considers organising the upazila parishad polls as the biggest success during her tenure there.

That election was a great challenge for her. But, she finished the election without any controversy. She said if there was a government-provided helping hand for the house of a UNO, they could have performed their duties with more ease.

Mehruba Islam, who joined the post of UNO in Alikadam recently, is the first ever female UNO of the upazila. After she joined the post, many men and women came to see her. This also is a strong message for the society in achieving gender equality, said she.

Sharmi Chakma, executive engineer of the public works department served at the head office in Dhaka since the beginning of her career. The job of the executive engineer was complex and challenging for her as she lacked field-level work experience. But, she is learning it fast with the inspiration and advice of her senior colleagues.

She was saying that working on the field level was already difficult for women whereas for hill women, it is even more challenging. However, it is not impossible, she commented.

Atia Chowdhury, deputy director of the women’s affairs department said, the social outlook towards women is quite respectful in the hill tracts and so she doesn’t have to face any such problem as woman.

Rather, officers and employees there, face troubles related to poor communication system and lingual differences. Plus, manpower crisis is also a major problem in the government offices. She is the only women’s affairs officer working in seven upazilas of the district, she added.

How those women administrators are performing

The common people also praise administrative services being provided under women leadership. Especially the women are saying that they can share their thoughts without hesitation. These women officials are more sensitive towards the ethnic minority as well.

Human rights leader Donai Pru Neli said, “After the joining of these women officials in Bandarban, I came to realise that if women are in the administrative positions the services become even more inclusive.”

“Women, men, children, teenagers, all of them can express their difficulties frankly to those women in power. Similarly, quick help can be availed in cases of violence against women for the SP being women herself,” she added.

Bimalkanti Das, general secretary of Bandarban traders’ association said, “Although the DC and the SP of Bandarban are women, help can easily be accessed in any occasion which had to be availed through a lengthy process before. Constant monitoring by the deputy commissioner ensured there was no soybean oil crisis in the district this time."