She is one of the first two women who chose to join the police after their Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS) exam in 1984.
But plagued by constant goading and teasing by male colleagues and supervisors, her only female colleague quit the job within the first four months of training at the Public Administration Training Centre in Savar.
She too was forced by her bosses to write to the home ministry asking it to give her a posting in some other cadre service.
Fatema Begum, the first woman to become an additional inspector general of police, now feels that it was by sheer luck that her application was rejected and she stayed on in the police force.
“Firm in their belief that the police force was no place for women, they tried to make us leave from the very first day -- beginning with barring our entry at the orientation for new officers,” Fatema told The Daily Star in a recent interview at her office at the Police Headquarters.
After the training was over, the male officers were ordered to pack and go to the Police Academy. But there was no instruction for Fatema. She waited and waited, but no orders came. A couple of days later, she wrote to the Police Headquarters saying she would not give up her job and that she would rather wait further.
“It was only then that they sent me to the academy. So my male counterparts had a seven days' head start at the training… But look at the force now; we have come a long way,” said the second highest official in the police, hinting at the rising number of female police members.
Indeed, the police force now has 11,347 women out of its total 1,95,020 members. The number of woman officers stands at 1,416. There are two women each in the posts of Deputy Inspector General (DIG) and Additional DIG, according to Bangladesh Police Women Network.
As the world observes the International Women's Day, it should be remembered that it is not yet time to bask in the glory of what has been achieved. “Rather there is still a long way to go,” said Fatema, who retires next month.
Pointing out that over half the population is women, she said there should have been more female cops. In some situations -- for example the ones involving women and children -- female officers can do better than their male counterparts.
“To my fellow women aspiring to be in any field of work, I say, be ready for challenges and work harder. Mistakes that are usually overlooked in a male officer are often magnified when done by a woman. Make people realise that there is nothing that a person can't do just because she is a woman.”
Born on April 14, 1958, in Tongibari upazila of Munshiganj, Fatema completed her SSC from a school in her village. After graduation from Central Women's College in Dhaka, she did her master's from Dhaka University. She sat for the BCS exam in 1984 and joined the police force on January 21, 1986.
“It is particularly difficult for a woman to have a thriving career without the support of her family, colleagues and the society in general,” she said.
Her mother died when she was only two and it was her eldest brother who raised her. “He has been my mentor throughout my life.”
She got married three years into her service and has always got the support of her husband, who has retired from government service. The couple likes to travel and read in their spare time.
“I grew up playing in the fields, swimming in the river and climbing trees. Unlike many other girls of the time, I have always been an outgoing person. It just never occurred to me that I wouldn't be able to do something just because I'm a woman,” she said.
Recalling her days in the academy, she said she effortlessly completed her training with 23 male colleagues.
“What was particularly taxing was being scrutinised and frowned upon all the time. In fact, at the end of a year at the academy, one of my bosses told me that they had been constantly putting me to test with new challenges and keenly observing how I performed,” Fatema said.
In her 31 years of service, she worked in Khagracchari as assistant police superintendent and then police superintendent in Thakurgaon. She also served in the Rapid Action Battalion, Special Branch of police, and the SB Training School.
In 1997, she got a scholarship from the AusAid to take a degree in environmental studies at the University of Adelaide, Australia. In 2000, she received the Peace Medal for her outstanding performance in the UN Peacekeeping Mission. She served the mission for a year in Sierra Leone.
Back in her early days in the police, things began to change after the first few years. “My male colleagues started to respect me,” she said.
People were so amused to see a woman police officer that she had to give a motivational speech to a crowd of several hundred while inspecting a homicide for the first time as the SP of Thakurgaon in 1999.
“People would often stand in front of the vehicle and ask me to say something,” she said, smiling.
WOMEN IN OTHER FORCES
The air force is the first among the armed forces to recruit women officers in 2000. The force now has 162 officers. Recruitment of commissioned women officers in the army and the navy began in 2001, sources said.
Now there are about 700 women officers in the army. Recruitment of female soldiers began in 2015 and now there are 1,800, according to the Inter Services Public Relations Directorate (ISPR).
The navy now has 92 officers, two of whom have become commanders. It began taking female sailors last year, sources in the navy said.