In 1968, when Zakia Akhter Chowdhury joined the civil service of Pakistan as an audit and accounts cadre officer, society still held the belief that the tasks of women are limited to household chores and family affairs. Zakia, however, was out to prove that deep-rooted social concept wrong.
"A section of society always had the belief that there is no point in sending women to school, let alone jobs," said Zakia, the first female secretary in Bangladesh civil service, during an interview with the Bangla daily Jugantor.
When she joined the Pakistan Civil Service, she never imagined that one day she would be promoted to secretary.
"It was a very different feeling because it was the biggest event in my career to be the first secretary of the country," she said. "Moreover, I was not from the administration cadre."
However, the time has changed now with more women leading different sectors from politics to bureaucracy to business. The number of women in the job market is also increasing at a fast rate.
But it was people like Zakia who led the way for generations to follow.
Zakia Akhter Chowdhury was born on 21 February 1944 in Sylhet. Her father Rashid Uddin Ahmed was a high-ranking government official in Assam's food division. Her mother Faijunessa was an educated homemaker. Zakia is the second among four sisters and two brothers.
She got her bachelor's and master's degree in political science from Dhaka University with first class distinctions. After completing her studies, she joined the same department as a lecturer. But she did not stay there for long.
She soon decided to join the Civil Service of Pakistan. It was at a time when the participation of women in civil service was very rare. She joined the service as an audit and accounts cadre in 1968.
"There were 300 officers recruited in my batch and only two of us were women, and the other woman was from West Pakistan," Zakia said.
But it was not that easy for her. The work place was not women-friendly, a concept that did not exist at the time. In most cases, her male colleagues did their best to make her comfortable. It was an eventful life and some fond moments still come to her mind.
A memorable one was what happened during her training period in Lahore. At that time, civil service cadres had to receive a two-year-long training in Lahore because there were no such training facilities in Dhaka. Her first child was only two-years-old when her training started in Lahore. As a result, she had to go to Pakistan, keeping her daughter with her mother in Bangladesh. During her training in Pakistan, she felt sad every now and then.
She had left her first child in Bangladesh and that worried her. Boredom also set in to such an extent that she considered quitting her job. Furthermore, there were no female officers in the dormitory building, let alone a female employee.
The director of the training academy used to talk to every one of them separately and hear their problems. One day, he asked her to meet him with an application.
"He gave me a letter and said that he has arranged the rest of my training in Dhaka. I was so happy that for a moment I could not speak," Zakia recalled.
Then she came back to Dhaka to complete the rest of the training. She said that she would have quit the job if the director could not manage the training in Dhaka.
She also always remembers the inspiration and cooperation she got from her father, husband Khalid Chowdhury as well as her senior and junior colleagues.
"Now there is a network of working women and I miss it a lot," said Zakia. "In our time, society was active in keeping women at home."
Then there was a conflict between work and career. It has changed now. Now, women are competing with their male colleagues, she added.
Zakia became the first female secretary of the country in 1997. She was posted in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) in the same year. She stayed there till her retirement in 2001.
Her husband Khalid Chowdhury, who worked for a multinational company, is now retired too. Her two daughters are working at Chicago University after studying there.