The journey for Bangladesh women in the marine sector has not been an easy one
Anjuman Ara set off on her maiden voyage as a professional sailor with a Bangladesh Shipping Corporation ship named Banglar Joyjatra from Chattogram port on November 1, 2018.
"After travelling to Kakinada port in India, Durban in South Africa, Abidjan in Ivory Coast, Dakar in Senegal, Zarate in Argentina, Port Elizabeth in South Africa, Singapore and Vietnam we concluded our voyage in Thailand on April 25 this year," Anjuman said.
"It feels very good to represent Bangladesh at any foreign port," she added.
During her first voyage, Anjuman Ara was accompanied by four other girl cadets.
These adventurous girls from Bangladesh have achieved a rare feat by winning the tough challenge of crossing the zero degrees latitude – the Equator – in the Atlantic Ocean thrice in their maiden expedition.
Anjuman Ara said, "We have had to prepare ourselves to navigate the Equator.
"We had to determine the speed of our ship taking into account the condition of the ocean because during that time excessive ship rolling takes place, which is very dangerous," explained Cadet Anjuman.
"Rolling" is one of several types of movements that a ship makes in water.
Born in Feni and raised in the port city of Chattogram, Anjuman loves the sea from her childhood.
She grew up watching her father working in the port and then her only elder brother in a ship. All this motivated her to build a career in ocean going ships. So, after completing her higher secondary certificate examinations, she got admitted in Bangladesh Marine Academy.
After obtaining a four-year bachelor's degree on maritime science, she started working in different ships of Bangladesh Shipping Corporation.
Now, Anjuman is taking tests for getting promoted to the rank of a Third Officer on Joyjatra.
Jerin Chowdhury is another marine officer of Bangladesh who has worked not only in Bangladeshi vessels but also in foreign ships. She is currently working as the Third Officer on a foreign ship named AFV.
At present, 20 Bangladeshi female sailors like Anjuman and Jerin are working in the challenging sector.
Today is the World Maritime Day and the theme for this year is "Empowering Women in the Maritime Community".
The journey for Bangladesh women in the marine sector has not been an easy one.
Md Johurul Islam, chief officer of the ship named Banglar Agradoot, acknowledged the merit and skills of Bangladeshi female mariners, and said female cadets and marine officers were working efficiently keeping pace with this modern age.
However, the women had to overcome a lot challenges and had to show enormous patience to reach here, he said.
It was in 2012 when girls were allowed for the first time to get admitted to the Marine Academy. A total of 16 students got admitted that year.
After two years, the shipping office, however, was dilly-dallying in conferring certificates of competency on the female students. The young female marine officers were finally able to get the certificate overcoming a lot of difficulties.
Still there were obstacles on their way to getting job as a mariner. Owners of private ships declined to employ the female cadets on the pretexts of security issues.
They had to wait for a long time to get employed. At one stage, Bangladesh Shipping Corporation gave them an opportunity to work on its vessels, but on the condition that they have to work as interns for one year without salaries.
They also had to sit for examinations at the Department of Sea Transport.
At last in 2016, they got the certificate of competency. In 2018, the women mariners started their mission of conquering the seas.
These 16 female cadets were trained up at different ships, including MV Banglar Shourav and Banglar Jyoti, of the Bangladesh Shipping Corporation, said General Manager Captain Jamal Hossain Talukder.
In these seven years, a total of 60 female cadets have passed out the academy in five batches, while 20 more are in the line, according to Jamal.
"Even though this profession is challenging, the female cadets are doing very well," Captain Jamal said.
"The cadets got chance to take trainings on different vessels of the shipping corporation," he said, adding that they have been employed as officers after completing the trainings with success.
As many as 42 sea-going merchant vessels are owned by private shipping companies in the country, Captain Jamal said, adding, "If these companies start employing the female cadets and officers, many female mariners will get jobs."
Cadet Anjuman Ara pointed out that the status of female mariners on foreign vessels is good. "I saw women are performing as captains on passenger ships at the port in South Africa's Durban," she said. "The male-female ratio on that ship was 3:1."
Anjuman expressed hope that women's participation in maritime community in Bangladesh will increase in future.
She, however, opined that the government should enact a law in order to create job opportunity for female mariners in the country.