Daring to be different: One woman’s journey towards an exceptional career serving others
Rounok Jahan has been breaking down gender barriers her whole life.
First by deciding as a child that she would join the male-dominated police force in her home country of Bangladesh.
“Since my childhood, I’ve always tried to break the stereotyping,” says Rounok Jahan. “My parents brought me up differently compared to the society in Bangladesh. I have two brothers, I have grown up with brothers, and I have always dared to choose, and been encouraged by my parents, to take a very different, exceptional profession.”
That exceptional profession has seen her achieve the title of Superintendent in the Bangladeshi police force and taken her around the world where she has served with two United Nations peacekeeping missions.
“I find it is the one of the best professions in the world where I can serve people from all corners of the world.”
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, she was an operations officer working as part of an all-female Formed Police Unit from Bangladesh. In South Sudan, she was initially deployed as a gender-based violence focal point in Pibor, the smallest duty station for UN police officers, in the Jonglei region.
“One day, a woman tried to commit suicide because two groups of young adults tried to marry her without asking her. She was a widow. They were ignoring her own choice and were fighting to get her,” says Rounok Jahan. “So, I sent this story to Mission Headquarters and told the local police officers so they could understand the rights of women here and how we can promote that.”
Raising even a single incident like this can make a significant difference to promoting respect for all women, she says.
“It keeps people’s eyes open that these things happen and that we should respect women as a person, as a human being.”
Rounok Jahan has just received the UN Medal of Honour for her service in South Sudan, along with 28 colleagues, three of whom are female and 26 are male. She hopes this achievement will inspire other women to overcome challenges and follow their own dreams – just like she has done.
“Female police officers are sometimes not encouraged by society, by the family, even in some cases, not by the state. Of course, we are making an example and our police organization in Bangladesh, as well as the government, is encouraging females to come forward,” she says. “There is a lot of gender-based violence in some societies but we find as female police officers in this uniform it makes a big difference. It presents a meaningful impression that women are here, and they are protecting women in society.”
Rounok Jahan and her colleagues received high praise from their commanding officer, who is proud of their efforts on behalf of Bangladesh to provide security at Protection of Civilians sites as well as conducting community policing, long-distance patrols and sensitizing local communities to issues such as gender-based violence.
“Our contingent members are performing professionally with full dedication and sincerity,” said Contingent Commander, Majid Ali. “We will maintain the highest level of dignity, discipline, sincerity, integrity and professionalism to fulfill the mandate of UNMISS to build the newest nation of South Sudan.”
Almost 20,000 Bangladeshi peacekeepers have served in 22 UN missions around the world and 650 police officers are currently working in four missions.
“As the UN, we serve in foreign countries, in harsh and challenging condition and, on most occasions, without the comfort of our families and loved ones. Your contribution in no small measure is recognized and appreciated,” UNMISS Police Commissioner, Unaisi Vuniwaqa, told the officers at their medal ceremony. “Do not rest on your laurels but continue to strive to achieve higher goals that you have for the mission as well as yourselves as Bangladeshi police”.
Rounok Jahan says she will continue to do just that, leading by example to show other women that they can dare to be different.
“All over the world, when women stand up, other women feel encouraged. They feel courage that we are here, we can be here, we can help each other.”