May 28, 2019

“The world is conquered by doing small things all these years. That’s how women’s improvement happen, it doesn’t happen overnight, it happens incrementally.”

How your journey to Smith College was?

I think Smith was a pivotal experience as you know, it brought a positive change in my life and I think that is why I suggest everyone get enrolled in Smith if they get the opportunity. It’s the friendship that stays for life and you learn from each other, you work with each other and that is a very healthy competition. It was twenty-two years ago when I was enrolled in Smith, I actually wanted to get enrolled to another college.

By exploring the Princeton magazine as we didn’t have the internet, I got to know about different great universities, later I found out the college I selected was situated in a remote area and was glad that I didn’t apply there. After knowing three other girls from our school (Scholastica) was applying to Smith, my mother was convinced that I will apply to Smith College as she believed it was safe.


Higher Studies is important but why is it more crucial for a woman?

From my point to view, it is because when you are a woman, you have to prove yourself. For example, as you know that I am a chartered accountant and work on different corporate secretarial, so, I witness guys brag about their achievements often but it is very unusual for women to do.

The women do amazing work, I’m privileged to make proper use of my education as I am working on a professional field, but some who are starting a business might not need the education but it is better to have education as it opens up different doors.


So, being a chartered accountant do you get judged? Do people go like “Really? Are you a Chartered Accountant?” How do you react to that?

It was not an issue in America. I studied CPA in America. I worked for KPMG, and as 50 per cent of the employees were women, and it was fine. Before 10 years I moved back to Bangladesh, joined another accounting firm, and the environment of the place was very supportive too.

I think that there is no distinction between female and male employees anymore. They might approach a bit differently as I am a woman in the beginning but after time passes it is all the same. It takes time to simmer down, and that’s it.  


As you said, just because we are women, we need to prove ourselves for an extent and don’t you think that’s a huge pressure sometimes.

It is. But, I believe, we are fighters and we accept it. When I opened up my firm (Snehasish Mahmud & Co.), I used to think that I was taking all these burdens for no reason, it was a challenge for me as my child was only 2 and a half months old.

Currently, we have 4 partners, so, we have grown. But back in the days, it was very harsh, as I had a little child and I had to travel to different other divisions of Bangladesh and more leaving my child at home. I wanted to quit all the time but not quitting was the challenge, however, it was better when my son grew up.


Coming to HerStory, how did the journey start?

My firm and HerStory is very much interconnected. When I started my firm, Bangladesh currently has a bit more than hundred female chartered accountant. So, when we started there were hardly around fifty chartered accountants. At that time I was planning on building a network of women and get to know them.

I decided to invite women of different professions for a get-together. I finally held an event in 2016, there were women of three different generations. We were very inspired by about the younger ones, even Sultana Kamal and Khushi Kabir joined us to inspire.

After the event, my friends asked if they were going to be invited again in the following year. As I have a passion for art and had taken different art classes, later we had decided to let people know about the stories of the female artists and our role models, it happened in 2017. So, with the help of EMK Center, we conveyed the event and it was informal and beautiful.

Later on, Aroma Dutta (Social and Human Rights Activist) advised me to put the stories on a book and that is how the idea came of HerStories. Later we launched the book in 2017’s Dhaka Lit Fest. The second installment came in Dhaka Lit Fest 2018. Now we are working on the third book. 

How far reaching to women, talking and listening to them is important? Does HerStory escalate that opportunity? 

It is very important indeed. It opens doors to come out from the barriers of the society. Let me give you an example — there is this lady, who shares the same nickname with me. She was in the early 80s and we were on a team and there is where she told me that I was going to do very good and that gave me confidence. That kept me going!

HerStory is not just a book rather it’s a process. It’s a gradual process to understand and perceive the role and contribution of women in Bangladesh. As HerStory is for the children, its purpose is to open the perspective of boys and girls in the school. And the perspective we are taking is about having a society free of patriarchy, regardless of gender and ethnicity.    


What would be your words to the women who are less privileged and the women who are having a barrier to working from the family?

Without the support of the family, it’s very hard for a woman to achieve anything. However, I have seen many women who didn’t have the support yet succeed. Hence, what the women actually need to do, is have a plan and be persistent.

Complaining about the barriers will not do any good if one does not take any action. If they start doing small things at a time the world would be a better place. The world is conquered by doing small things all these years. That’s how women’s improvement happen, it doesn’t happen overnight, it happens incrementally.

Nazmun Naher Shishir

Communication and Publication Executive

Films 4 Peace Foundation

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