The male-only Bangladesh Air Force has broken ranks and received its first commissioned women officers as a dozen more prepared to join the army and navy in the coming months.
The commissioning has been described as a sea change in predominantly Muslim Bangladesh's male-dominated mind-set, which commentators believe would help in the empowerment of women.
Defense officials said here Saturday that eight commissioned female officers, who graduated Thursday along with their male colleagues, would report for duty in a week after a brief holiday with their families.
A total of 38 cadets passed out at a colorful ceremony including the eight female cadets whose duties will be restricted to administration.
Female cadet Lutfun Nahar clinched the "Chief of Air Staff Trophy" for her all-round performance in training, one official said.
They said nearly a dozen women cadets were preparing to graduate from the army and navy in the coming months.
A record number of applications have been received by the forces since tests were conducted and the first group of women were selected for the three services.
Traditionally women have only served as doctors and nurses.
Cadet Alimun Nahar said "more women should join this profession to prove that they can do everything a man can."
"I am very happy as here my daughter has a future and it would have taken many years for her to finish her studies in the university and then to start looking for a career job," one mother said.
The eight women added a new dimension to the passing out parade at the air force academy in western Jessore district where Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed -- the country's second woman head of state -- ministers, diplomats and high civil and military officials watched on.
Sheikh Hasina described the event as a milestone for the armed forces and said it was because of the historic decision of her government, that employment of women in the armed forces had been assured.
"This day will be recognized as a milestone in the history of the armed forces and I welcome the women cadets to this challenging profession," the premier, who also holds the defense portfolio, said.
Sheikh Hasina's political rival is ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia, and it is widely believed that even after 10 years of rule shared by the two, either woman would take the helm of this South Asian country after the next general elections scheduled for next year.
Women have for years been serving in the police and militia forces and in December women will get behind the wheels for the first time as taxi drivers -- DHAKA (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)