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Asfia Sultana: Contributing to economic growth through infrastructure

Posted: 8 March 2019

Bangladesh, Impact,

For International Women’s Day 2019, we are recognising the power of collective action and celebrating the achievements of Australia Awards alumni who are driving gender balance. This is the story of Asfia Sultana who has overcome gender barriers to work in Bangladesh’s infrastructure industry. 

Australia Awards alumna Asfia Sultana stands out in a male-dominated industry and has broken stereotypes to make her childhood passion a reality.

Starting from building clay houses and bridges as a little girl, Asfia’s childhood desire to become a Civil Engineer strengthened as she grew older. ‘I understood that Civil Engineers play an important role in contributing to the country’s economic growth through infrastructure development and in turn improving the lives of people. This is the change I wanted to contribute to’ says Asfia.

She is currently working as a Project Manager for the Government of Bangladesh, in a major infrastructure investment: the Dhaka-Chittagong Expressway. The project is funded by the Asian Development Bank to help Bangladesh build a new expressway between Dhaka and Chittagong, aiming to boost trade and ease congestion on the existing highway. Asfia is the first female Project Manager for a Public-Private Partnership project of the Roads and Highways Department.

Asfia was told she was going against the norm by entering into this industry as a woman. ‘Many used to tell me that it would be a very hard job for me as I was an introverted, calm and quiet girl,’ she says, ‘but I was always confident and believed in myself. My father was also a great strength and encouraged  me to follow my dreams.’

In 2015, Asfia received an Australia Awards Scholarship to study a Master of Engineering Management at Curtin University in Perth. Asfia considers her Scholarship an amazing experience that changed her life and her perceptions about the world. ‘I not only developed new skills, but also got access to an invaluable network through my Australia Awards Scholarship. This network is now a part of my support system, and it also provides me with the opportunity to grow personally and professionally,’ she says.

During her studies at Curtin University, Asfia was involved in the Shire of Boddington Dam Project in Western Australia. For this, she worked with the shire council, the state government and Water Corporation (the leading government agency for water management in Western Australia). Asfia considers being a part of this project ‘a milestone’ in her engineering career. As part of her work on this project, she was involved in an environmental impact assessment, an assessment of community safety issues, and an analysis of the dam’s existing condition.

From the very beginning of her engineering career, Asfia often found herself the only female engineer or one of very few female engineers in any project. In her previous job at the Roads and Highways Department Narayanganj Sub-Division 2 of Narayanganj district in central Bangladesh, she was the first and only female engineer posted to that sub-division. She says the support she received has been vital and helped her ensure she was working in good working environment.

‘I am fortunate to have support systems both in my office and home. I have some amazing colleagues who are always there for me. I also get support from my parents, my husband and even my seven-year-old son, whenever I need.’

Asfia has been actively engaged in various awareness-raising programs and has taken a lead role in conducting workshops on ‘Ensuring Road Safety’. In November 2017, Asfia participated in the Australia Awards Regional Alumni Workshop for South and West Asia along with 35 other alumni. Her project ‘Database and Training for Minimizing Accidents and Health Hazards among the Workers involved in Road Construction’ was among the best 27 projects out of the 80 project concepts submitted. The purpose of Asfia’s project was to ensure a safe working environment for the street labourers involved in road construction work; she has received ongoing support from her employer, Road and Highways Department to continue delivery of this training.

‘I strongly believe in inclusive growth and sustainable development. I always keep in mind these two important factors while working in infrastructure development projects. Currently, I am carrying out  two small projects: one is to ensure occupational safety for the road workers, and the other is targeting the reduction of plastic usage,’ says Asfia.

‘My passion is to efficiently contribute towards making a better world.’