Senior cop 'never saw gender as an issue'

Senior Assistant Commissioner (SAC) Zuraidah Abdullah, 51, is no stranger to making history.

The eldest of four children of a bus driver and a mother who worked three jobs, she was the first in her extended family to attend university.

She was also the first Malay graduate to join the Singapore police force in 1986, through its direct entry scheme where university graduates became senior officers.

Last year, she became the first woman to be promoted to the post of senior assistant commissioner. She is now the highest-ranking female police officer here.

She said: "We live in a meritocratic country that provides equal opportunities, so never use your gender or race as an excuse for not performing. My motto is to work hard and never stop learning."

She learnt discipline, diligence and resourcefulness from her parents at an early age.

"My mother is my greatest influence. She always told me to find solutions to problems, instead of blaming the problem," she said.

For example, when money was tight, her mother, who has died, would cook and sell lontong to make ends meet, on top of juggling three jobs as a nanny, cook and cleaner.

To earn money to buy snacks and other treats, the young Zuraidah caught grasshoppers and seafood such as eels and crabs and collected empty bottles to sell.

SAC Zuraidah, who holds an engineering degree from the then Nanyang Technological Institute, graduated during the economic slump in 1985, when engineering and other jobs were scarce.

So she went into teaching but left after six months as she felt it was not the right fit for her. A recruitment advertisement for police officers with the tag line, "every day is different", caught her eye.

Even as a rookie cop, she never felt intimidated in a profession dominated by men.

At her university, there were eight males to one female in her engineering class.

SAC Zuraidah, who described herself as a "stickler for discipline and punctuality", said: "I never saw gender as an issue. We trained together with the men and we had to do the same things they did. It was not like men ran 10km, and women, 8km.

"I have had to earn respect by demonstrating that I can do the job - regardless of my gender."

She is married to retired policeman Abdul Aziz Mohamad Noor, who is 15 years her senior. Mr Abdul has three adult children from his first marriage.

In her 28 years with the police, she has been involved in the whole gamut of police work from investigations and operations to planning and training.

She was a team leader in the Crisis Negotiation Unit, which talks people out of killing themselves.

She recalled a construction worker who was perched on top of a crane that was 10 storeys high. His girlfriend had left him, he had problems with his boss and he wanted to end his life.

After 17 hours of persuasion, SAC Zuraidah and her colleagues managed to coax the man to get down.

She is also the first woman to be appointed to the board of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore and was previously seconded to be the chief executive of Mendaki, the self-help group for the Malay/Muslim community.

Today, 17 per cent of the more than 8,000 police officers in Singapore are women, a number which has grown significantly from her rookie days, she said.

SAC Zuraidah, who hopes the recognition she has won will inspire other women, added: "You can do it too."

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