The development of our nation as at times been at the hands of powerful women, those who have helped us shape history, bring in new policies, question the ever-ripe patriarchy and put Pakistan on the progressive map once again.
Some of the women in Pakistan’s history who have helped shape the country’s trajectory as it swirled through tumultuous decisions and divisions. We take this opportunity to remember the women, some of who are no longer with us, were extremely instrumental in helping us shape the feminist diaspora in Pakistan.
In the last decade, Pakistani women have taken big strides, giving shape to the idea that the world needs to start seeing a woman’s success differently. From challenging the status quo, to pass a bill on protection from abuse and domestic violence to speaking up on their under representation in Government sectors and the judiciary, women have come forward and proven their real worth in all fields possible. Here are Edition’s picks on the fabulous women who have broken the glass ceiling with their extraordinary vision and work – their influence will last for decades as an integral component in making an indelible mark in the Pakistan’s social and cultural development.
Asma Jahangir (1952-2018) was Pakistan’s leading human rights lawyer. For three decades, she showed immense courage in defending the most vulnerable fraction of the Pakistani population, including women, children, religious minorities and the poor. Having founded the first legal aid center in Pakistan in 1986, Jahangir courageously took on very complicated cases and won. For her relentless campaigning against laws that discriminate against women, for consistently speaking her truth to bring power to the needy. Jehangir has been threatened, assaulted in public and placed under house arrest several times. She made history she was elected as the first female President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan in 2010. As Pakistan lacks a national human rights institution, Jahangir was one of the founder members of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent NGO, which was established in 1986. To date, the Commission has taken up contentious issues including violence against women, honour-killing, abolishment of capital punishment and religious violence. Besides her work in Pakistan, Jahangir has promoted human rights internationally through her long service with the United Nations. She was the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary or Summary Executions from 1998 to 2004, and UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief from 2004 to 2010. Jahangir has authored two books: Divine Sanction? The Hudood Ordinance and Children of a Lesser God: Child Prisoners of Pakistan. She has received numerous awards including the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders and the Ramon Magsaysay Award, both in 1995, and the coveted Hilal-i-Imtiaz – the second highest civilian award and honour given by the Government of Pakistan – in 2010.
Muniba is a woman extraordinaire in terms of her commitment and tragic life trajectory. Originally from Rahim Yar Khan, she completed her Bachelors in Fine Arts – due to an unfortunate road traffic accident in 2007, when she was only 21, which made her paraplegic for life and wheelchair bound. After her husband divorced her due to her disability and left her alone to raise her adopted son as a single mother. After the devastating circumstances in her life, she managed to gain strength through her work, she currently runs a brand by the name of ‘Muniba’s Canvas’ with the slogan ‘Let Your Walls Wear Colors’. She is an extremely talented mixed media artist and believes in depicting ethnic jewels of her homeland with great pride. Some of her work is purely abstract, strongly depicting human emotions, their thoughts and life dreams. She is also the first anchor in Pakistan who is disabled and on a wheelchair. She was also the first model on a wheelchair in the country, where physical disability is neglected and not catered to. She has been named by the United Nations entity for Empowerment of Women and Gender Equality as Pakistan’s first female goodwill example to promote gender equality and women empowerment. Muniba has been a guest at various informative platforms, where she has given powerful talks and draws in huge crowds from all over the world. S he famously gave a Ted talk about how she has turned her adversity into opportunity, whilst also being a strong advocate against child violence, their rights and education and gender discrimination. She was also featured in BBC’s 100 Influential Women List in 2015. Known as the ‘Iron Lady’ of Pakistan, Mazari was also nominated as one of the Pond’s Miracle Women accolade which is only given to 100 females every year for extraordinary and exemplary work done in their respectful fields - business, social change and impact, etc.
Ms. Bhutto in 1953 to a wealthy family where the landscape was dominated by business and politics. As Ms. Bhutto grew up, her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, rose in power, from a post in Pakistan’s United Nations delegation to Prime Minister. He imparted lessons to her along the way. She was the first ever Muslim female Prime Minister in the world when she earned the title of PM and was in power for two terms in Pakistan. She was only in her mid twenties when her father was hanged and she along with her family had to seek exile out of Pakistan for some time. A Harvard graduate, she and her mother were soon given leadership of her father’s People’s Party. But as the opposition to a military regime, Ms. Bhutto spent half her time in prison or under house arrest, sometimes in solitary confinement. In a tragic event, after one her rallies on her return from exile in 2007, in Rawalpindi she was assassinated, yet her legend and legacy lives on.
Mrs. Sughra Kazmi was born in 1932 in Hyderabad Deccan, and was after her earnest interest and passion in dress making, called the 'Bridal Revivalist' in the '60s, she is now considered to be the grande dame of fashion. As the country's first couturier, the Karachi-based house is now run by daughter-in-law, Bunto Kazmi, whilst she still works even at a fragile age of 88 on designing bridals with her signature elegance. Known for her hand-woven dabka and nakshi work and tila beads, girls still dream of being a Kazmi bride.
She was renowned as one of the greatest and most influential singers of her time in South Asia and was given the honorific title of Malika-e-Tarannum. Noor Jehan had started her musical career from Calcutta at the age of nine as a singer child star. She inherited music as she was born in a music family. Noor Jehan , also known as Malika-e-Tarannum (Queen of Melody) sang thousands of songs during her career. After partition, she moved from Bombay and started her film career in Pakistan as actress, singer and the first female film director with film Chann Wey in 1951. Her last film Ghalib was released in 1961. Noor Jehan ruled the film industry for more than 35 years and sung appropriately six thousand songs for Urdu, Punjabi and Sindhi films. She received many awards‚ including the highest Pakistani honor in entertainment Tamgha-e-Imtiaz (The Pride of Performance) in 1966. Malika-e-Tarrannum’s national patriotic songs, during 1965 Pak- India War, are an important part of our national history. Noor Jehan died on December 23, 2000 in Karachi.
Malala’s efforts are not hidden from the world. A staunch supporter of girls’ education from an early age despite being deterred by extremist forces to the extent of being shot in the face for it, Malala Yousafzai is the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Her motto “one child, one teacher, one book, and one pen [to] change the world” has received immense support from world over including the likes of President Barrack Obama. Her continuous efforts led to more than two million signs on the petition for passing the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill – the first of its kind in Pakistan.
Bilquis Bano Edhi
Bilquis Edhi was born on the same day as Pakistan, 14 August 1947. Her life has been one of service and providing safe havens for the poor and the destitute. She is known as a humanitarian, a social worker and one of the most active philanthropists in Pakistan. She was the wife of philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi after being married at the age of 17. The newlyweds only possessed a broken old car and a small dispensary. She often relates a story that on their honeymoon that she spent all her time tending to a young girl with head injuries left at the dispensary. She heads the Bilquis Edhi Foundation, holds the honor of being awarded the prestigious ‘Hilal-e-Imtiaz’ and along with her husband, received the 1986 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service. She is also the recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize. Her charity runs many services in Pakistan, including a hospital and emergency service in Karachi. The Edhi foundation refuses to take donations from governments. They turned down help from General Zia-ul-Haq and they did the same when the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered Rupees 1 crore to the Edhi foundation. After they took care of a deaf and mute Indian girl stranded in Pakistan for over ten years. She heads the Bilquis Edhi Foundation, holds the honor of being awarded the prestigious ‘Hilal-e-Imtiaz’ and along with her husband, received the 1986 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service. She is also the recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize. Her charity runs many services in Pakistan, including a hospital and emergency service in Karachi. The Edhi foundation is the largest emergency service in Pakistan, but despite this, Bilquis Edhi has lived all her life in a simple two-bedroom home that she owned along with her husband. The home is a part of an orphanage that the Edhi foundation runs. Over the years, she has been visited by many of her orphans who were happily adopted, is often stopped and thanked by people who received much needed aid from the Edhi Foundation, and heard back from abused women whom she sheltered, trained as nurses and helped start a new life. Bilquis Edhi has won many awards, but she often comments that the greatest rewards she receives are the success stories of those helped by the Edhi Foundation.
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