Creation of Pakistan wasn’t only a struggle for Independence or a demand for a separate piece of land. It was a moment of rejuvenation that required the spiritless Muslim population to be awakened out of their slumber — both men and women alike. For men there were many names to be inspired by, but for women, initially, there was a vacuum that only got filled once women like Fatima Jinnah and Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan entered the scenario. They worked tirelessly and inspired the women of the subcontinent to do the same, at a time when women working outside their houses was taboo and something that women were scorned for. But these women defied all the bounds and traditions and worked side by side men for a purpose they believed was bigger than anything else.
As is said, all great reformers lead by an example. Fatimah Jinnah, the affectionate and supporting sister of Quaid-i-Azam, was an inspiration for not just Muslim women but for women all over the Subcontinent. She was the Vice President of All India Muslim League Women’s Wing. A dentist by profession, with her dignified demeanor, graceful mannerisms and high intellect, she inspired women to acquire higher education. In 1932, she accompanied her brother to London and stayed with him after the Second Round Table Conference. Later she became a member of the Working Committee of the Bombay Provincial Muslim League. After Jinnah’s return to India and his revival of All India Muslim League, she accompanied him everywhere. When orthodox Muslim masses believed that for a woman Pardah was the only way of spending life, the sight of a sister standing shoulder to shoulder with her brother was a unique and unusual one. She rightly realized that the way forward would only be when women start participating actively in the political arena of India. She was among the pioneers of establishment of Girl Guides Association, which itself was a breakthrough in the conservative milieu of subcontinent. As she travelled the length and breadth of the Subcontinent, she delivered fiery speeches, emphasizing to women the importance of acquisition of education. As she interacted with women, she explained to them the importance of breaking free of foreign rule. This was the beginning of a strong agitation movement. For the welfare of women, she organized many committees but never accepted an offer to head one.
After independence, Pakistan was bowled over with many issues, prime among which was the rehabilitation and accommodation of refugees. To help them settle and start a new life, Fatima Jinnah established refugee rehabilitation centers. Various other organizations followed suit. She would regularly visit camps, communicating with the refugees not only to listen to their problems but giving them hope as well. She also founded the Women’s Relief Committee (WRC), which later evolved into All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA). Her humanitarian work eventually earned her the title of Mader-e-Millat — Mother of the Nation. Like a mother, she worked tirelessly for Pakistan in sectors of education and health.
The Quaid-i-Azam used to appreciate her support saying, “My sister was like a bright ray of light and hope whenever I came back home and meet her. Anxieties would have been much greater and my health much worse, but for the restraint imposed by her.”
One of the other women whose services are worth mentioning and to whom Pakistan owes gratitude is Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan. Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan was a highly educated woman with a Masters degree in Economics and Sociology. She found herself at the forefront of the political arena after her marriage to Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan. She actively participated in political activities of All India Muslim League and took it upon herself to spread awareness regarding politics among women masses. At the time of proposal of the Simon Commission, she was a professor at Indraprastha College for Women in Delhi. She vehemently opposed the commission and successfully assembled the student masses of her college to march towards the Legislative Assembly to protest against the commission. When Jinnah gave up politics and settled in London, she, along with her husband, went to London and convinced Jinnah to return and lead the dejected masses of the Subcontinent. She later served as General Secretary of the Muslim League and the Chairperson of the Economic division of the Party. In 1942, when World War II broke out, she trained the female masses to help them prepare for any untoward incident.
As the creation of Pakistan seemed to materialize, she imagined a welfare state where women would work side by side with men for the development of the nation and work for their own development. To achieve this aim, in 1949, along with Fatima Jinnah, she formed APWA that worked for the economic, cultural and social uplift of women in society. She formed women’s voluntary service and Women’s National Guard (WNG), the role of which was to fight for women's rights and that aimed to prevent brutal treatment of women, either received from their spouses or caused by domestic violence. After being appointed as the First Lady, she toured USA along with her husband, and made perfect use of the opportunity to reflect the positive image of Pakistan. She interacted with the elite and lectured in various schools and colleges.
The history of Pakistan is full of accounts of women such as Lady Abdullah Haroon, Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz, Begum Salma Tassaduq Hussain, and many more who worked against the contemporary norms, supported men, and worked alongside them to make possible the impossible — the birth of Pakistan. If it were not for the services of such fearless and indomitable women, Pakistan might still be just a dream.
The fact that these women were always photographed standing next to but never forward or behind, is a strong message of gender equality for the world . These women practically demonstrated to the masses that ‘nothing exists that women cannot achieve’, and in a society women have a role bigger than being bound inside the four walls of their homes. Today, these women are no more among us but they have left an everlasting legacy for the empowerment of women. Today, thousands of women, admire them and step out of their houses and contribute their share to the development of the nation. HH
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