Inspiration

Women of Pakistan: Independence and Beyond

It was a midsummer afternoon, and the sun blazed mercilessly on the throng of people that journeyed from all across the subcontinent, all bearing the common aim of protesting against foreign oppression. Although, it was long since the space for more people at the rally ran out, but with each passing hour the swarm of people kept growing, as so did their passion, frenzy and zeal.



As soon as blaring loudspeakers died, an elderly woman clad head to toe in a black veil (burqa) got on the stage. The men on the stage bowed their heads in respect, and the crowd broke into a relentless applause. The woman was Abadi Bano Begum, commonly known as Bi Amma. Bi Amma addressed the rally, initially whispering and her sons, Ali Brothers, repeating out loud what she said. However, as the crowd cheered and supported her, she began to address the rally louder: “I ask you, who is more powerful, God or the Government? Who has created you? What reputation will you gain today by saving your skin and your property? Gather courage. Remember God. My sons are not mine; they are God’s. Fear God. Why fear man? May God give you the strength to do all that keeps bright the honour of yourself, your country and your religion?” 
Bi Amma was born in Rampur in 1850. Her family participated in the revolt of 1857 against British oppression. She was probably the first woman freedom fighter whose presence made strong ripples in the conservative milieu of the subcontinent. Her appearance on the political front left an indelible mark and paved the way for other women to actively participate in politics. She was quoted saying: “It is not within the pale of veiled ladies to attend such gatherings, but the time has now come when not only old ladies like myself but even young girls will take part in them.”
In order to inspire the Muslim women, Abadi Begum encouraged her daughter-in-law, Amjadi Bano Begum to take active part in politics who first made appearance on the political front during the Khilafat Movement when her husband Maulana Muhammad Ali Johar was imprisoned by the British. Amjadi Begum made sure his imprisonment did not let the spirit of the movement dampen. She was also the person who while addressing a rally at Islamia College, Lahore, introduced the term ‘Pakistan Resolution’ for the draft of the resolution to be presented at the Lahore convention in 1940. 
While mentioning the iron ladies, whose strenuous efforts helped Pakistan come into being, Fatima Jinnah can never be forgotten — the adoring sister of Quaid-i-Azam who stayed with her brother till his last breath supporting him throughout. She was the Vice President of the All India Muslim League women’s wing. Fatima Jinnah, opted for dentistry as a profession at a time when very few Muslim women chose to have careers. This served as an inspiration for other women to pursue higher education. In 1932, she accompanied the Quaid to London for the Second Round Table Conference. Later that year, she became a member of the Working Committee of the Bombay Provincial Muslim League. Jinnah returned to India and revived the All India Muslim League, and she accompanied him everywhere. The sight of a sister standing side by side with her brother was fresh and extraordinary. Ms Jinnah’s presence made the masses realize that the way forward would only be when women began to actively participate in the political arena. While travelling across the Subcontinent, Fatima Jinnah delivered speeches to wake the Muslim population to the need of acquisition of education, especially for women. She also established the Girls Guides Association. After independence, Pakistan was afflicted with a number of issues, chief among them 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. 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 and even politics when she saw the country embroiled in political stability.
Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan was a highly educated, bold and fiercely independent lady. She became involved in politics after her marriage to Liaquat Ali Khan. She had, Masters degrees in Economics and Sociology. When the British proposed the Simon Commission to decide the future of India, she mobilized her students and led a strong successful demonstration. She led many successful agitations against the government’s unjust policies. During World War II, when India was on the verge of an attack by Japan, Quaid summoned Begum Ra’ana and instructed her in the words: “Be prepared to train the women. Islam doesn’t want women to be shut up and never see fresh air.” To achieve this task, she established the first medical corps for nursing and first aid in Delhi. Later, after independence, the very unit was reorganized into Pakistan Army Medical Corps. Begum Ra’ana was challenged with the humongous task of organizing healthcare services for migrating women and children at partition. She undertook the task and handled it efficiently. In order to uplift women, in 1948 she launched Pakistan Women National Guard and in 1949 upgraded it to Pakistan Army National Women Guard, where women were encouraged to take up responsibilities in administering first aid, organizing food distribution, dealing with health problems, epidemics, etc. She served as its first chief controller and was given the honorary rank of Brigadier. She also served as Pakistan’s first First Lady.
Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz was another lady of indomitable spirit. She was the first female politician to preside over a session of the Parliament of Pakistan, and was the first woman to preside over an Asian legislature. She began her career as a social rights activist and championed for the rights of women. She advocated for the modern education of Muslim women in addition to religious education. She encouraged young girls to attend rallies and participate in the national affairs. She was an active member of Muslim League’s women’s wing. In 1932, she attended the Round Table Conference and advocated for women reserved seats in the legislature. She went on goodwill missions to United States and campaigned for Pakistan. After the creation of Pakistan, she and Begum Shaista Ikramullah were the only women in Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly and Central Legislature. She continued her struggle for women’s rights till the end of her days.
Begum Shaista Ikramullah was the first Muslim woman to earn a PhD from the University of London. Intellectually awakened, she wished young Muslim girls to pursue modern education. A vehement critic of the British government’s policies, she worked diligently for women’s rights. She was first woman of her generation to leave purdah and work with male counterparts. She pushed to include the rights of women as an agenda in the session of the Constituent Assembly. She worked for laws that aimed to enhance the participation of women in politics by demanding special seats for women in 1956 and lobbying for Muslim Personal Law 1948, Muslim Family Ordinance 1961 and Muslim Personal Law 1962. In 1948, she went as Pakistan’s delegate to the United Nations and worked on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention against Genocide. She also served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Morocco. 
Pakistani women throughout the freedom struggle served as the spine of movement. They gathered under the umbrella of the Muslim League, organized, agitated and struggled to achieve this aim. The above mentioned are just to provide a sample of what the contributions of these women looked like. Today, Pakistani women are breaking stereotypes and making their mark on all fronts in the footsteps of the great ladies.
Benazir Bhutto was the first woman in the Islamic world to head a democratic state, at the young age of 35. A Harvard and Oxford graduate, she chaired Pakistan People’s Party from 1980 till her assassination in 2007. During an interview, she said “Ultimately, leadership is about the strength of one's convictions, the ability to endure the punches, and the energy to promote an idea. And I have found that those who do achieve peace never acquiesce to obstacles, especially those constructed of bigotry, intolerance, and inflexible tradition.” All her aspirations of a progressive sound Pakistan were cut short after assassination at the hands of militants in 2007. She was quoted as saying: “Being nice should never be perceived as being weak. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of courtesy, manners, grace, a woman’s ability to make everyone feel at home, and it should never be construed as weakness.”
Dr Maleeha Lodhi is among the most skilful female professionals in the Muslim world. She has vast experience in diplomacy, media and teaching. Her diplomatic experience includes representing Pakistan as Ambassador in the US and Britain as well as being Pakistan’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations.  She is the recipient of Hilal-e-Imtiaz for her excellence in service to Pakistan. 
Dr Sania Nishtar is a member of the Senate. She has chaired several multilateral initiatives: World Health Organization (WHO) High Level Commission on Non-Communicable Diseases, World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Agenda Council on the Future of Healthcare, US National Academy of Sciences Global Study on the Quality of Healthcare in Low And Middle Income Countries (LMIC), UN International Institute for Global Health’s Advisory Committee, UN Secretary General’s Independent Accountability Panel for Women’s and Children’s Health and WHO’s Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity. In 2017, she was Pakistan’s nominee for Director General of WHO and was in the final shortlist of three. She is founder of the NGO Heartfile. She has received many international awards for her work and is widely published. In 2020, she was listed amongst BBC’s 100 Women. She has also spearheaded the Ehsaas Programme that was aimed at alleviating poverty.
Lt Gen Nigar Johar Khan is an inspiration to all the young girls in Pakistan and beyond. She is a three-star general of the Pakistan Army, the first and only woman in the history of Pakistan Army to reach the rank of Lieutenant General. She hails from Swabi district. She graduated from Army Medical College in 1985. She has the honor of being the first Lady Officer to be given command of a unit as well as hospital of the Armed Forces. On June 30, 2020, she was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General. Lt Gen Nigar Johar in a video message said: “There is no match of Pakistan to anywhere in the world. Think of all the Muslim countries, think of all those developing nations. This is the only country, which has female general officers.”
Flying Officer Marium Mukhtiar became the first female officer to embrace martyrdom in the line of duty in 2015. Since childhood, she has been fascinated by fighter jets and desired to fly one. She materialized her dream by joining Pakistan Air Force as an aviation Cadet in the 132 GD(P) course in 2011. She was posted in Risalpur when she went on a routine flying training mission. During the mission, the aircraft developed technical issues. She had to eject immediately but she lost her life because she delayed eject to clear a densely populated area. She managed the crisis with sophisticated methodology and timely decision, sacrificing herself for her countrymen.
In addition to the military, women are proving to be efficient leaders in the Police force as well. Amna Baig, currently serving as Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) in Islamabad Police is one such example. Her experience includes working as Sub Divisional Police Officer in Rawalpindi. Since her appointment, she has streamlined the procedure for registering FIRs. She strives to make police stations a safe place where women do not hesitate to come for registration of complaints. Inside the police force she is known to be professional and straightforward with strong reflexes and a good sense of humor. In 2021, she was nominated by the United States embassy for the International Women of Courage Award that recognizes women for their exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, human rights, gender equality and women empowerment.
Women in sports have highlighted Pakistan’s good image internationally and have won a number of accolades for the nation. Sana Mir pursued her passion as her profession and joined Pakistan national women’s cricket team and started playing nationally in 2005 and internationally in 2009. She held the captaincy of Pakistan in both ODIs and T20s. In October 2018, she became the first Pakistani woman cricketer to rank first in ICC ODI bowlers ranking for women.
Samina Khayal Baig is a Pakistani high-altitude mountaineer who rose to fame in 2013 when she became the first Pakistani woman to climb Mount Everest. In 2014, she became the first Pakistani woman to have climbed the seven summits in july 2022 she also submitted K2. In 2010, Chaskin Sar, in her honour was renamed as Samina Peak.
In the literary circles, Kamila Shamsi is a renowned name. She has authored seven books in total. All of which have gained international recognition and appreciation. She has received multiple awards and also writes short stories. Her novel Home Fire, was nominated for the Booker Prize award in 2017. HH


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