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Hilal Her

Muhammad Ali Jinnah — The Greatest Advocate of Women Empowerment

December 2023

The creation of Pakistan would not have been possible without the statesmanship and foresight of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. This exceptional leader recognized the crucial role of women’s participation in any national endeavor of consequence, therefore, he made the decision to harness the potential of Muslim women and ensure their involvement in the Pakistan Movement. Jinnah demonstrated genuine advocacy for women’s rights, actively promoting their involvement in the struggle for independence and emphasizing the imperative of gender equality across all domains of the society. 
Prior to the emergence of Jinnah, the involvement of Muslim women in political affairs was exceedingly limited. Historically, women were predominantly perceived as individuals responsible for domestic duties, confined within the walls of their households. However, owing to the support provided by Jinnah, women emerged from their domestic spheres and actively engaged in the pursuit of independence during the movement. We can find countless examples of his efforts of inspiring women through his rhetoric. E.g., while addressing the Muslim University Union of Aligarh on March 10, 1944, Jinnah said, “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you. We are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live. I do not mean that we should imitate the evils of western life. But let us try to raise the status of our women according to our own Islamic ideals and standards.”
Towards this end of Pakistan Movement, he demonstrated his vision for women’s contribution by consistently including his sister in nearly all public events. Ms Fatima Jinnah was his closest advisor and confidante. Jinnah always made a point to have his sister accompany him wherever he went, treating her as an equal by having her walk side by side, and not behind him. This message was clearly intended to loudly and clearly proclaim the ennobling message of gender equality to both the Muslim men and women of the Subcontinent.
Jinnah strongly believed in providing women with equal opportunities as men throughout their lives. This belief was clearly demonstrated in how he managed the education and career choices of his youngest sister and ward, Fatima Jinnah. Despite strong opposition from her family and community, she was enrolled in Bandra Convent School and later transferred to St. Patrick School, both located in Bombay. Eventually, she went on to pursue a professional career by attending Dr Ahmad Dental College in Calcutta during which period she stayed at the dormitory. This, of course, was nothing short of a rare phenomenon, even for the cosmopolitan society of Bombay, given the cultural norms and traditions prevalent at that time. However, this was only made possible because Jinnah firmly believed in the inherent right of women to pursue a career of their own choosing.
Jinnah played a pivotal role in challenging and reshaping conventional societal views on women, consistently emphasizing their crucial role in the advancement of nation. He demonstrated an understanding of the relative disparity between the progress of Muslim women and Hindu women. 
In light of the imperative for the advancement of Muslim women, a women’s section was established during the convening of the Muslim League in Lucknow in 1937, with the appointment of Begum Mohammed Ali as its President. The formation of the All Indian Muslim Women’s Subcommittee in December 1938 aimed to actively engage women in the pursuit of the newly established state. The primary objective of this was to facilitate the consolidation of regional and district women committees, with the aim of fostering a heightened level of enthusiasm and dedication among Muslim women across India. The Quaid also appointed Amjadi Bano Begum as a member of the Working Committee of Pakistan Muslim League. She had pride of being the only woman among 25 members of the working committee. She was designated by Quaid to serve on the executive committee of the Pakistan Muslim League. Amjadi Bano Begum attended committee meetings and contributed to the formulation of the historic Pakistani resolution as a committee member. This collective effort sought to not only cultivate a strong sense of political consciousness but also to mobilize support for the formidable endeavor of attaining independence. From March 22nd to the 24th, 1940, the twenty-seventh annual session of the All-India Muslim League (AIML) was conducted in Lahore. The resolution, initially formulated by the Working Committee, was subsequently presented and adopted unanimously during the general public session on March 23rd, 1940.
During a visit to the Islamia College for Women on March 25, 1940, Jinnah said, “No nation can ever be worthy of its existence that cannot take its women along with the men. No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women.”
Jinnah always expressed a desire for women to assume leadership roles rather than being led. On multiple occasions, he underscored the importance of women working alongside men and expressed his belief that the struggle for Pakistan cannot succeed without their active involvement. 
When asked in 1942 by Geti Ara Bashir Ahmad, sister of Begum Shahnawaz, whether the “foundations of our new state would be laid on conservatism” or whether it would assume “the shape of a progressive country,” Jinnah categorically assured her: “Tell young girls, I am a progressive Muslim leader. I, therefore, take my sister along with me to areas like Balochistan and NWFP and she also attends the sessions of the All-India Muslim League and other public meetings. Inshallah, Pakistan will be a progressive country in the building of which women will be seen working shoulder to shoulder with men in every walk of life.”
During the 1946 elections, a significant mobilization of female supporters of the Muslim League was seen as they embarked on journeys to various regions of the subcontinent, with the aim of motivating, supporting, and engaging women in Pakistan movement. In his speech to ladies’ meeting in Peshawar on November 26, 1945, Muhammad Ali Jinnah said, “I am very glad that our women are coming forward. This is as much necessity for the education of our girls as our boys. Women can always play a great part. It is said that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the nation. It is only enlightened and educated women that can bring up children worthy of the nation. Our Islamic history shows that women have always worked shoulder to shoulder with men. No nation can achieve any big thing unless we take our women with us.”
In 1946, the International Herald Tribune sent an invitation to Muhammad Ali Jinnah to select two delegates for the Tribune Forum. He opted to nominate M.A.H. Ispahani and Begum Shahnawaz for this purpose. The rationale for selecting a female candidate was to address and clarify the misconceptions and uncertainties held by Hindus regarding Muslim followers and their wives.
He advocated for young women to achieve optimal balance between their personal, familial, and societal spheres in order to effectively play their role in the progress of the nation. Muhammad Ali Jinnah conveyed to women that rather than emulating Western practices, it was imperative for them to comprehend and foster a global perception of gender equality in terms of intellectual acumen. While addressing the students of Islamia College for Women on March 25, 1940, Jinnah said, “You young ladies are more fortunate than your mothers. You are being emancipated. Men must be made to understand and made to feel that woman is his equal and that woman is his friend and comrade and they together can build up homes, families and the nation.”
Moreover, he emphasized the importance of perceiving women as allies and comrades to their male counterparts, highlighting the potential for both genders to collaboratively construct households, communities, and nations. According to the Jinnah, it was evident that the collaboration of both genders was imperative, not only during the formation of Pakistan but also in the post-independence era in order to utilize their respective abilities for the advancement of the nation. He emphasized upon this notion while addressing a women’s gathering in Karachi, in late 1947: “Half of Pakistan is yours because you have put in no less effort to achieve it than the men.”
In the political atmosphere of 1940s, it was considered unwise to bring Ms Jinnah along to traditional and tribal areas like the NWFP and Balochistan. However, he fearlessly took her with him, refusing to compromise on the principle that women and men should work together for the betterment of the nation, something he had passionately believed in since his student days. After the formation of the country, he asked Fatima Jinnah to sit beside him at the Sibi Darbar, the grand annual gathering of Baloch and Pakhtun chiefs and leaders at Sibi. He was making a point in his own way that Pakistani women must take their place in history. 
Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a prominent political leader and statesman. He had a level of intellectual advancement that transcended beyond the era in which he lived. Throughout his lifetime, he advocated for the equal standing of women alongside men and their full engagement in the affairs of the nation. He held the belief that women should exhibit an upright and resolute demeanor, while also fulfilling their duty to the nation as devoted patriots. He expressed a desire for women to assume significant positions, and it was through his vision and guidance that numerous notable women have emerged to contribute to the nation. 
In order to actualize the vision of Jinnah’s Pakistan, it is imperative to initiate the process at the individual level. By ensuring equitable treatment of both sons and daughters within our households, and upholding identical standards of accountability and honor for both genders, we can pave the way for the attainment of gender equality and the realization of Jinnah’s aspirations for the Pakistani nation. HH

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