A Tribute To The Women Of Pakistan


Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend... when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that's present - love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature and personal pursuits that bring us pleasure - the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience heaven on earth.
-- Sarah Ban Breathnach

The reason I quoted these beautiful lines in the start is that our county has been experiencing a very crucial time. Even if a single pin drops it will make a huge issue in the international media. Our enemies are sitting alert just to watch a single move of ours which can be used against us. Thus in these conditions we should try highlighting the positive side of our country.

One of the positive factors and a source of hope for our country are our women. Women in Pakistan are generally perceived to be confined to their houses in a tightly controlled society. Everyone thinks women in Pakistan are oppressed. There has been some sad incidents particularly in tribal areas and the western media has played its role by highlighting these incidents to such an extent that people now have this image that in Pakistan women are not allowed to leave their homes and if they do so than they are either killed or raped. These people cannot even imagine what our women have done and can do in the future.

Now most females find their way to schools, colleges, universities or scholarships abroad. Other than the medicine, which was once considered to be the only profession which women joined, they are now into even the most technical spheres like engineering, architecture, communications and IT. They are actively involved in the government, politics, and society at all levels. Today, women in Pakistan hold high ranking positions as the CEOs and executives. The best part about our women which make them superior to women in the western world is that they pursue their careers not at the stake of their family. If at any point of time they realize that they are unable to do justice to their work as well as their family than they will rather quit. Whatever they do they always give priority to their family’s prestige and honor. They will think twice before taking any step so that no one can raise any fingers on their family. Thus they have a double responsibility and need to be much more careful as well.

This article is for giving a tribute to all the women of Pakistan and for the outsiders who think Pakistani women are oppressed. So I will like them to see and praise our women for what they have achieved. Though only a few names are mentioned but this article is for every woman in Pakistan who has struggled for her family, herself and most importantly for her country in any form. And this one is for my mother as well who in my view is one of the strongest women I have ever met.

Madir-e-Milat, Khatun-e-Pakistan , the lady of Pakistan etc all these titles fell short to uncover the role of Fatima Ali Jinnah and her contribution in making and developing Pakistan. She is most loved for being a supporter of her brother but there is much more to Fatima Jinnah. At the time when taking up a profession was considered inappropriate for girls from Muslim families, Fatima Jinnah opened her own dental practice in Calcutta. By assisting and supporting her brother in his entire struggle and journey, she was actually trying to teach Muslim women to stand shoulder to shoulder with men during the freedom struggle. She formed the All India Muslim Women Students Federation. Her greatest contribution was the empowerment of women and encouraging them to participate in national affairs.

It has always been witnessed that whenever someone tries to change the norms of the society and goes against the mindset of the people than that person always faces many difficulties, criticism and suppression. Begum Ra’na Liaquat Ali khan firmly believed that for a society to do justice to itself it was pertinent that women played their due role in reforming society alongside the men. She applied this first on herself as she helped and supported her husband in the struggle for independence. After this she encouraged women at different occasions to come forward and do their share of work. She was an active member in forming the All India Muslim Women Students Federation. After independence when refugees were coming in they were suffering through various diseases. Thus she called upon women to come forward and collect food and medical supplies from government offices and provide first aid to these migrants. The women came forward despite the resistance they faced from certain sections of society that did not want women to come out from their ‘four walls’. She was a crusader for women’s rights. Later on she also formed The All Pakistan Women's Association, or APWA which is a non-profit and non-political organization whose fundamental aim is to strive for of the moral, social and economic welfare of the women of Pakistan. She was the first Muslim woman delegate to the UN in 1952. She was also the first woman ambassador of Pakistan, representing Pakistan in the Netherlands, Italy and Tunisia. She was elected Governor of Sind, once again the first Pakistani woman to hold such a post.

There is no need to give any introductions to this one lady who was considered as a hope and a symbol of the possibilities open to women in Pakistan to her. There would be no single person in this entire region who won’t know about Benazir Bhutto. And to be very honest I don’t feel myself being capable enough to give any introduction about her. Benazir Bhutto was an inspiration to a lot of people around the world. She was a beautiful and graceful woman who had been in such a powerful position leading a country of 160 million. She was the first ever woman Prime Minister of a Muslim country and also the youngest Prime Minister to be elected twice. She was Pakistan's first and to date only female Prime Minister. She was a woman who had gone through struggles and hardships beyond imagination. There was an air of elegance to her. People who met her always commented that you could feel her wisdom. She was a symbol of hope, courage, and determination. She was very progressive and she never gave up her struggle for democracy. She was loved by millions but she was also feared by many because of that same strength and determination. She was a threat to them. And that is why they wanted to stop her. They knew they could not, so they took her life. If life would have given her a last chance she would have proved and done what people can not even imagine a lady to do even in seven lifetimes. The achievements of women are not just confined to politics. Rather its span is in every field.

It is just impossible to forget one name when discussing the prominent and substantial women of Pakistan, and that is Mallika-e-Tarranum Noor Jehan . She was a Pakistani singer and actress. She is renowned as one of the greatest singers of her time in South Asia and was given the honorific title of the queen of melody. She holds the highest record of film songs in the history of Pakistani cinema. She is also considered to be the first female Pakistani film director.

Talking about music how can we forget the queen of pop singing and Sweetheart of Pakistan Nazia Hasan. She was an iconic Pakistani pop singer. Her song "Aap Jaisa Koi" from the Indian film Qurbani made her a legend and pop icon in Pakistan and all of South Asia in the 1980s.She was the most influential and popular female singer and probably one of the few real pop singers of the 1980s and the 1990s in both India and Pakistan. Besides music, Nazia Hasan has the honor of starting a noble trend of working for the under privileged and poor. All the money she earned from music was spent for charity. In Pakistan she established an organization “BAN” for fighting against the curse of narcotics. She belonged to many charity organizations and worked with her mother Muniza Basir in the low income areas of Karachi to help the needy and sick. Nazia worked with Javed Jabbar, former Information Minister, to raise funds for children in Rajasthan. Before her singing career she worked in the United Nations in the Security Council. Due to her heart of gold, grace, sacred beauty and innocence she is frequently compared to Princess Diana.

If you go forty years back and consider a woman then the only acceptable career for her was thought to be either teaching or becoming a doctor. At that point of time for a woman to become an architect was simply impossible. Yasmeen Liyari at that time showed the courage and determination and became the first woman architect of Pakistan. She was also an advocate for preservation of historical sites. Throughout her career, she experienced challenges from the opposite sex in the industry especially from workers at construction sites but she did not give up. She was president of the Institute of Architects in Pakistan from 1980 to 1983. Taj Mahal Hotel, Finance and Trade Center and headquarter of Pakistan State Oil House Karachi are some of her works. Lari is also interested in researching and developing solution for old towns and low-income housing. After retiring from a career in architecture which spanned over thirty-five years, these days she is devoting her time to writing and serving as an advisor to UNESCO project, Conservation and Preservation of Lahore Fort. She is also the executive director of Heritage Foundation and the Chairperson of Karavan Initiatives, both are organizations devoted to historic preservation.

It is very rightly said that sixty percent of a person’s personality is what he inherits. Thus the daughter of Faiz Ahmed Faiz one of the most renowned poets of Pakistan, had to have some extraordinary talent. And yes Salima Hashmi represented the first generation of modern artists in Pakistan, who carried an artistic identity different from the traditional artists of Asia. Besides being an accomplished painter, she taught at Pakistan's prestigious National College of Arts (NCA) for about thirty years and served as the Principle of NCA for four years. In 1999, Salima Hashmi received Pakistan's Pride of Performance award. Today she is the Dean of School of Visual Arts at the newly established Beaconhouse National University in Lahore and she also runs her own art gallery featuring works of young artists.

“All good things come in small packages”. This statement will stand true for Asma Jahangir. She was awarded as the top Asian heroes in the Times Magazine. Jahangir and her colleagues at the Lahore-based Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent body of lawyers and activists, defend Christians and Muslims sentenced to death by stoning under harsh and capricious blasphemy laws. She shelters women whose families want to murder them—only because they deserted cruel husbands. She investigates the fate of prisoners who vanish in police custody and battles for their release through the courts and in the press. One of her biggest achievements is when she overturned a death sentence against a blind woman who was gang-raped and then charged with adultery. Since then, she and I.A. Rehman, director of the Human Rights Commission, have defended thousands of hopeless cases. Today, in addition to her work for the Human Rights Commission she also serves as a United Nations Special program on extrajudicial killings, a job that has taken her to Afghanistan, Central America and Colombia. She has spent most of her career defending the rights of women, religious minorities, and children of Pakistan. She along with her fellow activists and lawyers formed the first law firm established by women in Pakistan. They also helped form the Women's Action Forum (WAF) in the same year. Due to all these bold and courageous steps she has confronted a number of life threats.

Then comes Dr Shamshad Akhtar who was the first female governor of State Bank of Pakistan. Before this she also held positions with the Asian Development Bank.
In Pakistan she also worked with the Planning Offices of both the Federal and Sindh Governments. She also contributed to the development of diversification of financial markets including the analysis of monetary policy and state of banking industry (at the World Bank) and restructuring of the Securities & Exchange Commission, Insurance Commission and worked closely with the private sector including the stock exchanges of Pakistan.

People who believe that a person can only become successful and help the society if he has a very high education are proved wrong by Bilquis Edhi. Bilquis Edhi is a humanitarian and a social worker. Despite of her very low education level (8th standard). She has been assisting her husband in Edhi Foundation since the early 60's. When Edhi sahib was asked about her assistance he said, “When I married her we did not become one plus one equals to two (1 + 1 = 2), instead we became one plus one equals to eleven (1 + 1 = 11).” (Translated from Urdu). To Bilquis Edhi, the most cherishing moments for the services she has rendered would no doubt be the ones that have gone unnoticed. One of them as explained by Edhis Sahab’s secretary is:

“Once there was a function in Liaquat National Library and Bilquis was invited. She asked me to accompany her to this function. Shortly after the function got started, a 10-11 year old girl went on stage and started singing. Bilquis remarked how pretty the girl was. A short while later a lady approached her and told her that she had adopted this girl from her at the Edhi Centre eleven years ago.”

After being given charge of the nursing section, other women specific departments such as the maternity home section and child adoption also became her responsibilities. Since then a number of destitute women have been given shelter, raised and trained by the Edhi Foundation under the supervision and guidance of Bilquis Edhi. Widows and girls in distress who come to the hospital are trained in midwifery. It is a 12-month course during which they are paid rupees 1000 to 1500 [per month]. Later she refers them to good institutions as she frequently receives requests for hardworking girls. There they earn at least Rs 3000 [per month as starting salary]. Our new generation has also started following the footsteps of the earlier generations. They also have the same determination to leave everlasting imprints on the minds of the people all around the world.

If Pakistani housewives all over the world are asked how they start off their day, than almost 80% of them will say they start it by watching NKS (Nadia Khan Show). Nadia Khan has been one of the most sought after anchors in Pakistan. Due to her raging success in the field of TV industry, she has achieved numerous awards for her phenomenal work. She has won Masala Awards for Best Tv Anchor for two consecutive years, 2008 & 2009. Beating out 5 other nominees, from Zee Tv,Sony Tv, Star Plus and rival morning show host,S haista Wahidi of ARY Digital. It is her typical Pakistani accent and her style of talking which make a connection between her and her viewers. It will not be wrong to say that she is the queen of morning talks and has actually sown the seeds of morning show culture in Pakistan and is a true legend.

Hadiqa Qiyani is one of our leading singers and has been awarded one of the highest awards of Pakistan, the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz and is the first Asian woman to be signed by Pepsi.

Hina Rabbani Khar is a Pakistani Politician.She is a graduate of “University of MassachusettsU.S.A. She is a state minister for Finance and Economic Affairs. There is a hope that we can have a small version of Benazir Bhutto in the coming future.

With so many years passed away a number of things have changed in our society. People have started becoming more cultured and educated. Our mindsets have changed, our norms our thinking has become much more modernized. But there are some things which can not be changed so easily. And one of them is the man dominance in our society. This dominance is not misused everywhere. There are a number of males who just went out of the way to help and support their wives, sisters, mothers and females in general. But then again there are black sheep in every society. We certainly do have some in our society as well who try to hurt the image of Pakistan. But one thing which has not changed and will never change is the undaunted struggle of our women. And their willpower, belief in themselves and their determination to prove themselves and to make their mark in this world which will always keep them alive in the hearts of the people.

Eventually things in our country are and will have to get better. However, the way they will improve is not going to be because of the government or the elite leadership, or the political leadership, or the institutions of our country, most of which have actually crumbled. It will be the people of the country themselves who will bring about the change in society because they have had to struggle for themselves at every level. And thus our women have also realized this fact. That is the reason they have started exploring all the corners of the society regardless of what people think about it. This one last quote will just be enough to explain what we the women of 21st century believe:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

-Mark Twain

2 Response to "A Tribute To The Women Of Pakistan"

  1. hiba May 18, 2010 at 9:08 AM
    Wow! knowing about all these amazing women makes me proud to be a Pakistani!!!
  2. tooba May 18, 2010 at 4:46 PM
    an inspiring article....zeb and haniya should also be added to this list now...being the first female band from a very conservative region, that is, the pukhtunkhwa...its really great knowing that in a country like pakistan that is considered 'backward' by so many, the females have been able to achieve so much!

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