By Afifa J.Maniar
“It is the existence of the woman that gives the universe its colors. She is the leading instrument in the grand orchestra of life itself.” – Muhammad Iqbal
It is a sad reality that in a country like Pakistan, where women are born with the same rights as men, there is great need for the awareness of gender equality and women rights.
Today, celebrating International Women’s Day, 2020 campaign theme #EachforEqual, we bring you the women of Pakistan who have made us proud, who have made us look forward to each bleak day with new courage and spirit, who have made possible the impossible by breaking the bonds and barriers in spite of all that stood in their way.
We celebrate here the achievements of the daughters of Pakistan who have broadened perceptions and improved situations. Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender equal world. Let’s all be #EachforEqual.
(31 July 1893 – 9 July 1967)
A dental surgeon, biographer, stateswoman and one of the leading founders of Pakistan, Fatima Jinnah, Māder-e Millat and Khātūn-e Pākistān, was the younger sister of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and remained the closest confidant of her brother until his death. She co-founded the Pakistan Women’s Association which played an integral role in the settlement of the women migrants in the newly formed country. She was and will remain a source of the awakening of women’s rights and an inspiration to all Pakistani Women.
“Woman occupies an exceedingly important place in the world. In view of her capabilities, the nature has assigned vast duties to her. If you failed in them, you will not only harm your individual-self but also severely hurt your collective life.” – Fatima Jinnah
(3 April 1965 – 13 August 2000)
A talent that went beyond borders, broke the shackles of musical conventions, laid foundations of the pop music and culture, and secured its place as the pillar of the industry and nation: Nazia Hassan was a Pakistani pop singer-songwriter, lawyer and social activist. She along with her brother Zoheb Hassan, went on to sell over 65 million records worldwide. Gaining popularity across South and Southeast Asia she became the “Queen of Pop” in South Asia.
Her English language single made her the first Pakistani singer to make it to the British charts. In the middle of her successful singing career; Hassan earned degrees in economics and law at two prestigious London schools. Receiving many national and international awards she became the youngest recipient of the Filmfare Award. She was also a recipient of Pride of Performance and was appointed by UNICEF as its cultural ambassador in 1991.
“As with everything, you carry on, even when you have bad days.” – Nazia Hassan
Madam Noor Jahan
(23 September 1926 – 23 December 2000)
One of the greatest and most influential singers of all time, Prima Donna of South Asia, ranked on eighth position in a list of Most Influential Pakistanis after Mohammad Ali Jinnah, she was given the honorific title of Malika-e-Tarannum in Pakistan. With a career spanning over six decades as a Pakistani playback singer and actress who worked first in British India and then in Pakistan, The Nightingale of The East had command over Hindustani classical music as well as other music genres remained unsurpassed.
She holds the record for having given voice to the largest number of film songs in the history of Pakistani cinema and has the honor of being the first female director when she directed Chanwey in 1951.Having won innumerable awards along with Singer Of The Millennium award, her birthday is always commemorated by Google Doodle since many years.
“Noor Jehan was the first female singing star of the Indian cinema and helped to lay the foundation of playback singing as we know it. She inspired a generation of singers including Lata Mangeshkar before single-handedly kick-starting music In Pakistan and inspired subsequent generations there.” – Editor Eastern Eye
(c.1947 – 3 November 2013)
Discovered by a local producer at the age of twelve while singing at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, Sindh, Reshma went on to record various folk songs for such labels as the Pakistan Radio. Her first project with the company “Laal Meri” was an instant hit and she was catapulted to fame with several television appearances becoming Nightingale of the Desert and a legendary folk singer.
Awarded with Sitara-e-Imtiaz and Pride of Performance, she is remembered for folk songs and her powerful singing voice. She went on to record songs for both the Pakistani and Indian film industry. Reshma often modestly said her voice was a gift from God and she was grateful for all the recognition she got.
“How could I forget Reshma? In my youthful years, her voice always enriched me and she connected Rajasthan, Cholistan and Sindh. She was a flower of the desert, symbol of love, music and peace”. – Murtaza Solangi
Asma Jilani Jahangir
(27 January 1952 – 11 February 2018)
A woman who holds the distinction of being the first female president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, a human rights lawyer and social activist who co-founded and chaired the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan: Asma Jahangir is known for playing a prominent role in the Lawyers’ Movement and served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and as a trustee at the International Crisis Group. Her services earned her periods of incarceration and house arrests along with many awards including: the 2014 Right Livelihood Award, 2010 Freedom Award, Hilal-i-Imtiaz, Sitara-i-Imtiaz, Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights and Officier de la Légiond’honneur by France.
Best known for her pro-democratic and human rights activism, the woman who stared down at dictators and terrorist alike; she was peerless in her courage and valor.
“Everything is a risk in Pakistan: If you defend women, it’s a risk. If you defend non-Muslims it’s a risk. If you discuss religion, it’s a risk. But you can’t really sit there like a vegetable in your own society. And I’m committed to that society… and I feel I need to turn around and speak as I should.” – Asma Jahangir
Even after so many years, Pakistani women still making us proud in every field of life.
(Born 15 November 1952)
One of Pakistan’s prominent diplomats, military strategist, political scientist and a former Pakistan’s Representative to the United Nations, the first woman to hold the position: Maleeha Lodhi. Previously serving as Pakistan’s envoy to the Court of St James’s and twice as its ambassador to the United States, she is the recipient of the Hilal-i-Imtiaz for Public Service.
Advocating the Kashmir cause, she used every platform and forum to remind the UN and the international community about the grim situation in occupied Kashmir and the need for a peaceful solution. She had the distinction of ensuring a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss Kashmir in the wake of India’s illegal annexation of occupied Jammu and Kashmir. This was the first time the UNSC took up the dispute in over 50 years. She received public praise from the leadership of the Hurriyat Conference for her role.
“We are responding to the call of the international community in helping to see what we can do. We want to try to use the diplomatic option before more extreme ways to deal with the situation.” – Maleeha Lodhi
(Born 20 February 1954)
The Queen of Sufi Music is recognized as one of the greatest Sufi singers of all times. She mainly sings Ghazals, Urdu love songs and her forte, Kafis, a solo genre accompanied by percussion and other instruments including the harmonium. Abida has a wide-ranging repertoire of songs originally composed by Sufi poets and sings in Urdu, Sindhi, Seraiki, Punjabi, Farsi and Arabic. Not only she has a distinct style of clothing which she has created for herself, Abida is a great patron of arts and owns the Abida Parveen Gallery which features jewelry, paintings, her music CDs, awards section and garments and accessories and is run by her daughters.
For Abida Parveen, the lyrics and the music are her prayer and a form of worship. Her emotional commitment and humility come from understanding the message that her music conveys, which is that of love and compassion.
“Pakistan seems disconnected from the outside. But it is built and running on prayers of our Sufi kings, our pirs. Poor people, rich people – we are all God’s servants … I’m lucky. My audience is my God.” – Abida Parveen
(Born August 24, 1987)
Pride of Pakistan, Flight Lieutenant Ayesha is the first woman to become fighter pilot in Pakistan Air Force. In 2013, she became first and only Pakistani female fighter pilot after topping the final exams to qualify. She now flies missions in a Chinese-made Chengdu J-7 fighter jet alongside her 24 male colleagues in Squadron 20.
Ayesha has made history by becoming the first woman assigned to one of Pakistan’s front-line dogfighting squadrons. Offering advice to young women, the war pilot says that instead of looking up to role models become one yourself. She encourages women and girls to come out of their houses, telling them that men and women could, in fact, compete on the same level. She was inspired by her mother, a housewife and a widow, who for Farooq, is “the ultimate symbol of strength.”
“My mother raised me to be strong, to a point that if one day, I was left alone, I would be able to take care of myself.” – War pilot Ayesha Farooq
(Born 18 June 1997)
Living in Lower Dir, she sold her cartoons to the local newspaper to buy her first squash racket and shoes. At the age of 15 she played cricket for a whole year disguised as a boy on the national junior team, and then ended up in the girls’ team when her identity was revealed. She is the youngest South Asian to win silver in cycling at the junior Olympics. Currently playing Squash, Noreena is World Number 212 by the Professional Squash Association. Being listed among the 100 Inspirational Women by Paparazzi Magazine, she was also on the list of 50 Influential Ladies of Pakistan and was awarded with a Government Pendent of Recognition, in 2016.
This Iron lady of Pakistan works against harassment in sports and against harassment of female Muslim athletes around the world.She was invited by Malala Fund to address the UN Commission on the Status of Women in 2017, focusing on women’s economic empowerment.
“I want to make sure that the problems I have faced or worst problems that many athletes face now will not exist in future.” – Noreena Shams
The first Pakistani female motorcyclist to ride across Pakistan, Zenith is a21-year-old student from Lahore, busy in breaking stereotypes and making statements by aiming to travel across the world on a bike to fulfill the wish that her late father could never. Despite meeting with stares from bystanders, she continues to ride from city to city; more concerned about reaching her destination than the people she leaves behind. She is inspiring others worldwide. “Riding and especially going on a motorcycle tour gives a person a 360-degree vision as to what the world is like and encompasses with it.” Zenith speaks with great excitement of her future. As well as hoping to journey through Greece and Bolivia, she says she is still focused on her home country. “Let’s just say things are about to change for Pakistan!” she says.
“I ride for you, Abbu. I search your warmth in the comfort of these mountains. I write for you, Baba. I stain these paper sheets with blue ink, finding words to describe my emptiness. I smile for you my father, I ride across these valleys to find joy in what little nature has to offer me. I live for you, Pa. I find my courage on the road, throttling my motorcycle in the deserts and seas, in search for you.” – Zenith Irfan, Letter to Pa.