International Women’s Day: Ode to Pakistani women

The present Pakistani woman, despite the social circumstances says, “I am a Pakistani woman; I am beautiful; I am confident.”

“This is what happens when determined women get together,” was the most powerful statement made at the Oscars this year by Pakistani born film-maker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. The film-maker brought home the second Oscar for her documentary ‘The Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,’ which features the story of a brave woman, from the grassroots, fighting social injustice and cruelty. But this isn’t the first time ‘determined women’ got together to bring about a powerful change in our society. One of the earliest examples we have is of women groups struggling alongside Quaid-e-Azam during Pakistan movement in the mid-1940s. The fact is, women from our part of the country were already voting during the creation of Pakistan when women in developed countries like the United States were fighting for the right to vote. Pakistani women were granted suffrage in 1947 under the Pakistan Ordinance, and they were reaffirmed the right to vote in national elections in 1956 under the interim Constitution. The provision of reservation of seats for women in the Parliament existed throughout the constitutional history of Pakistan from 1956 to 1973. Quaid-e-Azam stressing on the role of women in Pakistan movement said, “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you.” He credited Muslim women leaders from all social classes and age for fearlessly supporting the creation of Pakistan. One cannot certainly forget the devotion of Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah and contribution of Begam Ra’ana Liaqat Ali Khan, founder of All Pakistan Women Association (APWA). Among these courageous women were Zahida Mushtaq, Begum Tassadiq Hussain, Begum Shahnawaz, and Begum Shamim, who hoisted the flag of All India Muslim League on the Secretariat, in an extraordinary act of valour and patriotism. In the recent times, Benazir Bhutto became the first woman Prime Minister of the Islamic world.President Rotary Club of Lahore Gardens and Secretary Information APML Sam Dada comments, “Women of Pakistan are brave, daring, hardworking and intelligent. They are ready to face all kind of domestic and social issues; that time has gone when women were being used as commodity. Today's woman is a pilot, engineer, architect, doctor, politician, researcher and above all a great mother, sister and wife too. The present Pakistani woman, despite the social circumstances says, “I am a Pakistani woman; I am beautiful; I am confident.”

Women of Pakistan play a vital role in the fields of education, health, art and culture, entrepreneurship and technology, both on national and international level. Sitara-e-Imtiaz Dr Mira Phailbus, former principal Kinnaird College and first ombudswoman from Punjab, Pride of Performance Perin Cooper Boga, and Nasreen Mehmud Kasuri are a few of the most outstanding women who are contributing to promoting quality education in Pakistan. It is worth mentioning here, the women educationists in the rural areas, who travel to far off places to teach children. Through government based schools and colleges, women in the poorest and farthest areas of Pakistan have been able to acquire education. However, it hasn’t ended here. The quest to provide education to women continues. Late principal of APS Peshawar Tahira Qazi is an outshining example of an educationist with a mission. 

When it comes to speaking out, the revolution brought about through women entrepreneurship and technology, Roshaneh Zafar, founder and MD of Pakistan’s first micro financing banking and Jehan Ara, pioneering IT professional, are among the top women. In the fields of art, culture and performing arts prestigious women like artists Salima Hashmi and Zahra David, classic dance performers Nighat Chaudhry and Nahid Siddiqui,TV artistes Samina Peerzada, Nadia Jamil and Maria Wasti, writers and playwrights Bapsi Sidhwa, Haseena Moen and Sahira Qazmi are credited for bringing honour to Pakistan through their own respective fields of work. Sufi artistes Abida Perveen, Tina Sani, legendary Queen of music Noor Jehan and Nazia Hassan, and pop artists like Hadiqa Kiyani and Zoe Viccaji have strengthened the status of Pakistan music industry.

In addition to this, women in sports, journalism, and media have made remarkable contributions. Niva Chanan Khan, former athlete and Chairperson of CM’s Task Force on Sports,  Rubab Reza, Olympic and national-record-holding swimmer from Pakistan, and footballer Joyann Geraldine Thomas of Baluchistan United are a few among many to name in Pakistan’s sport’s world. A major achievement is ‘A Boxing Club in Pakistan’ for women to break the typical stereotype. Shumaila Jaffery of BBC Service from Pakistan says, “Pakistani women, against all odds and hurdles, are continuing to make progress by leaps and bounds. They have made their mark in all walks of life. So, whether it’s winning the Noble Peace Prize or Academy award, or detecting gravitational waves, or flying planes, or scaling mountains, or becoming UN’s goodwill ambassador, struggles and achievements of Pakistani women are acknowledged all over the world. This success is helping in breaking the glass ceiling for rest of the women in Pakistan.”

The government has always been very respectful towards foreign-born professionals serving in Pakistan although discrimination continues to show among certain class of people. It simply wouldn’t be fair to negate this fact when there are innumerable examples to quote. The Church of Pakistan was among the first in the world to ordain its first batch of women deacons. Sitara Quaid-e-Azam Mother Berchmans of RJM, Tamga-e-Imtiaz Norma Fernendes, Sitara-e-Imtiaz Mary Emily, Bridget Sequeira, foundress of the Franciscan Missionaries of Christ the King (the only religious congregation for women founded in Pakistan) are among many such women who are honoured by the Government for their tireless devotion to the progress of Pakistan.

While we celebrate the remarkable presence of Pakistani women in various walks of life, tentative estimate of women serving in Pakistan Armed Forces are over 4,000.Pakistan’s first batch of fighter pilots passed out in 2006. In 2002, Major-General Shahida Malik of Combine Military Hospital was promoted to two-star rank while becoming the first woman Major-General and first general officer commanding of the Pakistan Army Medical Corps in the Islamic world. Major-General Shahida Badsha, first female colonel-commandant of the Army Medical College (AMC) and Pakistan’s first women fighter pilot Marium Mukhtiar embraced martyrdom at the age of 22 recently in November 2015 are worth quoting.

Honouring the words of Quaid-e-Azam, “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,” not only has the government set up more institutes of vocational training to empower women but have recently taken a brave step for protection of women. The government implemented Women Protection Act that strongly endorses women protection. MNA and fashion designer Hina Butt says, “Opponents of women protection bill are enemies of the state. The bill, passed by the Punjab Assembly, features redressal for female victims of violence, criminalises all forms of violence against women and provides them with special centers, which remove the bureaucratic hurdles that complicate a woman’s access to justice.” This continues to prove that while Pakistan may be considered a developing nation, women empowerment continues to grow stronger. Though women in Pakistan may have a long way to go, there are more than a hundred reasons to celebrate ‘Women’s Day’ because woman in Pakistan will always stand out in their own unique way.

Marian Sharaf Joseph is an independent journalist. Her work for local and global publications focuses on culture and community affairs