Marching to the Top: Women in Pakistan

Posted on March 17, 2012 in Specials

By Fatima Zehra:

‘Oppressed behind a burqa, uneducated and living a life in a backward-looking, female-repressing, underdeveloped society’…This has become a common image for every woman in Pakistan- who sadly finds herself trapped in the midst of the feudal patriarchy and years-old biases. However what many people are not aware of is that Pakistani women are making their mark outstandingly in all walks of life. The woman of Pakistan has come a long way in proving herself. Sadly, many talking heads are still jammed on the old stereotypes of Pakistani women! Here is a small effort to mention some of those women of substance who have excelled in their fields, effectively busting the negative stereotypical image of Pakistani women!

Bilquis Edhi

She is the motivating force behind the renowned Edhi Foundation, and is a well known humanitarian.  Her name is synonymous with the attributes of compassion, kindness and care, as she has dedicated her life for helping the poor and destitute in Pakistan. She heads the Bilquis Edhi Foundation as well.

Dr. Salma Maqbool

It won’t be an exaggeration to call her the “Helen Keller” of Pakistan. She is a real life super champion who battles adversity each day, yet contributes to the society. After being diagnosed with a severe eye ailment in her late 20s, she decided to dedicate her life to the cause of the disabled people in Pakistan and beyond.  Besides being an activist, she is the Chairman and Trustee of the Pakistan Foundation Fighting Blindness. Her hard work over nearly three decades has inspired the disabled here to fight prejudice and battle for their rights, and has helped sensitize society to their situation and special needs.

Majida Rizvi

She has the honour of having been the first woman to serve as a judge in a High Court in Pakistan.  She has been a diligent activist for women’s legal rights for the past three-and-a-half decades which certainly is a role model for all young women lawyers. Currently she heads the National Commission for the Status of Women in Pakistan. 

Madeeha Gauhar

Be it dance, music, drama, literature or paintings, they all are dangerous because they change minds, they influence, they ignite and empower. And Madeeha Gauhar embraces this fact, and uses it to change the lives of the unaware through her performances. By starting Ajoka Theatre during the strictest period of martial law, Madeeha Gauhar fashioned a channel for human rights activism at a time when other avenues had been blocked.

Nazia Hassan

She was indeed 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, where she is admired and respected even today, many years after her death. Nazia Hassan, along with her brother Zohaib Hassan sold over 60 million records worldwide.

Roshaneh Zafar

She is the Founder and Managing Director of the ‘Kashf Foundation’, which is Pakistan’s first microfinance institution. Enthused by Nobel laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus’s work at Grameen Bank, Roshaneh left her thriving World Bank career to set up Kashf Foundation in 1996. Kashf made to Forbes’s list of the world’s top microfinance institutions in 2007. Educated in the United States at Yale University with a Masters in International and Development Economics and the Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania, Roshaneh is well-equipped with the knowledge and skills that the Kashf Foundation venture requires.

Naseem Hameed

This 22 year-old is the Pakistani track athlete who became the fastest woman in South Asia when she won a gold medal in the 100-meter event of the 11th South Asian Federation Games in Dhaka, Bangladesh on February 09, 2010. She took only 11.81seconds, to bring the pride to Pakistan. The win was a historic moment as no Pakistani woman had achieved this feat in the 26-year history of the regional games.

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar

She was appointed as the Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan for three years in December 2005. She is the 14th governor of the State Bank and the first female ever to attain this position. Previously, she had also held positions with the Asian Development Bank. In 2006 and 2007, she was nominated Asia’s Best Central Bank Governor by Emerging Markets and the Banker’s Trust. Dr. Shamshad now runs the World Bank’s Middle East and North Africa operations.

Parveen Shakir

She was Pakistan’s popular poet who died in a tragic car accident in 1994. After graduating, she went into teaching as a profession, and then joined the civil service. She was a widely-read and loved poet. She braved the not-so-easy terrain of the male-defined and dominated literary world. Her success was attributed to her innate talent and use of language. Parveen had her own fashion and diction that remains matchless with any other poet of Pakistan. Her poetical works mainly mirror the themes of love, gender discrimination, social injustice, feminism, social stigmas and romanticism.

Major General- Dr. Shahida Malik

She is Pakistan’s first woman to become a Major General in Pakistan army. This marked a new era in women’s rights, as this apparently male-dominated society has seen many a woman rise to the top, but not to this stature. The Pakistan Army turned a leaf in history by promoting a woman to become the first ever two-star general.  She received the badges of her rank in the year 2002.

These achievements do not mean that the women in Pakistan have achieved everything. I do believe that there is still much that needs to be done. But what is looked for is the encouragement and acknowledgement. While the international media rushes to highlight the poor status of women in Pakistan especially in the rural areas, it never highlights positive aspects and women participation in fields usually dominated by men.  Hence, the fact that Pakistani women are making inroads in almost every professional field, and their contribution has registered a sharp increase over the past decade should be welcomed and encouraged.