As Pakistan celebrates 68 years of its Independence on 14th of August, many of us still remain unaware of the historical significance behind the struggles borne by some of our prominent leaders, particularly the female figureheads of Pakistan.
There is a near-absence of information in local textbooks on the history of women’s movement in Pakistan and the legacy behind it. Every year, students are made to learn a replicated account of the 1947 war of independence, oftentimes omitting the names and the significant roles played by the feminist leaders of Pakistan.
Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Founder of Pakistan, himself reiterated the importance of a nation whose women are side by side with men. He 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.”
The Pakistan movement was of a great historical significance for Muslim women of the subcontinent as it was the first time they had ever participated in such a great number in any political movement. It marked the cornerstone for the liberation and recognition of Muslim women in the political arena and the creation of Pakistan.
Tracing back to the 19th century, the Khilafat Movement was the first instance when the Muslim women made their presence felt in the political arena. Bi Amman, mother of MaulanaShaukat Ali and Muhammad Ali Johar, raised her voice against British imperialism and addressed large meetings in various parts of India. Pakistan movement followed a similar direction. Women came out of their homes and struggled to achieve a separate homeland. They made immense contributions to the movement by demonstrating their enthusiasm, leadership, intellect, courage and resolve.
The most noteworthy name is of Fatima Jinnah, sister of our founding father. She was credited with the title Madar-e-Millat (Mother of the Nation), and was the first lady to have formed the women’s framework for the idea of Pakistan, aiding Quaid-e-Azam greatly in the process. After independence in 1947, these women formed bodies and organization where they could exhibit their leadership qualities and work towards the achievements of their objectives.
The first women to represent themselves in the Legislative Assembly of Pakistan were Begum JahanAra Shah Nawaz and Begum ShaistaIkramullah. These exceptional women were deeply committed to the cause of promoting women’s rights and their participation in national affairs of Pakistan. They managed to include the rights of women in the agenda of the constituent assembly and played an active part in the formation of laws that aimed at increasing the political representation of women in Pakistan. They demanded special seats for women in 1956 and lobbied the government to pass the Muslim Personnel Law of 1948, Muslim Family Ordinance 1961 and Muslim Personnel Law of 1962.
The most significant moment in the political history of Pakistan was the decision of Fatima Jinnah to contest the presidential elections. It was a tough challenge in a country where women’s participation in politics was a taboo. Even though, Ayub Khan won the presidential elections but the impact of women had been sealed in history forever.
In Bhutto’s regime, women wings in party politics were formed. Women became economically independent and played a significant part in the labor force. When Benazir came back to the country, women joined her ranks to ride the country out of dictatorship.
Considering the drudgery and hard work of our female political leaders, it is of utmost importance to teach the youth of this country about the important contributions they made for this country. Without acknowledging their struggles, the nation remains oblivious and negligent of the real history of Pakistan’s independence.