15 Women That Changed Pakistan Forever

POSTED BY , UPDATED ON September 2nd, 2014

Women That Changed Pakistan Forever

Ever since the War on Terror started after 9/11, Pakistan has been a controversial state. In the midst of all this, many aspects of the country have been misrepresented. In the forefront of this is the position of women, the general consensus seems to be that women are oppressed and suppressed. However, history shows evidence of women that have played a vital role in leading the country, transforming ideologies and making a difference for their people. Here is a list of 15 women that changed Pakistan forever:


15. Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai

A prominent international public figure, Malala Yousafzai is a student and educational activist, she hails from the Swat region which is part of the North West Frontier Province. The Swat region was known as a breeding ground for the Taliban, it remained one of the few places in Pakistan where the Taliban yielded significant power. The Taliban imposed a set of rules in the region of Swat, one of which prohibited the education of girls. Malala has always been a staunch supporter for female education, and as we know she wrote a blog for BBC highlighting the treachery of the Taliban under a pseudonym.

On the afternoon of October 9th 2012, Malala was reportedly boarding a school bus when an assailant entered the bus and asked for her specifically. She was shot in the head, with the bullet travelling under the length of her skin and entering her shoulder. She was rushed to the Hospital where she remained in critical condition, thankfully her situation improved and she was shifted to England for intensive rehabilitation.

Despite several controversial statements from Malala and her father that irked many Pakistanis, she has emerged as a symbol for the female education in Pakistan. Her endeavors in education have sparked much debate on Pakistan’s education structure, with a bill even being discussed in the NA. She still faces much opposition from the Taliban, but has seen overwhelming support from all religious groups in the country.

Malala’s story is still riddled with controversy in the country (with a fair share of conspiracy theorists speculating that she is an agent from the West due to her controversial statements and the widespread attention given to her in the western media), but nonetheless she has helped in creating awareness for education in Pakistan, importantly at a global level.


14. Musarrat Misbah

Musarrat Misbah

Widely regarded as one of the most skillful and respected stylists in the country, Musarrat Misbah has transformed the lives of scores of women. Renowned for her unique and innovative make up techniques, Musarrat opened her own beauty salon “Depilex” in 1980. She soon garnered much fame and was the face of Pakistani fashion, featuring in many advertising campaigns and organizing international fashion shows.

But it is not her beauty salon which has changed the life of legions of women, that honor is bestowed upon her due to the Smile Again foundation. The Smile Again foundation is an NGO opened to rehabilitate women that are victims of acid and kerosene attacks. It aims to help women recover and become productive members of the society. The survivors of the acid attacks either work as employees of Depilex or are helped with job placements, additionally their medical expenses are entirely covered.

The foundation also aims to raise awareness for violence against women, it works with the government to implement and enforce proper legislation. The foundation has created a volunteer support group, which further helps in the rehabilitation of acid attack victims. Apart from helping them find re-invigorate themselves, the organization also pays for expensive facial reconstruction surgeries. Musarrat Misbah was honored with the Pride of Performance award by the President of Pakistan for her humanitarian services.


13. Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy

sharmeen obaid chinoy

Photo by AFP

Born in the largest city of the country, Sharmeen had an interest in investigative journalism from a very young age. In an interview she revealed that she was always drawn to covering the weakest in the community, she felt as though she was the voice for the voiceless.

She soon tested the waters of filmmaking, particularly documentaries. It was here that she took the most significant strides in her career. Her first documentary entitled “Lifting the Veil”, released in 2007 brought much critical acclaim from reputable critics from across the globe. However her 2012 documentary entitled “Saving Face” was the main reason she was brought to super stardom and gained the attention of mainstream media.

She won an Oscar for ‘Saving Face’ and in the process became the first Pakistani to ever be endowed with that honor. Previously in 2010, she won an Emmy for her documentary, Pakistan: Children of Taliban. Sharmeen in addition to this has won scores of journalism awards; the graduate from Karachi Grammar School was also bestowed with the Hilal-e-Imtiaz for her contribution in the field of filmmaking.


12. Namira Salim

Namira Salim North Pole

Namira Salim is a Pakistani explorer who has, through the year’s chartered numerous territories that no Pakistani before her ever has. Known as an explorer and an artist, Namira holds the unique distinction of being the first Pakistani, male or female, to have traveled to both the North Pole and the South Pole.

Another feather in Namira’s cap was added when she skydived from Mount Everest, in the process becoming the first Asian and the first Pakistani to achieve such an endeavor. Furthermore, she was the only Pakistani member of the Sir Richard Branson Virgin Galactic, a commercial space liner, hence she holds the honor of being the first Pakistani to venture into space (Pakistani media dubbed her as the ‘the first Pakistani astronaut’).

In addition to these she has achieved great fame in the field of art, with her art highlighting notable global issues at UN and UNESCO summits. Due to her exploits in the field of adventure, art and aviation, she was honored with the ‘Medal of Excellence’ by President Zardari.


11. Zubaida Tariq

Zubaida Tariq

Photo by Jaffer Hasan

Affectionately known as Zubaida ‘Apa’, Zubaida Tariq has been a mainstay in mainstream Pakistani media for decades now and has been responsible for introducing cooking shows and tips craze in the television industry of Pakistan. Apart from her numerous television roles, Zubaida Apa is instantly relatable to many viewers due to what she calls her ‘Totkas’. These are her everyday tips to combat several everyday problems, whether it is an illness or a matter related to cuisine, that have wowed audiences of all ages.

She started her career at the ripe age of fifty, according to those who know her personally; she was inept at cooking at the time of her marriage. It then came as quite a shock to her peers that the girl who struggled making plain rice, now had the distinct honor of being Pakistan’s favorite celebrity chef. She has extensively been covered in the nation’s biggest and top media outlets; she even owns her own catering business which has garnered great success.

The renowned chef and cooking expert is currently plying her trade in Masala TV. She was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and has written a memoir, detailing her battle with Parkinson’s in her everyday life.


10. Nazia Hassan

Nazia Hassan

Nazia Hassan is the embodiment of the eighties youth, and the progressive and differing culture of Pakistan. If you were a teenager growing up in that era of Pakistan, it is highly unlikely that you haven’t jammed to a Nazia Hassan song. Music has always been a tool that unites the masses towards a common goal; inversely it can also revolutionize thinking and perception. How can we forget Elvis and his gyrating hips? How he shredded people’s belief of the ordinary, it would be wise to state that Nazia Hassan was the Elvis of Pakistan.

Popular at the time when women in music were looked upon as an abhorrent concept, where musicians were viewed as degenerates and their craft deemed Un-Islamic. Nazia Hassan changed all of that for the country, her girlish charm and powerful voice shot her to stardom. She was the undisputed Queen of Pop in Pakistan, her debut album Disco Deewane was the best selling pop record in Asia at the time.

Tragically she fell victim to lung cancer and succumbed to the illness in August 2000, although she showed signs of mild recovery, it was not enough to save her in the end. She remains one of the most popular singers in the history of Pakistan; she single handedly transformed the perception of the populous and propagated a message of peace.

Her memory lives on with the Nazia Hassan Foundation, which aims to help people of all nationalities and backgrounds. The foundation aims to help the downtrodden; it works on the principle of intermixing of individuals in different countries. The foundation carries the belief of Nazia that only through co-existence can we learn to respect and love our fellow man.


9. Ruth Pfau

Ruth Pfau

A nun and a member of the Society of Daughters of the Heart of Mary, Ruth Pfau was born in East Germany in 1929. After the Second World War, she along with her family fled from their home to West Germany after the Russian occupation. She studied medicine in Mainz, however failing to see a sense of purpose and direction in her life, she moved to Pakistan.

After visiting a leprosy colony in Karachi in 1960, she decided that fighting leprosy was her calling; hence she devoted her entire life to help eradicate the disease in Pakistan.  She initially treated patients in a hut in a slum quarter, but in 1963 she began treating patients from around the country after buying a clinic.

She traveled back and forth between Pakistan and Germany, collecting donations and training volunteer workers. She journeyed to remote places in the country which were devoid of infrastructure facilities and trained personal. Officially becoming a Pakistani citizen in 1988, she received numerous civilian awards for her humanitarian efforts. Ranging from the Hilal-e-Pakistan to the Nishan-e-Quaid-e-Azam, Ruth Pfau has been honored extensively for her lifetime of service.

It is due to her works with leprosy that Pakistan has become one of the first countries in Asia to control leprosy, as announced by the WHO. Due to her lifetime efforts of eradicating leprosy and other ailments, she is affectionately known as Pakistan’s Mother Teresa.


8. Arfa Karim

Arfa Karim

Known in IT circles as a prodigy, Arfa was heralded for her genius not only by the people of Pakistan but also on the international stage. Born in Faisalabad in 1995, Arfa became the youngest certified Microsoft professional in 2004, at the tender age of 9. Taking part in numerous international forums brought her to the attention of the mainstream media.

She was written about extensively in numerous respected blogs, also being interviewed by local newspapers. She became the youngest Pakistani in history to win a Pride of Performance award, a presidential honour which is given out to individuals who excel in their field.

Tragically in 2011, Arfa Karim suffered an epileptic seizure which was followed by a massive heart attack. Bill Gates personally paid for her medical expenses and he organized a panel of international medical professionals who consulted with local doctors.

However, her condition worsened in the hospital and on the morning of the 14th of January 2012, she passed away. The chief minister of the country named a technology park in her honour, The Arfa Karim Software Technology Park.