15 Women That Changed Pakistan Forever

POSTED BY , UPDATED ON September 2nd, 2014


7. Noor Jehan

Noor Jehan

Noor Jehan was the adopted stage name for Allah Wasai, a singer and actress who gained prominence in British India. The earliest movies in the Pakistan film industry have been graced by Noor; she also holds the unique distinction of being the first female director in the history of the country.

After partition from India in 1947, Noor Jehan along with her family shifted to the city of Karachi from Bombay. She was born in a family of talented musicians and was groomed from a very young age to enter into the music industry. She was trained in classical dance and spoke a wide range of languages, but it was acting that was her real passion.

After partition she acted in and co-directed Chan Wey, a Punjabi movie. She garnered great fame as a result of her role in this picture, she was to only strengthen her reputation with movies that proceeded.

Noor jahan’s famous national songs of 1965 war “Ae Rah-e-Haq Ke Shaheedo” and “Ae Watan Ke Sajeelay” is considered to be a major morale booster for heavily outnumbered Pakistani soldiers during the great battles fought in the 1965 war with India.

After a rocky marriage, she was allegedly involved in several affairs, one amongst them with a famous cricket player. The burden of acting and her personal life became too much for her, causing her to retire in 1963.

Following a career which spanned seven decades, Noor Jehan became one of the most famous singers in Pakistan’s history. Recording over 10,000 songs in different languages, she was given the title of the “Malika-e-Taranum (Queen of Melody)”.  She also a record holder for recording the highest number of film songs in Pakistani cinematic history.


6. Bilquis Edhi

Bilquis Edhi

Bilquis Edhi the wife of the famous Abdul Sattar Edhi has earned a special place in Pakistani society for herself. A nurse by profession, she is revered for her philanthropic work, the crown jewel of it being the Bilquis Edhi Foundation. Born in the largest city in the country, Bilquis’s charity runs a wide array of services in the city of Karachi, from a volunteer ambulance service, to a hospital that she runs in tandem with her husband. The Bilquis Edhi foundation has at the time of writing, been able to save up to 16,000 abandoned babies across the country.

What is widely considered as her most ground breaking work to date is the ‘Jhoola Project’ (Swing Project) which she oversees. Although it was started originally by her husband, Bilquis has now taken over the reins and as mentioned above has helped abandoned babies across the country.

The Jhoola Project fundamentally uses a jhoola (swing), as a medium to drop off babies by couples who either don’t have the means or interest to raise them.

She has been the recipient of a great deal of awards in her lifetime, receiving honors from the President in 2007, who went on to donate money to the charity from his own income. Furthermore, Bilquis has been praised across all spheres for not discriminating patients based on any ethnic or religious factors.

What probably is the most amazing thing about her is that, even though she has been showered with all sorts of fame and adoration, yet she still lives modestly in a two room apartment with her husband.


5. Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan

Raana Liaquat Ali Khan

Ra’ana Liaquat along with her husband was amongst the most powerful and influential politicians at the time of partition. She also remained a prominent stateswomen from the start to the end of the Cold War. She was instrumental in the Pakistan movement and was ever-present in the executive committee established by Jinnah.

After the death of her husband, who was the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, she went on a more hands on approach to her career in politics. She focused greatly on the rights of women in the country; she was also tasked with dealing with the many pertinent issues after partition. Amongst the most pressing of these were the refugee problem, millions of refugees came to Pakistan from India and Afghanistan after 1947.

Her influence continued to grow in the 70s when she was part of Bhutto’s government, a secular government which aimed to eradicate poverty, hunger and homelessness. She served as one of the chief advisors to Bhutto, previously an economist she advised Bhutto on many economic issues.

Begum Ra’ana continued to serve the country, however in her later years she focused solely on the social and economic rights of women. For this she set up numerous committees and highlighted important issues to the NA.

Her death in 1990 was met with extreme grief by the populace, known as an intelligent politician and kind soul; she was given a full military funeral. She conquered many “firsts” for Pakistani women through out her career. For her tireless efforts for the socio-political rights of the masses, she was given the titles of the “Mother of Pakistan”.


4. Shahida Malik

Shahida Malik

In the year 2002, Brigadier Shahida Malik made history by becoming the first women in Pakistan’s history to be made the Major General of the Pakistan Army. Trained as an army medic and an on-field combat officer, Shahida is the first women who achieved the rank of a two star general officer not only in Pakistan, but also in the entire Muslim world.

Nicknamed “The Lady General” Shahida is amongst only a handful of female officers in the Pakistan army where most of the female officers are serving their country in the nursing and the medical corps.

In 2002, she was selected along with 27 other officers for the prestigious rank of Major General in the armed forces. The selection board which deliberated that year had to choose between 132 brigadiers; of the 27 selected Shahida Malik was the only female. She was directly responsible for the running of about 31 hospitals in addition to her other duties, she retired in 2004.

Her contribution to the Army has aided in shattering long standing taboos over the recruitment in the Army, her lifetime work in the armed forces has resulted in numerous honors being bestowed on her.


3. Ayesha Farooq

ayesha farooq fighter pilot

Ayesha Farooq holds the distinct honor of being the first ‘qualified for battle’ fighter pilot in the Pakistan Air force. She is also the first female fighter pilot in the entire Muslim world. She flies the Mach 2 capable F7PG fighter jet.

The twenty seven year old was born in the city of Bahawalpur, which is a small city in Central Punjab. She had to combat many demoralizing external factors before finally achieving her dream, at the forefront of this was pressure from her family.

Ayesha belongs to a conservative household; it was her mother who discouraged her entering what is perceived to be a male-only field. However, Ayesha persevered against long standing social taboos and pursued her dream of representing her country.

Due to her position in the air force, scores of women are now encouraged to follow their aspirations without the fear of condemnation. According to reports, there are now three hundred and sixteen women in the air force compared to only a hundred five years ago. Ayesha Farooq is not only a symbol of the direction where the country is going, but she is an idol that young boys and girls alike can look up to.

Note: Today, in addition to Ayesha there are 5 other battle ready female fighter pilots in the Pakistan Air Force.


2. Benazir Bhutto

benazir bhutto

Photo: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Probably the most famous Pakistani women in the Western world, Benazir Bhutto was from a very young age groomed to lead. The daughter of the famous Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the founder of the leftist PPP party, Benazir was cast into the spotlight from a very young age. Benazir thrust herself into the political scene fresh from graduating from Oxford; many colleagues commented that she was destined to change the fortunes of the country.

In the years following the assassination of her father, Benazir became the leader of the PPP; this was a revolutionary step as she became the first women to head a major political party in Pakistan. Known for her unwavering ethics and astute political knowhow, Bhutto was revered by all strata of the society. Her views of the future of Pakistan revolved predominantly around the idea of secularism and industrial growth. Appreciated as an unbelievable orator, Bhutto had a magnetic personality which bode very well with the voters.

She became the first Muslim women in Asia to become the head of the country, coming to power in 1988. Her second term in office however had to face some major roadblocks, the brunt of them caused by the unpredictable economic climate. In 1997 charges of corruption and fraud were levied against her, this forced her out of power, leading to her exile to Dubai in 1999.

In 2007, she agreed to a deal with the then President, all charges were dropped against her and she returned to the country. However, tragically while delivering a speech at a political rally, Bhutto was allegedly shot at from close range by a still unidentified assailant; she died a few hours later in the Hospital.

Benazir was revered in the society, given the nicknames of “The Iron Lady” to “BB”, she played an instrumental role in the history of the country. Like her father she possessed the power to lead a nation, she was charismatic, hard working and intelligent. Even after her death, chants of Aaj bhi Bhutto Zinda hay (Even today Bhutto is alive) reverberate around every time her political party holds a march.

Thousands upon thousands of mourners descended upon her burial place to pay their respects to Benazir, today her grave has become a virtual mausoleum that supporters periodically visit to pay their respects.


1. Fatima Jinnah

Muhammad Ali Jinnah with Fatima Jinnah

The country of Pakistan would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Fatima Jinnah, also known as Madar-e-Millat (Mother of the Nation). Trained as a dental surgeon, early on in her career she abandoned this field and took a keen interest in politics. Like her brother, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Fatima was incredibly likable and at times frustratingly stubborn.

The two nation theory which was passed by Sir Syed, had no stronger supporter than Fatima. A leader of the All India Muslim league, she was a strong advocate against the British Raj and did not agree with the communities of the Muslims and Hindus living together in a united India. On the contrary, she devoted her entire life to the liberation of the Indian Muslims against oppression, playing a key part in the formation of Pakistan.

After the partition, her brother founded the Pakistan’s Women Association, which aimed to help rehabilitate the refugees of partition. The largest city of the country Karachi, alone housed over one and a half million refugees after 1947. Fatima Jinnah was in charge of coming up with solutions of the refugee problem, she also was a regular visitor to refugee camps and empathized with the plight of the people.

She was at the side of her brother on his deathbed, being amongst the few people who knew about the state of his health. Muhammad Jinnah had been a long time sufferer of Tuberculosis; he hid this fact from the public eye because he felt that if disclosed, it would jeopardize the chances of Pakistan gaining independence.

She did not remain politically active until 1965, when she lost an extremely controversial election which sent shockwaves around the country. It was alleged that the winner of the election, Ayub Khan, engaged in widespread rigging which won him the election.

East Pakistan, modern day Bangladesh, was appalled and many Bengalis took to the streets protesting the undemocratic appointment of Ayub Khan. Known for her political and philanthropic work, Fatima Jinnah was one of a kind. Without her constant support to her brother, coupled with her steely determination and political knowhow, the dream of an independent Muslim state would never come to fruition.


Honorable Mentions

The following individuals also deserve a mention in our list of great women that changed Pakistan forever:

  • Samina Baig (first Pakistani and the youngest Muslim woman to climb Mount Everest)
  • Begum Mahmooda Salim Khan (West Pakistan’s first woman cabinet minister)
  • Shaista Suhrawardy Ikramullah (the first woman elected member of the Constituent Assembly in 1947)

Feel free to share a few more influential Pakistani women in the comments section below!