“No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you” – Founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah
In the annals of history, the Pakistan Movement stands as a testament to the persistent determination, resilience, and sacrifice of individuals who yearned for a homeland that resonated with their aspirations. Among the unsung heroes who contributed significantly to this struggle were the women of Pakistan. Their stories, often overshadowed by the broader narrative, are a remarkable chapter of dedication, courage, and vision. This article is a tribute to the women who stood at the forefront, leaving an indelible mark on the trajectory of Pakistan’s formation. Their contributions spanned the spectrum of literature, politics, humanitarian efforts, and advocacy, making them beacons of inspiration for generations to come. This Independence Day we give a roaring salute to the extraordinary women who wove their bravery into the fabric of our nation’s birth. From the corridors of politics to the symphony of art, these women marched, wrote, protested, and rallied, ensuring that the flag of Pakistan fluttered high against all odds.
1. Fatima Jinnah
Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, the beloved and nurturing sister of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was born on July 30, 1893, in Karachi. Although she had a successful career as a qualified dentist, she chose to abandon her practice after the tragic passing of Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s wife in 1929. This marked a turning point as she transformed into a dedicated confidante and advisor to her elder brother.
Her active involvement in the All-India Muslim League was noteworthy, particularly as she assumed the role of Vice President within the women’s wing. In an insightful piece penned by Professor Sharif al Mujahid titled “An Enduring Legacy,” it is highlighted that Fatima Jinnah’s mere presence beside Jinnah during the 1940s was an unspoken lesson for Muslim women: to stand shoulder to shoulder with men during the fight for freedom.
A profound bond linked Fatima Jinnah and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, with their cohabitation spanning 28 years. She steadfastly stood by her brother’s side, never abandoning him, irrespective of the circumstances. In one instance, Muhammad Ali Jinnah eloquently expressed, “My sister was a beacon of light and optimism whenever I returned home and met her. My worries would have been weightier, and my health would have suffered more, if not for her calming influence.”
As the transfer of power transpired in 1947, she established the Women’s Relief Committee, which later evolved into the cornerstone of the All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA), an organization initiated by Rana Liaquat Ali Khan. Fatima Jinnah’s contributions were instrumental in the resettlement of Muhajirs (migrants) in the nascent state of Pakistan. In a momentous speech to the nation in 1967, she left an indelible mark with her words, cautioning that ‘the timid experience multiple deaths, whereas the courageous taste death only once.’
2. Begum Rana Liaquat Ali Khan
Born in the serene village of Kumaon nestled in the mountains, Begum Ra’ana was a woman of remarkable intellect and independence, far ahead of her era. Her speeches and public statements were a testament to her enlightened perspective, painting her as a beacon of progressiveness. Among the illustrious women who played pivotal roles during the Pakistan Movement, she stands out, having worked hand in hand with her husband and contributing significantly to the nation’s progress post-independence.
In the wake of the Partition, Begum Ra’ana’s compassionate heart reached out to the refugees who made the arduous journey from India. Her legacy took root with the creation of the All Pakistan Women’s Association in 1949, a mere two years after Pakistan’s birth. Notably, her foresight recognized a critical need for women’s involvement in the nation’s defense. Observing a shortage of nurses in coastal areas, she advocated for the training of women in paramilitary forces. This led to the establishment of the Pakistan Women’s National Guard (PWNG) and Pakistan Women’s Naval Reserve, underlining her conviction that Pakistani women should be equal participants in safeguarding their homeland.
Her leadership extended to humanitarian efforts too. With a keen eye on the well-being of her compatriots, she spearheaded initiatives in administering first aid, organizing food distribution, addressing health concerns, battling epidemics, and ensuring proper clothing. Her influence extended beyond the tangible; she provided moral and emotional support, illuminating the path forward for those she touched.
Begum Raana served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the Netherlands in the 1950s and as ambassador to Italy in the 1960s. From 1973 to 1976, she was elected Governor of Sindh. She was the first Muslim woman to delegate to the UN (1952). She received the Jane Adam’s Medal (USA) and Woman of Achievement Medal (USA) in 1950, Mother of Pakistan in 1950 (USA), Nishan-i-Imtiaz in 1959, Grand Cross of Orange Nassau in 1961 (the Netherlands), International Gimbel Award for service to humanity (1961-1962).
3. Begum Jehan Ara Shah Nawaz
Among the remarkable Indian Muslim women who left an indelible mark on the Pakistan Movement, Begum Shahnawaz stands tall. A prominent figure, she participated as a female representative at all three Round Table Conferences. Born in 1896, she completed her education at Lahore’s Queen Mary School and dedicated herself to the cause of the Subcontinent’s Muslim population.
An active member of the All India Muslim Women Conference, she was a trailblazer, becoming the first woman to hold the position of Provincial Executive Vice President. Her efforts bore fruit when the Muslim League passed a significant resolution in 1932, advocating for gender equality. She championed the inclusion of Muslim women in political discourse alongside men.
Her political journey was extensive. She was deeply involved in the All India Muslim Women’s Conference, serving as the president of its provincial branch and the vice president of the Central Committee. Additionally, she contributed her services to medical and welfare centers, showcasing her commitment to public welfare.
Begum Shahnawaz’s influence extended beyond local platforms. She participated as a woman delegate in the Round Table Conference and founded the Punjab Provincial Women’s Muslim League in 1935. Elected to the Punjab Legislative Assembly in 1937, she assumed the role of Parliamentary Secretary for Education, Medical Relief, and Public Health.
Amid her dedication, she faced political challenges. In 1942, her refusal to adhere to the Muslim League’s call for members to resign from the National Defense Council led to her dismissal from the party. Undeterred, she played a vital role during the Civil Disobedience Movement in Punjab in 1947, even enduring arrest alongside fellow Muslim League leaders.
In 1946, Begum Shahnawaz reclaimed her place within the League, earning a seat in the Punjab Assembly and embarking on a goodwill mission to the United States with M. A. H. Isphahani. Their mission was to articulate the Muslim League’s perspectives to a global audience, amplifying the voices of those striving for a separate nation.
4.Begum Salma Tassaduq Hussain
Salma Mehmoda, born in 1908 to a family immersed in literature and scholarship, epitomized dedication and versatility. Holding a degree from the University of Punjab, she embodied the roles of a writer, poet, translator, and fervent champion of freedom. Her roots in a family of education and culture set the stage for her remarkable journey.
Immersing herself in the realm of politics, Salma Mehmoda became an integral part of the Punjab Provincial Women Subcommittee. In 1940, her appointment as one of its secretaries marked her commitment to contributing to her community. The following year, her nomination to the Council of the All India Muslim League demonstrated her growing influence.
By April 1943, Salma Mehmoda’s dedication led her to serve the Central Subcommittee of the All India Muslim League, solidifying her role as a proactive leader. Her commitment to the cause saw her contest the 1946 elections on the Muslim League ticket for the Punjab Provincial Assembly seat from inner Lahore, securing a resounding victory that mirrored her overwhelming support.
A defining moment emerged during the Bihar riots when Begum Tassaduq’s tireless efforts provided refuge for countless displaced individuals, transforming her residence into a sanctuary of hope. Her leadership extended to conferences as well; she represented the Muslim League at the Conference of Kisan Sabha, leaving an unforgettable mark.
When asked about the pursuit of Pakistan, Begum Tassaduq’s response was rooted in the desire for religious freedom. With a staunch belief in the necessity of an independent homeland, she emphasized that this aspiration was not about discord but about securing the space to practice one’s faith and uphold traditions.
Begum Tassaduq’s active membership in the Women’s League exemplified her dedication to women’s participation in the political arena. As the Pakistan Movement gained momentum, Muslim women demonstrated their political awareness, education, and activism, setting them apart from their counterparts in other communities.
The legacy of Begum Tassaduq and her contemporaries serves as a guiding light for present-day Pakistani women. They embody the spirit of working for a collective purpose, one that transcends individual aspirations – the development and fortification of Pakistan.
Happy Independence Day!