A Brief History Of Women Rights in Pakistan

A Brief History Of Women Rights In Pakistan

Pakistan’s women’s rights movement has a long and complex history spanning several decades. The movement has been characterized by struggles for equal rights[1], political representation, and social justice for women in the country. It has not been an easy journey, and it is not over yet. A lot of work still needs to be done so that women in Pakistan enjoy a better societal position.

The feminist movement in Pakistan has its roots in the early 20th century, with the formation of the All India Women’s Conference in 1927. The conference was founded by a group of prominent women activists, including Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan (wife of the first Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan) and Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz[2], who worked towards improving the status of women in British India (before the Partition).

The first significant victory for women’s rights in Pakistan came in 1947 when the country gained independence from British colonial rule. The new constitution of Pakistan guaranteed equal rights for all citizens, regardless of gender, race, or religion. However, the reality on the ground differed, with women facing discrimination and marginalization in many spheres of life. On paper, women were guaranteed equal rights, but the situation on the ground was starkly different.

In the 1970s, a new wave of feminist activism emerged in Pakistan, driven by a group of young women inspired by the global feminist movement. The movement focused on domestic violence, reproductive rights, and the need for women’s political representation.

One of the most significant achievements of Pakistan’s women’s rights movement was passing the Women’s Protection Bill in 2006. The bill introduced several necessary reforms, including criminalizing domestic violence, strengthening women’s rights in marriage and divorce, and increasing women’s access to education and employment.

Despite these victories, Pakistan’s women’s rights movement continues to face challenges. Women in the country still face discrimination and violence, particularly in more conservative areas. The movement is also hampered by a lack of resources and institutional support, with many activists working voluntarily.

[1] – Equal rights refer to the fundamental principle that all individuals should be treated equally under the law, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or any other personal characteristic. This means that everyone should have the same opportunities, rights, and protections without any form of discrimination, bias, or prejudice.

In the context of women’s rights, equal rights mean that women should have the same legal and social status as men and should be able to enjoy the same rights and opportunities in all spheres of life, including education, employment, politics, and social interactions.

The concept of equal rights has been enshrined in many international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). These instruments recognize the importance of gender equality as a human right and call for eliminating all forms of discrimination against women.

[2] – Jahanara Shahnawaz (1896-1979) was a pioneering women’s rights activist in Pakistan who played a significant role in the women’s movement in the country. She was born in Lahore, British India, and was educated at Lahore College and the University of London.

Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz
Old newspaper photo of Begum Jahanara

Shahnawaz was a founding member of the All India Women’s Conference (AIWC), which was established in 1927 to promote women’s rights and social justice in India. She served as the president of the AIWC from 1942 to 1946 and later became the first woman to be elected to the legislative assembly of Punjab province in 1937.

Throughout her career, Shahnawaz was a vocal advocate for women’s rights and worked tirelessly to improve the status of women in Pakistan. She was particularly focused on women’s education and employment issues and was a strong proponent of women’s political representation.

Shahnawaz also played an essential role in the Pakistani movement, leading to the country’s establishment in 1947. She was a member of the All India Muslim League and one of the few women actively participating in the movement.

Despite facing significant challenges and obstacles as a woman in a male-dominated society, Shahnawaz remained committed to her work for women’s rights throughout her life. She was a trailblazer and a role model for generations of women’s rights activists in Pakistan and beyond.

Today, Shahnawaz is remembered as a pioneering figure in Pakistan’s women’s rights movement, and her contributions to the cause of gender equality continue to inspire and guide activists worldwide.

If you want to learn more on the subject, I recommend some books on the history of the women’s rights movement in Pakistan. You should check out (not in any particular order):

  1. “Feminism and the Women’s Movement in Pakistan: Actors, Debates and Strategies” by Rubina Saigol.
  2. “The Women’s Movement in Pakistan: Activism, Islam and Democracy” by Ayesha Khan and Sadaf Aziz.
  3. “Gender and Politics in Pakistan: The Role of the Women’s Movement” by Farida Shaheed.
  4. “Women’s Empowerment and the Women’s Movement in Pakistan” by Huma Naz Siddiqui.
  5. “The Making of a Moral Movement: The Women’s Action Forum in Pakistan” by Afiya S. Zia.

If you have any questions, comments, or criticism, feel free to comment below or write to us.

Author Profile

Amna Rizvi (@amnamrizvi) is a young female entrepreneur working in the tech field. She is passionate about using technology to solve problems and improve people’s lives. Amna’s background is in computer science, and she deeply understands programming and software development. She is a strong advocate for diversity and inclusivity in the tech industry. She believes everyone should be able to succeed in tech, regardless of their background or gender.


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