Women have always played an active role in the guidance and consultation, be it in politics or leadership. A number of examples are on the record of our history where women have been rulers or assisted the rulers in their affairs or have exhibited tremendous intellectual efforts for the reform and betterment of the society. As for the Sub-continent, list of those women is quite large who have very significantly elevated the status and grandeur of women by virtue of their devoted efforts and activism for the cause of social welfare, the struggle for freedom and Pakistan Movement. These great ladies bore enthusiasm for social uplift and high qualities of leadership, sincerity, intellect, courage and command. With their male colleagues, they stood hand in hand, to offer strong resistance against the British, the Hindus and the Sikhs. Here, these ladies showed such degree of patience, exemplary sacrifice and intellectual expertise that their participation in the politics enabled them win a respectable place for the Muslims of the Sub-continent. To quote an example, Bi Amman 'Ummu/ Ahrar I (Mother of the freedom fighters) in support of the two-nation theory, nurtured political consciousness among the Muslim women, sparked the light of freedom in their hearts and inspired them to come out into the active politics.
Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah always guided, encouraged the Muslim women and praised them for their excellent performance for the organization, unity and socio-political services of the Muslims. The Muslim women including a large number of young girls are worth remembering as they worked with great steadfastness, devotion and voluntarily in diversified spheres like training and education of young girls and of adults, management of national guards and first-aid training etc.
Among the pioneers was Ms. Fatima Jinnah known as Madar-e-Millat (Mother of the Nation) who was the first lady to have inspired and organized the Muslim women for the struggle of freedom. Well prior to independence of Pakistan, political and social struggle of the Muslim women concentrated on freedom from the oppressive powers. At that stage, ladies of the elite, in particular, gave a solid helping hand to the men, in. their social and political efforts. However, women from the middle class also prominently shared this endeavor.
At a stage when the Movement for Pakistan was close to meet its fate, these ladies came up with such fervour that the British government itself was convinced that it was no more possible to resist making of Pakistan. Not only those Hindus, who used to ridicule the veil of these women, were taken aback at the courage and valour of these women, but even Quaid-e-Azam could not remain without offering deep appreciation to these ladies for their services. He used to say that women in Pakistan will have right on half the country as they have offered equal sacrifices with the men. These women, under the leadership of Quaid-e-Azam, finally materialized the dream of Pakistan. It is worth admiring that they maintained the degree of their devotion, dedication and service even after Pakistan became independent. It is hard to find such examples of courage and perseverance of women in the history of the world. In the form of developing Pakistan their struggle continues even today.
After independence in 1947, these women formed bodies and organizations to establish platform where they cold exhibit their leadership qualities and opinion and where they could initiating work towards achievement of their objectives. Since that time, such organizations have been engaged in the social and political cause of the women. The famous lady Begum Ra'na Liaquat Ali Khan led a group of active ladies coming from families well known for their role in politics and society. Months and years passed on and responsibilities kept on shifting hands till these obligations were owned by Bilqees Edhi known as 'Madar-e-Insaniyat' (Mother of the humanity) whose sacrifices and devotion is not limited to her country, but their benefits are experienced in many parts of the world.
A feature of her great efforts is that she has earned respect and honour for the women of Pakistan in the world.
Begum Jahan Ara Shah Nawaz and Begum Shaista Ikramullah were the first ladies to represent in the first Legislative Assembly of Pakistan. Out of their deep sincerity for the rights of women, they managed inclusion of rights for women, in the Constitution of the country, and played an active role in formation of laws that would promote women's rights and their participation in national affairs. It was obvious that ladies from a particular class of the society continued women's participation and representation and, importantly, acquired general support for legal reforms. The Muslim Personal Law of 1948, demand for Special Seats for Women in 1956, the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance 1961 and passing of Muslim Personal Law under Constitution of 1962 all owe to persistent struggle of these ladies.
The most significant moment in the political history, that assigns prominence to the political character of women, was the decision of Ms. Fatima Jinnah to contest the presidential elections. A unique element here was that a woman had accepted a tough challenge to contest a dictator where a number of renowned and powerful male political leaders could not find the courage to do so. She was the one to raise her voice against a dictator. Had the elections been fair, Ms. Jinnah must have won. Although Ayub Khan managed his victory in the elections, but the brave. woman had cracked the foundations of dictatorship that finally constrained him give up and abandon power. At the time of these elections, the tactic of dishonesty was applied by the dictator to keep his grip over the power, and so, discrimination of gender was observed despite the truth that achievement of independence of Pakistan was a result of combined political efforts by both men and women. Contest in the presidential elections by Ms. Fatima Jinnah was a step to initiate democracy in the country. Beyond any doubt, her courage became a role model for rest of the women of the Muslim world. Given elections had been fair, she would become the first woman president in the world.
Then came the Bhutto era and at that time women, in the light of the theory of economic rights, continued their struggle for their status and reservations in the society. Toward this end, women from the urban areas did a commendable job in forwarding their demands and mobilizing movements for the women, by way of forming a number of women organizations. Realizing the increasing participation of women in politics, the political parties could no more neglect them and had to formally introduce women's wings in their parties. This paved women‚€™s way for getting access not only to National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies but also to the Senate. With their new social profile, they established their distinguished place in various institutions. General elections and formation of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) during Gen. Ziaul Haque's period helped women move ahead in the political arena. Later, some of the women became important political figures in the country. Now using political tone, they demanded their rights with more vigor. At the same time, the women outside assemblies condemned dictatorship of Gen. Zia and supported the movement against martial law. It is a historical fact that in the case of Nusrat Bhutto, for the first time, a woman, referring to Constitution, had condemned martial law and dictatorship. Prior to that, Ms. Fatima Jinnah had played iron lady against Ayub Khan's dictatorship. Later, a young, intellectual and dynamic young woman Benazir Bhutto (also known as Daughter of Democracy) was trained by her father and the then Prime Minister, Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto to be perseverant toward the cause of democracy. Despite her young age, she concentrated with full devotion and energy to restore democracy in the country. Her dynamic leadership inspired a number of women to come forward and prove their worth in the political scenario. They recognized the value of their rights and the ways to acquire these rights. This followed several women organizations starting joint struggle against the unfair governmental orders and measures and for women's freedom. This turned them into a far organized and important strength.
A new and pleasant era of democracy commenced when Benazir Bhutto became world's first and the youngest Prime Minister. After forty years of independence, a woman had the honour to lead the country. As a genius politician, she was already famous in many countries of the world. It was a very special honor for all the women of the Muslim world that Benazir held the office of the Prime Minister twice. Her tenure enabled a number of women becoming ministers and advisors, Deputy Speakers of Assemblies and Senators. For women, a separate ministry was established and women were seen in every ministry and department. Even during Nawaz Sharifs government, important offices like those of the opposition leader in the National Assembly, ambassadors and ministers were held by women.
This dissertation highlights not only w(,men's role in their struggle for political movements and social welfare, but it also introduces those courageous ladies who, in their individual or organizational capacity, are or have been instrumental in the struggle aimed at bringing changes in the country. These ladies include a common house lady like Fatima Jinnah who, submitting to the call of the Quaid-e-Azam to unite under the flag of Muslim League and acquire a separate land Pakistan, worked tirelessly and most sincerely in the Pakistan Movement until Pakistan became a reality. Besides, those women are also mentioned who have promoted the cause of development, progress and solidarity of the country and worked for the uplift of women's status and role in the society. These include politicians, social workers, lawyers, doctors, journalists, artistes and workers and founders of Non-Government Organization. It must be admitted and applauded that these courageous women have not only created awareness among the women about their strength and importance, but also have indicated the platforms where their demands could meet success.