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Pakistan’s Women of Substance: How They Broke Barriers and Made History

Pakistan is a country that has often been stereotyped as a patriarchal and conservative society, where women are oppressed and marginalized. However, this narrative ignores the many achievements and contributions of Pakistani women, who have defied the odds and made headlines for their remarkable feats. In this article, we will celebrate some of the most prominent female figures in the history of Pakistan, who have broken barriers in various fields and inspired generations of women to follow their dreams.

Fatima Jinnah: The Mother of the Nation

Fatima Jinnah was the sister of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, and a staunch supporter of his vision for a democratic and progressive nation. She was a dentist by profession, but also a political activist, a social worker, and a leader of the women's movement in Pakistan. She played a vital role in the Pakistan Movement, mobilizing women to participate in the struggle for independence from British colonial rule. She also contested the presidential election in 1965 against the military dictator Ayub Khan, challenging his authoritarian regime and advocating for civil rights and democracy. She is widely revered as the Mother of the Nation and a symbol of courage and resilience.

Benazir Bhutto: The First Female Prime Minister of the Muslim World

Benazir Bhutto was a trailblazer in Pakistani politics, becoming the first female prime minister of the country and the Muslim world in 1988. She was also the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, another former prime minister who was executed by General Zia-ul-Haq in 1979. She inherited her father's charisma and popularity, as well as his legacy of championing democracy, social justice, and economic development. She faced many challenges and threats during her two terms in office, from political opponents, religious extremists, and military establishment. She was assassinated in 2007, while campaigning for the general elections, leaving behind a lasting impact on Pakistani society and politics.

Bilquis Edhi: A humanitarian, philanthropist, and Social Worker

Bilquis Edhi is a humanitarian, philanthropist, and social worker. She is the wife and partner of the late Abdul Sattar Edhi, the founder of the Edhi Foundation, the largest and most trusted charity organization in Pakistan. She has been working with the Edhi Foundation since 1965, managing and supervising various projects and services, such as orphanages, women’s shelters, maternity homes, adoption centres, and ambulance services. She has also personally cared for and adopted hundreds of abandoned and orphaned children, giving them a new life and a new family. She has been honoured with many awards and recognitions, such as the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the Lenin Peace Prize, the Mother Teresa Award, and the Nishan-e-Imtiaz.

Asima Jahangir: A Human Rights Lawyer and Activist

Asima Jahangir was a renowned human rights lawyer, activist, and icon. She was the co-founder and chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), the first female president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran. She fought for the rights of women, minorities, children, prisoners, and oppressed groups in Pakistan and beyond. She also defended many victims of blasphemy, honour killings, domestic violence, and political persecution. She was a fearless and outspoken critic of the military, the judiciary, and the religious establishment, and faced many threats and attacks for her work. She received numerous awards and honours for her services, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the Martin Ennals Award, the Hilal-i-Imtiaz, and the Nishan-e-Imtiaz. She passed away in 2018, leaving behind a legacy of courage, compassion, and justice.

Mussarat Hilali: The First Female Judge of PHC

Mussarat Hilali is a distinguished and respected judge and jurist. She is the first female judge of the Peshawar High Court and the first female chief justice of the Federal Shariat Court. She has also served as a judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Supreme Court of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. She has presided over many landmark cases and delivered landmark judgments, especially on matters related to women’s rights, family law, and Islamic law. She has also been a vocal advocate for judicial reforms, judicial independence, and judicial accountability. She is a member of the Judicial Commission of Pakistan, the National Judicial Policy Making Committee, and the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan.

Malala Yousafzai: The Youngest Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

Malala Yousafzai is a global icon of education, human rights, and peace. She was born in Swat Valley, where she witnessed the rise of Taliban militants who imposed harsh restrictions on women's education and freedom. She refused to be silenced by their intimidation and violence, and spoke out for her right to go to school. She was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012, when she was only 15 years old, but miraculously survived and recovered. She became an international advocate for girls' education, co-founding the Malala Fund, a non-profit organization that supports girls' education projects around the world. She also became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, sharing it with Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi.

Abida Parveen: A Legendary Sufi Singer

Abida Parveen is a legendary and revered singer, musician, and composer. She is widely regarded as the Queen of Sufi Music and one of the greatest singers of all time. She has a powerful and mesmerizing voice that transcends language and religion, and expresses the mystical and spiritual essence of Sufism. She sings in various languages, such as Urdu, Sindhi, Punjabi, Persian, Arabic, and Turkish, and performs various genres, such as ghazals, kafis, qawwalis, and folk songs. She has a huge and loyal fan base across the world, and has performed at many prestigious venues and festivals, such as the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, the World Economic Forum, and the Coke Studio. She has also received many awards and accolades, such as the Pride of Performance, the Sitara-e-Imtiaz, the Hilal-e-Imtiaz, and the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Lux Style Awards.

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: The First Pakistani to Win an Oscar

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is a renowned filmmaker and journalist, who has made history by becoming the first Pakistani to win an Academy Award (Oscar) in 2012. She won it for her documentary Saving Face, which exposed the issue of acid attacks on women in Pakistan. She won another Oscar in 2016 for her documentary A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, which highlighted the problem of honor killings in Pakistan. She has also won several other prestigious awards, such as Emmy Awards, Peabody Awards, and Lux Style Awards. She is also the founder of SOC Films, a film production company that focuses on social justice and human rights issues.

Nergis Mavalvala: The First Pakistani to Win a Breakthrough Prize

Nergis Mavalvala is a distinguished physicist and professor at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), who has made groundbreaking discoveries in the field of gravitational waves. She was part of the team that detected gravitational waves for the first time in 2015, confirming Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity. She also developed innovative techniques to reduce noise and enhance sensitivity in laser interferometers, which are used to measure gravitational waves. She was awarded the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics in 2016 for her contributions to this scientific breakthrough. She is also the first Pakistani to win this prize, which is considered one of the most prestigious awards in science.

Namira Salim: The First Pakistani to Travel to Space

Namira Salim is an adventurer and explorer, who has achieved many feats that few people can dream of. She is the first Pakistani to travel to both poles of the Earth, reaching the North Pole in 2007 and the South Pole in 2008. She is also the first Pakistani to travel to space as a private citizen, becoming one of the founding members of Virgin Galactic's Future Astronauts. She is also an artist and a diplomat, who has created several artworks inspired by her space travels and has represented Pakistan as a peace ambassador at various international forums. She is also the founder of Space Trust, a non-profit organization that promotes peace and harmony through space exploration.

Mahrang Baloch: A Voice for the Voiceless in Balochistan

The Baloch Yakjehti Committee (BYC) organized a long march from Turbat to Quetta, the capital city of Balochistan, to demand justice for Balach Baloch, who was allegedly killed by the CTD in a fake encounter. The march was led by Mahrang Baloch, a doctor and an activist, who has been fighting for the rights of the Baloch people against enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. The march faced brutal repression and arrests by the authorities, but also gained global support and recognition. Hasan Raheem, a famous singer from Joona, praised Mahrang as a “real hero” for her courage and leadership.

Naila Kiani: A Mountaineer and Adventurer

Naila Kiani, who has a diverse background as an aerospace engineer and banker, and is also a mother of two, made a significant mark in the world of mountaineering in 2023. She joined the elite group of seven climbers worldwide who managed to summit multiple peaks within a span of six months. Her extraordinary feats, which include ascending Mount Everest, K2, Lhotse, and Nanga Parbat among others, earned her recognition from the President of Pakistan in December 2021. Kiani’s unwavering determination and impressive accomplishments position her as an inspiring figure for budding mountaineers, adventurers, and women all over the world.

ASP Shehrbano Naqvi: A Brave Police Officer

ASP Shehrbano Naqvi is one of the youngest and bravest female police officers in Pakistan. She joined the Punjab Police in 2019 as an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) and is currently posted in Gulberg, Lahore. She has been involved in several high-profile cases and operations, including rescuing a woman from a violent mob that accused her of blasphemy in Ichra, Lahore. For her courageous act, she was nominated for the prestigious Quaid-e-Azam Police Medal, the highest recognition for bravery in law enforcement.


Pakistani women have consistently shown their strength and potential. They have overcome obstacles, defied expectations, and made significant achievements in many areas, including politics, sports, science, and the arts. Their tenacity, resolve, and bravery inspire the next generation. These influential women have not only transformed perceptions within Pakistan but have also gained recognition worldwide. Their journeys demonstrate the power of persistence and the unyielding spirit of women. Pakistani women will continue to pioneer and push limits. Their efforts shine a light on the path towards a more inclusive, fair, and thriving Pakistan.

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