If you’re looking for important female figures in Pakistani society, you’re in the right place. Continue reading to discover seven inspirational women who are changing the face of modern Pakistan.
1. Yasmeen Lari (1941 – present)
Pakistan’s first female architect, Yasmeen Lari, started her career in the early 1990s with some of the country’s most iconic buildings, including the Taj Mahal Hotel and Angoori Bagh Housing (Pakistan’s first public housing developments). In response to the 2005 earthquake, Lari devoted her work to creating new homes for nearly half a million Pakistanis.
She developed a low-cost, carbon-free way of using renewable materials to build sustainable and disaster-proof structures. Her foundation has since built more than 50,000 houses for victims of floods and earthquakes. The 80-year-old architect was awarded the prestigious Jane Drew architecture prize in 2020.
2. Maria Umar (1974 – present)
Maria Umar is the founder of Women’s Digital League (WDL), an online portal that provides digital services to women in Pakistan. WDL aims to help an underserved female workforce that has trouble finding opportunities. After being refused maternity leave, Umar quit her job as a teacher and began taking jobs as a freelancer on oDesk (now Upwork). At this time, she noticed the potential for a female freelancer portal.
WDL focuses on females who either need to stay at home like pregnant women and primary carers or those based in rural areas. Many of these women lack the required access, equipment, and training to work online. WDL provides these services and enables women to work remotely in several fields such as coding and graphic design.
3. Malala Yousafzai (1997 – present)
Malala is a great advocate of education, particularly in parts of the world where girls cannot even go to school. The self-titled “voice of the voiceless”, she started blogging about life in Pakistan for the BBC at the age of 11. When she started writing about women’s rights, she began to receive death threats.
At the age of 15, she was shot in the head by a lone gunman but fortunately survived the attack. In 2014, she became the youngest-ever Nobel Laureate, winning the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi. She continues to be a champion for girls’ rights to education and also runs her charity, the Malala Fund. In addition, International Malala Day is celebrated every year on July 12 to salute her activism.
4. Bilquis Bano Edhi (1947 – present)
Bilquis Bano Edhi is a professional nurse and one of the most active philanthropists in Pakistan. She has been nicknamed The Mother of Pakistan. She heads the Bilquis Edhi Foundation and received the 1986 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service along with her husband, Abdul Sattar Edhi. Her foundation runs many services in Pakistan including a hospital, an emergency service in Karachi, and a charity that has saved over 16,000 unwanted babies.
The Bilquis Edhi Foundation was started by Abdul Sattar Edhi with the mission to provide aid to Pakistan’s poor and down-trodden. Today, in addition to domestic services, the foundation is a major resource for assisting victims of overseas disasters.
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5. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (1978 – present)
Two-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is a staunch advocate for women’s empowerment. Despite constant censorship, her films often expose “anti-women” sentiments in Pakistani society.
In 2012, she won her first Academy Award for her documentary, Saving Face. The film follows a Pakistani plastic surgeon as he performs reconstructive surgery on the survivors of acid attacks. Four years later, she won another Oscar for A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness about honour killings in Pakistan.
“It’s very hard being a woman in Pakistan and speaking your mind. You know there will be an attempt to silence you. And the more people do that to me, the more I know I am being successful.”
6. Namira Salim (1975 – present)
Namira Salim is a Pakistani polar adventurer and artist. On the recommendation of the Pakistani government, she was appointed as an honorary consul of Pakistan to Monaco in 2011, following her efforts to establish diplomatic relations between the two countries. She is the first Pakistani to have reached both the North and South Pole.
She is also set to hold another distinction shortly. That’s because Salim is the only Pakistani to purchase a ticket for Virgin Galactic’s future commercial space liner. If all goes to plan, Salim will become the first Pakistani to go into space.
7. Zahida Kazmi (1959 – present)
For those that don’t know, Zahida became Pakistan’s first female taxi driver in 1992. Before her long driving career, Kazmi worked as a domestic helper and later at a cloth factory.
After her divorce aged 33, she decided to become a taxi driver, a male-dominated profession. Exposing herself to the hot, bustling city roads of Islamabad and adjoining districts, Zahida has discovered a lot about the country she lives in along with its people. But it wasn’t all plain sailing initially. Being a woman working alone, Zahida at first kept a gun in the car for her own protection.
Still working as a taxi driver, Kazmi has also served as chairman of the All Pakistan Yellow Cab Federation.