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Women in Pakistan

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Women in Pakistan

Women in Pakistan
Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was the first woman elected to lead a Muslim state,[1] having twice been Prime Minister of Pakistan (1988–1990; 1993–1996).

The status of women in Pakistan is one of systemic gender subordination even though it varies considerably across classes, regions, and the rural/urban divide due to uneven socioeconomic development and the impact of tribal, feudal, and capitalist social formations on women's lives. The Pakistani women of today do, however, enjoy a better status than the past.[2][3]

The stance of religious bodies has been mainly antagonistic towards women. Even rape victims have not been allowed to use DNA evidence to prove their cases,[4] however the All Pakistan Ulema Council recently issued fatwas denouncing "honour killings"[5] Other improvements are also being made as Lahore has inaugurated its first service of lady traffic wardens to manage the traffic [6] and even the country's most conservative province is planning to increase the percentage of women in the police force.[7]

Even with these improvements the situation of women in Pakistan remains dire with rampant domestic abuse, high rate of child marriages and forced marriages. Pakistan is currently the third worst country in the world for women. According to reports by new economy "Many of Pakistan’s cultural and religious practices pose a huge threat to women, particularly child and forced marriage, acid attacks and punishment by stoning." [8][9]


  • History 1
    • Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Government 1.1
    • Zia-ul-Haq's military régime 1.2
    • Benazir Bhutto Government 1.3
    • Nawaz Sharif Government 1.4
    • Pervez Musharraf's régime 1.5
    • President Asif Zardari 1.6
      • Appointment of Women 1.6.1
      • Legislation for protection of women 1.6.2
  • Practices 2
  • Culture 3
  • Education and economic development 4
    • Education 4.1
    • Employment 4.2
      • Workforce participation 4.2.1
      • Military 4.2.2
    • Land and property rights 4.3
  • Other concerns 5
    • Dress code 5.1
    • Gender roles 5.2
    • Marriage and divorce issues 5.3
    • Health 5.4
    • Sex ratio 5.5
  • Notable women 6
    • Politics and activism 6.1
    • Arts and Entertainment 6.2
    • Sports 6.3
    • Literature 6.4
    • Other fields 6.5
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Fatima Jinnah (1893 – 1967) was a Pakistani dental surgeon, biographer, stateswoman and one of the leading founders of Pakistan

Historically, Muslim reformers such as Fatima Jinnah started to form that worked to eliminate socio-economic injustices against women in the country.

Jinnah points out that Muslim women leaders from all classes actively supported the Pakistan movement in the mid-1940s. Their movement was led by wives and other relatives of leading politicians. Women were sometimes organised into large-scale public demonstrations. Before 1947 there was a tendency for the Muslim women in Punjab to vote for the Muslim League while their menfolk supported the Unionist Party.[10] Many Muslim women supported the Indian National Congress Quit India Movement. Some like Syeda Safia Begum of Muslim Town Lahore started the first English School for Muslim Children in Muslim Town in 1935. Pakistani women were granted the suffrage in 1947 under the Pakistan Ordinance,[11] and they were reaffirmed the right to vote in national elections in 1956 under the interim Constitution.[12] The provision of reservation of seats for women in the Parliament existed throughout the constitutional history of Pakistan from 1956 to 1973.

Had General Ayub Khan run fair elections, Ms. Fatima Jinnah of Pakistan would have become the first Muslim President of the largest Muslim country in the world. However despite that setback, during 1950-60, several pro-women initiatives were taken. The Family Law Ordinance was passed. Also the first woman Lambardar or Numberdar (Village Head Person) in West Pakistan Begum Sarwat Imtiaz took oath in Village 43/12-L in Chichawatni, District Montgomery (now Sahiwal) in 1959.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Government

The regime of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (1970–1977) was a period of liberal attitudes towards women. All government services were opened to women including the district management group and the foreign service (in the civil service), which had been denied to them earlier. About 10% of the seats in the National Assembly and 5% in the provincial assemblies were reserved for women, with no restriction on contesting general seats as well. However, the implementation of these policies was poor as the Government faced a financial crisis due to the war with India and consequent split of the country.[2]

Gender equality was specifically guaranteed in the Constitution of Pakistan adopted in 1973. The constitution stipulates that "there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex alone." The Constitution additionally affords the protection of marriage, family, the mother and the child as well as ensuring "full participation of women in all spheres of national life.".[13] However, many judges upheld the "laws of Islam", often misinterpreted, over the Constitution's guarantee of non-discrimination and equality under the law.[14]

In 1975, an official delegation from Pakistan participated in the First World Conference on Women in Mexico, which led to the constitution of the first Pakistan Women's Rights Committee.

Zia-ul-Haq's military régime

General Zia ul-Haq, then Army Chief of Staff, overthrew the democratically elected Zulfikar Ali Bhutto government in a military coup on 5 July 1977. The Sixth Plan during the martial law régime of General Zia-ul-Haq (1977–1986) was full of policy contradictions. The régime took many steps toward institutional building for women's development, such as the establishment of the Women's Division in the Cabinet Secretariat, and the appointment of another commission on the Status of Women. A chapter on women in development was included for the first time in the Sixth Plan. The chapter was prepared by a working group of 28 professional women headed by Syeda Abida Hussain, chairperson of the Jhang District council at that time. The main objective as stated in the Sixth Plan was "to adopt an integrated approach to improve women's status".[2] In 1981, General Zia-ul-Haq nominated the Majlis-e-Shoora (Federal Advisory Council) and inducted 20 women as members, however Majlis-e-Shoora had no power over the executive branch.[15] In 1985, the National Assembly elected through nonparty elections doubled women's reserved quota (20 percent).

However, Zia-ul-Haq initiated a process of Islamization by introducing discriminatory legislation against women such as the set of Hudood Ordinances and the Qanun-e-Shahadat Order (Law of Evidence Order). He banned women from participating and from being spectators of sports and promoted purdah.[2] He suspended all fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution that had been adopted in 1973, including the right to be free of discrimination on the basis of sex. He also proposed laws regarding Qisas and Diyat, Islamic penal laws governing retribution (qisas) and compensation (diyat) in crimes involving bodily injury. When the victim was a woman, the amount of diyat was halved[16]

The Offence of Zina (Enforcement of Hudood) Ordinance, 1979 was a subcategory of the Hudood Ordinance. Zina is the crime of non-marital sexual relations and adultery. The Zina Ordinance included zina-bil-jabr, the category of forced intercourse. If the woman who accuses a man of zina-bil-jabr (rape) cannot prove to the judicial system that she was raped, she faces adultery charges.[17] In order for a rapist to receive "hadd," the maximum punishment provided for under the Quran, either the rapist must confess to the rape, or four pious adult Muslim men must witness the "act of penetration" itself and testify against the rapist.[18] Under Qanun-e-Shahadat, a woman's testimony was not weighed equally to that of a man.[19] Thus, if a woman does not have male witnesses but does have female witnesses, their testimony would not satisfy the evidence requirement. The perpetrator may be acquitted and the victim may face adultery charges. The threat of being prosecuted discourages victims from filing complaints.

In addition, the legal possibility of marital rape was eliminated; by definition, rape became an extramarital offence according to the Zina ordinance. The ordinance prompted international criticism. Women's rights groups helped in the production of a film titled "Who will cast the first stone?" filmmaker by Sabiha Sumar to highlight the oppression and sufferings of women under the Hudood Ordinances.[20]

In September 1981, the first conviction and sentence under the Zina Ordinance, of stoning to death for Fehmida and Allah Bakhsh were set aside under national and international pressure. In September 1981, women came together in Karachi in an emergency meeting to oppose the adverse effects on women of martial law and the Islamization campaign. They launched what later became the first full-fledged national women's movement in Pakistan, the Women’s Action Forum (WAF). WAF staged public protests and campaigns against the Hudood Ordinances, the Law of Evidence, and the Qisas and Diyat laws (temporarily shelved as a result).[21]

In 1983, an orphaned, thirteen-year-old girl Jehan Mina was allegedly raped by her uncle and his sons, and became pregnant. She was unable to provide enough evidence that she was raped. She was charged with adultery and the court considered her pregnancy as the proof of adultery. She was awarded the Tazir punishment of one hundred lashes and three years of rigorous imprisonment.[22]

In 1983, Safia Bibi, a nearly blind teenaged domestic servant was allegedly raped by her employer and his son. Due to lack of evidence, she was convicted for adultery under the Zina ordinance, while the rapists were acquitted. She was sentenced to fifteen lashes, five years imprisonment, and a fine of 1000 rupees. The decision attracted so much publicity and condemnation from the public and the press that the Federal Shariah Court of its own motion, called for the records of the case and ordered that she should be released from prison on her own bond. Subsequently, on appeal, the finding of the trial court was reversed and the conviction was set aside.[23]

The International Commission of Jurists mission to Pakistan in December 1986 called for repealing of certain sections of the Hudood Ordinances relating to crimes and so-called "Islamic" punishments which discriminate against women and non-Muslims.

There is considerable evidence that legislation during this period has negatively impacted Pakistani women's lives and made them more vulnerable to extreme violence. Majority of women in prison were charged under the Hudood Ordinance. Similarly, a national level study conducted in dar-ul-amans (shelters for women) mentioned that 21% of women had Hudood cases against them.[24] According to a 1998 report by Amnesty International, more than one-third of all Pakistani women in prison were being held due to having been accused or found guilty of zina.[25]

Benazir Bhutto Government

Benazir Bhutto became the first woman elected to lead a Muslim state. She was assassinated while campaigning for the Pakistani general election of 2008.

After Zia-ul-Haq's regime, there was a visible change in the policy context in favour of women. The Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth plans formulated under various democratically elected governments have clearly made efforts to include women's concerns in the planning process. However, planned development failed to address gender inequalities due to the gap between policy intent and implementation.[2]

In 1988, Benazir Bhutto (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's daughter) became the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan, and the first woman elected to head a Muslim country.[26] During her election campaigns, she voiced concerns over social issues of women, health and discrimination against women. She also announced plans to set up women's police stations, courts and women's development banks. She also promised to repeal controversial Hudood laws that curtailed the rights of women However, during her two incomplete terms in office (1988–90 and 1993–96), Benazir Bhutto did not propose any legislation to improve welfare services for women. She was not able to repeal a single one of Zia-ul-Haq's Islamisation laws. By virtue of the eighth constitutional amendment imposed by Zia-ul-Haq, these laws were protected both from ordinary legislative modification and from judicial review.[21]

In early 1988, the case of Shahida Parveen and Muhammad Sarwar sparked bitter public criticism. Shahida's first husband, Khushi Muhammad, had divorced her and the papers had been signed in front of a magistrate. The husband however, had not registered the divorce documents in the local council as required by law, rendering the divorce not legally binding. Unaware of this, Shahida, after her mandatory 96 day period of waiting (iddat), remarried. Her first husband, rebounding from a failed attempt at a second marriage, decided he wanted his first wife Shahida back. Shahida's second marriage was ruled invalid. She and her second husband, Sarwar were charged with adultery. They were sentenced to death by stoning.[22] The public criticism led to their retrial and acquittal by the Federal Shariah Court.

Ministry of Women's Development (MWD) established Women's Studies centres at five universities in Islamabad, Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar, and Lahore in 1989. However, four of these centres became almost non-functional due to lack of financial and administrative support.[2] Only the center at University of Karachi (funded by the Canadian International Development Agency) was able to run a master of arts programme.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on 29 February 1996.[27] The Ministry of Women Development (MWD) is the designated national focal machinery for its implementation. However MWD has been facing lack of adequate resources for the implementation.[2] Pakistan failed to submit its initial report that was due in 1997.[28] Also, Pakistan neither signed nor ratified the Optional Protocol of the Women's Convention, which has led to non-availability of avenues for filing grievances by individuals or groups against Pakistan under CEDAW.[14]

Nawaz Sharif Government

In 1997, Nawaz Sharif, a political protégé of Zia-ul-Haq, was elected as the Prime Minister. He had also held office for a truncated term (1990–1993), during which he had promised to adopt Islamic law as the supreme law of Pakistan.

In 1997, the Nawaz Sharif government formally enacted the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance, which institutes shariah-based changes in Pakistan's criminal law. The ordinance had earlier been kept in force by invoking the president's power to re-issue it every four months.[21]

Sharif then proposed a fifteenth amendment to the Constitution that would entirely replace the existing legal system with a comprehensive Islamic one and would override the "constitution and any law or judgment of any court.".[29] The proposal was approved in the National Assembly (lower house), where Sharif's party has a commanding majority, but, it remained stalled in the Senate after facing strong opposition from women's groups, human rights activists, and opposition political parties.[30]

A 1997 ruling by the Lahore High Court, in the highly publicised Saima Waheed case, upheld a woman's right to marry freely but called for amendments to the 1965 Family Laws, on the basis of Islamic norms, to enforce parental authority to discourage "love marriages".[21]

The report of the Inquiry of the Commission for Women (1997) clearly stated that the Hudood legislation must be repealed as it discriminates against women and is in conflict with their fundamental rights. A similar commission during Benazir Bhutto's administration had also recommended amending certain aspects of Hudood Ordinance. However, neither Benazir Bhutto nor Nawaz Sharif implemented these recommendations.

The enhancement of women's status was stated as one of the 16 goals listed in the Pakistan 2010 Program (1997), a critical policy document. However, the document omits women while listing 21 major areas of interests. Similarly, another major policy document, the "Human Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy" (1999), mentioned women as a target group for poverty reduction but lacks gender framework.

The country's first all-women university, named after Fatima Jinnah, was inaugurated on 6 August 1998. It suffered from delays in the release of development funds from the Federal Government.[2]

Pervez Musharraf's régime

In 2000, the Church of Pakistan ordained its first women deacons.[31] In 2002 (and later during court trials in 2005), the case of Mukhtaran Mai brought the plight of rape victims in Pakistan under an international spotlight. On 2 September 2004, the Ministry of Women Development was made an independent ministry, separating from the Social Welfare and Education Ministry.

In July 2006, General Pervez Musharraf asked his Government to begin work on amendments to the controversial 1979 Hudood Ordinance introduced under Zia-ul-Haq's régime.[32] He asked the Law Ministry and the Council of Islamic Ideology (under the Ministry of Religious Affairs) to build a consensus for the amendments to the laws. On 7 July 2006 General Musharraf signed an ordinance for the immediate release on bail of around 1300 women who were currently languishing in jails on charges other than terrorism and murder.[33]

In late 2006, the Pakistani parliament passed the Women's Protection Bill, repealing some of the Hudood Ordinances. The bill allowed for DNA and other scientific evidence to be used in prosecuting rape cases.[34] The passing of the Bill and the consequent signing of it into law by President General Pervez Musharraf invoked protests from hard-line Islamist leaders and organisations.[35][36] Some experts also stated that the reforms will be impossible to enforce.[37]

The Cabinet has approved reservation of 10% quota for women in Central Superior Services in its meeting held on 12 July 2006.[38] Earlier, there was a 5% quota for women across the board in all Government departments. In December 2006, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz approved the proposal by Ministry of Women Development, to extend this quota to 10%.[39]

In 2006, The Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act was also passed.[40] In December 2006, for the first time, women cadets from the Military Academy Kakul assumed guard duty at the mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.[41]

The Women's Protection Bill, however, has been criticised by many including human rights and women's rights activists for only paying lip service and failing to repeal the Hudood Ordinances.[42][43]

President Asif Zardari

President Asif Ali Zardari led Pakistan People's Party government was responsible for landmark development in women rights' legislation and empowerment in Pakistan and commended by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and on international level.

Appointment of Women

Coming into power it appointed a female member of parliament and party loyalist Dr. Fehmida Mirza as the first female speaker in South Asia. During the tenor Pakistan saw its first female foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, first secretary of defence, Nargis Sethi,[44] deputy speaker of a province Shehla Raza and numerous female ministers, ambassadors, secretaries including Farahnaz Ispahani,[45] Media Advisor to former President of Pakistan and co-chairman PPP, Sherry Rehman[46] former ambassador of Pakistan to US, Fauzia Wahab, Firdous Ashiq Awan, Farzana Raja, Shazia Marri, Sharmila Faruqi and others held prestigious positions within the administration.

Legislation for protection of women

On 29 January 2010 the President signed the 'Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill 2009' which the parliament adopted on 21 January 2010.[47] Two additional bills were signed into law by the President in December 2012 criminalising the primitive practices of Vani, watta-satta, swara and marriage to Holy Quran which used women as tradable commodoties for settlement of disputes. In addition the punishment for acid throwing to life imprisonment.[48] The government further established special task force in the interior Sindh region to for action against the practice of Karo-Kari establishing helplines and offices in the districts of Sukkur, Jacobabad, Larkana and Khairpur.

In 2012 the government revived the National Commission on Status of Women established by General Musharraf for three years in 2000, later being revived for three years at a time. The bill moved by government established the commission as a permanent body with the task to ensure the implementation of women protection legislation and abuses against women.

In February 2012, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement held the world's largest women's political rally in Karachi, with an estimated 100,000 women in attendance.[49]


Purdah norms are followed in many communities of Pakistan.[50][51] It is practised in various ways, depending on family tradition, region, class, and rural or urban residence.[52]
Child marriage/ (Vani)
Although the Child Marriages Restraint Act makes it illegal for girls under the age of 16 to be married, instances of child marriages are commonly found in rural areas. Vani is a child marriage custom followed in tribal areas and the Punjab province. The young girls are forcibly married off in order to resolve the feuds between different clans;[53] the Vani can be avoided if the clan of the girl agrees to pay money, called Deet, to other clans.[54] Swara, Pait likkhi and Addo Baddo are similar tribal and rural customs that often promote marriage of girls in their early teenage years. In one extreme case in 2012, a local Jirga in Ashari village, Swat ordered that Roza Bibi, a girl of six, must be married off into a rival family to settle a dispute between her family and the rival family.[55]
Watta satta
Watta satta is a tribal custom in which brides are traded between two clans. In order for you to marry off your son, you must also have a daughter to marry off in return. If there is no sister to exchange in return for a son's spouse, a cousin, or a distant relative can also do. Even though Islamic law requires that both partners explicitly consent to marriage, women are often forced into marriages arranged by their fathers or tribal leaders.[14]
Honor killings
A majority of the victims of honour killings are women and the punishments meted out to the murderers are very lenient.[21][56] The practice of summary killing of a person suspected of an illicit liaison is known as karo kari in Sindh and Balochistan. In December 2004, the Government passed a bill that made karo kari punishable under the same penal provisions as murder.[57] Many cases of honour killings have been reported against women who marry against their family's wishes, who seek divorce or who have been raped.[58]
Marriage to Quran
In some parts of Sindh, the practice of marrying a woman to Quran is prevalent among landlords, although this practice is alien to Islam and has no religious basis. The practice is often used by men to keep and grab the land of their sisters and daughters.[59]


Although the women's dress varies depending on region, class and occasion, shalwar kameez is principal garment worn by Pakistani women.[60] Ghararas (a loose divided skirt worn with a blouse) and lehengas were very common earlier, but now they are worn mostly at weddings.

Few Pakistani women wear the hijab or burqa in public and the degree to which they choose to cover varies. Some Pakistani women who do not wear the hijab; they may wear the dupatta or chadar instead.

A Sari is a formal dress worn on special occasions by some mainly urban women. The so-called "Islamization" under General Zia ul Haq's dictatorship branded the sari as an "unIslamic" form of dress.[60] The sari is now making a comeback in fashionable circles. Western garments such as T-shirts and Jeans are common amongst young urban women.

Education and economic development

Three school girls celebrating Independence day at the Mazar-e-Quaid in Karachi, with colourful headscarves, national make-up and jewellery.

In Pakistan, the women's access to property, education, employment etc. remains considerably lower compared to men's.[51] The social and cultural context of Pakistani society is predominantly patriarchal.[2] Women have a low percentage of participation in society outside of the family.[61]


Pakistani school girls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Despite the improvement in Pakistan's literacy rate since its independence, the educational status of Pakistani women is among the lowest in the world.[51] The literacy rate for urban women is more than five times the rate for rural women.[50] The literacy rate is still lower for women compared to men: the literacy rate is 45.8% for females, while for males it is 69.5% (aged 15 or older, data from 2015).[62]

The school drop-out rate among girls is very high (almost 50 percent), the educational achievements of female students are higher as compared with male students at different levels of education.[2] This is the story of few years ago but now the Education in Pakistan for women is improving rapidly. In the Lahore city there are total 46 public colleges out of which 26 are female colleges and if we talk about the rest of 20 colleges some of them are offer co-education. Similarly the public universities of Pakistan has female enrollment more than boys.[63]

UNESCO and the Orascom subsidiary of Pakistan telco, Mobilink have been using mobile phones to educate women and improve their literacy skills since 4 July 2010. The local BUNYAD Foundation of Lahore and the UN's work via the Dakar Framework of Action for EFA are also helping with this issue.[64]


Patterns of women's employment vary throughout the Muslim world: as of 2005, 16% of Pakistani women were "economically active" (either employed, or unemployed but available to furnish labour), whereas 52% of Indonesian women were.[65]

Workforce participation

Although women play an active role in Pakistan's economy, their contribution has been grossly underreported in some censuses and surveys.[51] The 1991–92 Labour Force Survey revealed that only about 16% of women aged 10 years and over were in the labour force. The World Bank's reports of 1997 stated that women constituted only 28% of the country's labour force.[66] According to the 1999 report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, only two percent of Pakistani women participate in the formal sector of employment.[67] However, the 1980 agricultural census stated that the women's participation rate in agriculture was 73%. The 1990–1991 Pakistan Integrated Household Survey indicated that the female labour force participation rate was 45% in rural areas and 17% the urban areas.[51] Pakistani women play a major role in agricultural production, livestock raising and cottage industries.[51]


Land and property rights

Around 90% of the Pakistani households are headed by men and most female-headed households belong to the poor strata of the society[50][51]

Women lack ownership of productive resources. Despite women's legal rights to own and inherit property from their families, there are very few women who have access and control over these resources.[2]

Other concerns

Dress code

Pakistan has no laws banning or enforcing the ħijāb. Surveys conducted in Pakistan show that most women wearing the ħijāb do so of their own choice. Although veil is not an absolute requirement and the women may even wear jeans and T-shirts in urban areas of Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and other big cities. In last five years, western dressing has become much common among women in cities. Many women wear pants, plazzo and tight jeans with long shirts as well as short shirts. Most women in small cities and rural areas wear the Shalwar Kameez, which consists of a tunic top and baggy trouser set which covers their arms, legs and body. A loose dupatta scarf is also worn around the shoulders, upper chest and head. Men also have a similar dress code, but only women are expected to wear a dupatta in public.[68][69]

Gender roles

According to Pew research, ‘good women’ in Pakistan are expected to follow Islam's code of dress[70] while according to a study conducted by Tazeen S. Ali and her colleagues the predominant view among the patriarchy is that Pakistani women are considered good women if they are able to and sacrifice their own dreams for the good of the family.[71]

In a study carried out by Gallup Pakistan, the Pakistani affiliate of Gallup International, majority of the Pakistanis believe that both males and females have different roles to play in the society. In the recent years although women’s role has broadened beyond being a housewife, many people still give priority to men in politics, education, employment, and related walks of life. When the respondents were asked to give their opinion on a number of statements about gender roles 63% of the respondents agreed with the statement that "Boys’ education is more important than girls’"; 37% disagreed with it. The percentage of people agreeing with this statement was higher among rural population (67%) as compared to the urbanites (53%). It must however be noted that more than 90% believe that female children should be educated, nearly half of them believing that, should opportunity be available, they should rise to college education and beyond.

Fifty five percent (55%) of the respondents believe that "Both husband and wife should work"; while 45% said it is wrong for both husband and the wife to work. Interestingly more than 50% of men including those from rural areas agree that both husband and wife should work for a better living. When the respondents were asked whether "Men are better politicians as compared to women or not"; 67% agree men are better politicians while 33% think otherwise. Surprisingly, more women agree with this statement as compared to men.

In response to the following statement "If jobs are in shortage should men be given priority for employment"; 72% of the respondents believe they should be given priority while 28% disagree. Eighty three percent (83%) of the respondents think that "To live a happy life women need children"; while only 17% think they do not. A vast majority of all respondents including 82% of women respondents believe that "prosperous women should raise their voice to support the rights of poor women."[72]

Marriage and divorce issues

The average age of women for marriage has increased from 16.9 years in 1951 to 22.5 years in 2005. A majority of women are married to their close relatives, i.e., first and second cousins. Only 37 percent of married women are not related to their spouses before marriage. The divorce rate in Pakistan is extremely low due to the social stigma attached to it.[2]


According to 1998 figures, the female infant mortality rate was higher than that of male children. The maternal mortality rate is also high, as only 20 percent of women are assisted by a trained provider during delivery.[2] Only 9 percent of the women used contraceptives in 1985, however this figure has increased substantially.[2]

Pakistan has taken certain initiatives in the health sector to redress gender imbalances. The SAP was launched in 1992–1993 to accelerate improvement in the social indicators. Closing the gender gap is the foremost objective of the SAP. The other major initiative is the Prime Minister's program of lady health workers (LHWs). Under this community-based program, 26,584 LHWs in rural areas and 11,967 LHWs in urban areas have been recruited to provide basic health care including family planning to women at the grassroots level. Other initiatives include the village-based family planning workers and extended immunisation programs, nutritional and child survival, cancer treatment, and increased involvement of media in health education.

Sex ratio

The sex ratio in Pakistan is somewhat unbalanced with 1.05 men per 1 female.[73] This phenomenon is attributable to male-favored sex ratio at birth (preference for sons).[51] In the urban areas, the sex ratio is still lower, which could be attributed to a large male out-migration from rural to urban areas.[50][51]

Notable women

Women in Pakistan have progressed in various fields of life such as politics, education, economy, services, health and many more.

Politics and activism

Naela Chohan, Ambassador of Pakistan and Feminist Artist

Although the participation of women in politics is increasing, the presence of women in the political parties as well as in the political structure at the local, provincial, and national levels remains insignificant due to cultural and structural barriers[2]

Sania Nishtar, the first female cardiologist and the only woman Interim Cabinet Member 2013, is globally recognized for her work and accomplishments in health policy advocacy.

Miss Fatima Jinnah, sister of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, was an instrumental figure in the Pakistan movement. In 1947, she formed the Women's Relief Committee, which later formed the nucleus for the All Pakistan Women's Association (APWA). She was the first Muslim woman to contest the presidency in 1965, as a candidate of the Combined Opposition Party.

Begum Shaista Ikramullah was the first woman elected member of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan.

Begum Mahmooda Salim Khan was Pakistan's first woman minister and member of the Cabinet of President General Ayub Khan.

Begum Ra'ana Liaquat Ali Khan (1905–1990) was a women's rights activists. She was the founder of the All Pakistan Women's Association. Begum Nusrat Bhutto wife of Prime Minister Zulfikhar Ali Bhutto, led the Pakistani delegation to the United Nations' first women's conference in 1975.

Benazir Bhutto was the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan (1988)(1991) and the first woman elected to head a Muslim country. She was elected twice to the office of Prime Minister.

Fehmida Mirza is the first female speaker of the National Assembly of Pakistan. Other prominent female Pakistani politicians include Begum Nasim Wali Khan, Raja Farzana, Syeda Abida Hussain, Sherry Rehman and Tehmina Daultana.

Hina Rabbani Khar became the first Minister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan in 2011.

Mukhtaran Mai a victim of gang rape has become a prominent activist for women's rights in Pakistan.

Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani, prominent human rights lawyers and founders of the first all woman law firm in Pakistan, AGHS.

Nigar Ahmad, women's rights activist, co-founder of Aurat (women's) Foundation, one of the oldest women's organisation in the country.

Naela Chohan is a Pakistani diplomat and feminist artist. She is currently serving as the Ambassador of Pakistan to Argentina, Uruguay, Peru and Ecuador. She has been a vocal proponent of stronger ties between Pakistan and Latin America.[74][75]

Farida Shaheed and Khawar Mumtaz, human rights activists and authors, associated with Shirkat Gah, a woman's organisation.

Shahla Zia, human rights activist and lawyer, co-founder of AGHS with Asma Jahngir and Hina Jilani, and also co-founder of Aurat Foundation with Nigar Ahmad. Also the plaintiff in Shahla Zia v. WAPDA, the leading case on environmental law in Pakistan.

Tahira Abdullah, prominent human rights activist, associated with Women’s Action Forum (WAF) and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and was a prominent member of the Lawyers Movement.

Anis Haroon, Chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW).

Justice Majida Rizvi, one of the first female High Court judges, ex-Chairperson of the NCSW and a human rights activist.

Justice Nasira Iqbal, daughter in law of Allama Iqbal and one of the first female High Court judges and a prominent and vocal human rights activist.

Arts and Entertainment

Nasim Zehra interviewing then U.S. Navy Admiral Michael Mullen in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Noor Jehan was the melodious lady singer of the sub continent. there are many other female singers including Abida Parveen, Farida Khanum, Nayyara Noor, Iqbal Bano and Tahira Syed. Faryal Gohar Zeba Bakhtiar and Samina Pirzada are acclaimed Pakistani actresses.

Nazia Hassan was an iconic female Pakistani pop singer.

Hadiqa Kiani is a recipient of the country's highest civilian honour and is considered the "Most Popular Female Singer of Pakistan" for the past two decades. She has sung in over a dozen languages and has represented Pakistan internationally through music.

Nigar Nazar is the first woman cartoonist in Pakistan and the Muslim World.

Fauzia Minallah is the first and youngest woman political cartoonist to win the All Pakistan Newspaper Society award. She is also the winner of Ron Kovic Peace prize.[76]

Mahira Khan made her name with Humsafar and Sadqay Tumharay. She also appeared in Bol and Bin Roye. Khan will now be seen in Bollywood with prolific actor Sharukh Khan

Marina Khan starred in Dhoop Kinaray and Tanhaiyaan. Portraying sometimes headstrong or idiosyncratically tough female characters.

Ayesha Omar more than often depicts the young and rich youth of Pakistan. The young actress delved into the realm of music, even winning an award for Lux Style Award for Best Album. She also starred in Pakistani movie Karachi se Lahore.

Sanam Saeed appeared in Zindagi Gulzar Hai.

Mehwish Hayat is an actress who has starred in Jawani Phir Nahi Ani, the highest grossing Pakistani film, she also appeared in various television ads in dramas.

Mahnoor Baloch has worked in many serials and film Main Hoon Shahid Afridi.


Sportswomen of Pakistan have always been plagued by the patriarchal society and many have come forward to claim that coaches, selectors and others who are in position of power demand sexual favours. Sexual abuse of this kind has lead some athletes to commit suicide due to inaction of authorities in pursuing the suspects. In some cases the female athletes who register the cases of sexual abuse and harassment are banned or put on probation.[77][78][79][80]

In 1996, when sisters Shaiza and Sharmeen Khan first tried to introduce women's cricket in Pakistan, they were met with court cases and even death threats. The government refused them permission to play India in 1997, and ruled that women were forbidden from playing sports in public. However, later they were granted permission, and the Pakistani women's cricket team played its first recorded match on 28 January 1997 against New Zealand in Christchurch.

Shazia Hidayat was the only female athlete on the Pakistan team competing at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, becoming the second woman to ever represent Pakistan in an Olympic event.[81]

Sidra Sadaf, a woman cyclist won a silver medal at the 11th South Asian Games in Dhaka, Bangladesh in January 2010. Naseem Hameed became the fastest woman sprinter in South Asia following the 2010 South Asian games; she gained widespread popularity for the remarkable feat.


Ismat Chughtai, who was part of the Progressive Writers Association, is considered one of the most important feminist writers of Urdu. Parveen Shakir, Kishwar Naheed and Fehmida Riaz are also renowned for their feminist poetry in Urdu. Modern fiction writers such as Rizwana Syed Ali and Bano Qudisa have also highlighted gender issues. Bapsi Sidhwa is one of Pakistan's most prominent English fiction writers. In 1991, she received Sitara-i-Imtiaz, Pakistan's highest honour in arts.

Other fields

Some of the notable Pakistani women in other fields including computing,[82] education and business are:

See also


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External links

  • Ministry of Women Development
  • South Asia: Women Studies: Pakistan
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