International Women’s Day, celebrated around the world on the 8th of March, is dedicated to honouring women of substance and their achievements in the social, economic, cultural and political arenas. It is also a day to bring awareness to gender parity and women’s rights, regardless of one’s race, religion and culture.

A woman’s status and women's rights has been debated not only in the Muslim world but also in the non-Muslim world. While it is easy to think that this issue has surfaced with the advent of modern civilization, it is clearly not the case. A strong need existed for a universal and uniform code of rights for women since the dawn of time.

This need was fulfilled in 6th century AD with the advent of Islam in Arabia. Islam changed the position for women in a society where those without powerful husbands, brothers or fathers were treated as slaves.  According to traditional Muslim literature, during the period of Jahilia, women were not allowed to own or inherit property, had no right over their own children or themselves and female infanticide was common practice. Social, economic, and political factors of the preceding centuries had shaped the patriarchal society of the Arabian Peninsula. The arrival of Islam not only changed centuries-old tribal practices but also succeeded in allowing women to stand up and contribute to their immediate societies, and subsequently, to the entire world.

Continuing the notion of women empowerment in Islam, the Ismaili community has always promoted a positive role of women in society. We dedicate this International Women’s Day to the women who are striving for equality and the right to play their role in the development of Pakistan.

Today, as the world celebrates International Women’s Day, we pay tribute to a few of the achievements of Pakistani women in various fields.

Amna Zamir Shah, a BPS 20 Additional District and Sessional Judge Senior Civil Judge in Nagar, is the first female Judge from Gilgit-Baltistan. Pursuing her passion, she moved to Islamabad to study law at the International Islamic University in 2004. After appearing in the competitive exam for civil judges by the Federal Public Service in Gilgit-Baltistan, she became a judge in 2006. Not content to rest on her laurels, she went on to obtain a Master’s degree from the University Of Leicester, United Kingdom in 2009 on a Chevening Scholarship from the British Council. When she returned to Pakistan after completing her degree, she was promoted to Senior Civil Judge. where she presides over a court in Gahkuch in the Ghizer district. Over the years, Amna has developed a reputation for integrity and professionalism. Recently, the British Council for Pakistan awarded her their “Professional Excellence Award 2017” for her outstanding performance. She was chosen from over a hundred applicants from around the globe.

Anita Karim, a 22-year-old from Karimabad, Hunza, is the first female Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter to represent Pakistan at an international level. Anita won her second international match at the One Warrior Series (OWS) in Singapore, against Indonesia’s Gita Suharsono, where she dominated all three rounds of the fight. Expressing her feelings before going into the fight, Anita stated, “I had one thought on my mind - I have to win, not for myself, but for other women. They are considered weak in our society; I want to tell everyone that this sport is for men and women alike. We are strong and can defend ourselves by learning this sport.”

Azima Dhanjee, the 21-year-old CEO and co-founder of the organization ‘ConnectHear’ and alumna of the U.S. government funded Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program, is making lives easier for differently-abled people by helping them lead independent lives providing language accessibility through sign language interpretation. Taking responsibility at an adult at a young age, Azima and her brother were their parents’ voices – interpreting conversations for them and communicating with people on their behalf. Her experiences led her to finding ways, by using technology and design, to help. Azima reiterates, “Every individual should ponder how they can make their services non-discriminatory.” She spreads the message of perseverance, encouraging the youth to leave fear behind and work hard to achieve their goals.  

Diana Baig, the first female Pakistani cricketer from Gilgit-Baltistan to take part in international cricket, is a medium-fast right hand bowler who was motivated by her coaches to play professional cricket. She has represented Pakistan in the World Cup in 2013, 2015, T20 World Cup 2016 and ICC Women’s World Cup 2017. Diana is also a national player on the Pakistan Women’s Football team and has represented Pakistan in the South Asian games in 2014. As a cricket and football star, and a university student, she states “Finding a balance between my sporting dreams and education becomes very difficult, but one has to manage it.”

Kainat Imtiaz, an all-round cricketer from Karachi, started her journey in 2009 as Captain of the Under-17 Karachi Region Women’s Cricket Team followed by captain of the Under-19 Team in 2010 and 2011. Her international career started in 2011 where she had the privilege of playing for the Pakistan Team in tours against South Africa and Sri Lanka. Being awarded Gold Medals in Cricket at the Asian Games in China in 2010 and in Korea in 2014, Kainat has also been selected to play for Pakistan at the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 in England.

Karishma Ali, a 21-year-old footballer from Karimabad, Chitral, is one of the first Pakistani women to represent the country in the Australian Football League International Cup in 2017. With a dream to inspire girls in her community to partake in sports, Karishma established the Chitral Women’s Sports Club which became the first organization enabling girls to train in football in Chitral. While she continues to represent Pakistan internationally as the premier female footballer, she was also listed in Forbes magazine “30 under 30 in Asia” in 2019 for innovation and entrepreneurship. Karishma advises, “Do not let society define one’s passions, limitations and goals - use courage, hard-work and perseverance to succeed.”

Natasha Baig, a young talent from Gilgit, is another sensation of Coke Studio, who started her career from a community singing competition “Kay Sera Sera.” Discovering her true talent, Natasha had to face many hardships in life in order to fulfil her dreams. Her passion to fulfil her dreams went beyond societal expectations of who she was meant to be. Talking about the early days, Natasha mentioned how it was difficult for her to actually begin her career in music and her inspiration, “I always knew that I couldn’t just be any regular person, I knew my capabilities and I knew that I could do something big. My mom helped me become a feminist, she supported me, believed in me and always encouraged me to work and follow my passion.”

Sara Haider, received fame through Coke Studio when she did a duet with the renowned singer Ali Zafar. She also received the Lux Style Award for Best Emerging Talent in Music and The Charles Jehlinger Award upon her graduation from the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Dedicating her success to her mother, Sara mentions “Behind every successful person, there is a woman. My mother is the biggest inspiration. She gave me the freedom of choice; she trusts me and motivates me. Without her I would not have succeeded in my life. She has given us all siblings the freedom and trust to follow our dreams. One of the things that I love about her is she lives a balanced life.”

Samina Baig, from Gojal, is one such example. Being brought up in a small village of Hunza, since childhood, she dreamt of a life amongst the mountains. As the first woman to ascend all of the highest peaks in the world, Samina is also the first Pakistani woman to climb the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest. With the world at her feet, Samina reminisces “I was thinking about the women of Pakistan, those who are not allowed to get education, those who are not allowed to do whatever they want to do in their lives," she said. “If my family can support me then other families should also support their daughters.  Women are often underestimated in our society so my achievement will send out a message to everyone - women are equally capable of achieving great things in life.”

Shehla Chatoor, a premier fashion designer, is considered one of the top names in bridal trousseau and luxury prêt in Pakistan, as well as around the world. Formally launching her label “SHEHLA” in 1995 with a trousseau collection, Shehla also branched into bridals the same year. With a lucrative business model successfully operating for the past 25 years and multiple awards for design, the brand has become synonymous with terms such as unique, innovative and inspiring. With a predominantly male-dominated, conservative workforce, Shehla states, “One has to show great strength of character to make a place for yourself in this industry. You must do something you are passionate about. Passion for fashion should be the first and most important reason why you should enter this field. Then, obtain the right education and mentorship to pursue that passion.”