Pride of Pakistan

By Erum Noor Muzaffar
Tue, 07, 21

14th August is around the corner. This week You! features 10 distinguished women of Pakistan who are gems of our country…

Every year we celebrate 14th August, our Independence Day, with much enthusiasm and fervour. The country is going to celebrate its 74th birthday soon. From a fragile state to a rising state, our country has sustained a lot of turmoil and struggles. There are hundreds and thousands of competent men and women who have played a significant role in putting Pakistan on the road to progress. Pakistan is seeing a rise in the number of talented women who are recognised on national and international level owing to their commendable work in their respective fields. This week we have compiled a list of some of the most inspiring women of Pakistan. These fearless and capable women are actively involved in productive work, against all odds, in a bid to make this country a better place to live in. In fact, we pay tribute to all the female trailblazers who have, in recent years, accomplished much to make us proud globally…

The visionary architect

Pakistan’s first female architect, Yasmeen Lari, started her career in 1970s building some of the most iconic buildings of Karachi including the Taj Mahal Hotel (1981), Finance and Trade Centre (1989) and the Pakistan State Oil House (1991), making her mark in a male-dominated profession. In 1978 she designed Pakistan’s first public housing scheme, the ‘Anguri Bagh’ project in Lahore. But the 2005 earthquake changed the direction of Lari’s career. She developed a low cost, carbon-free structure technique, using renewable materials, becoming one of the world’s most successful provider of sustainable and resilient disaster relief structures. In 2006, in recognition of her services, she was awarded ‘Sitara-e-Imtiaz’, by Government of Pakistan. Her foundation has built more than 50,000 houses for victims of floods and earthquakes in Pakistan since 2010. As head of Heritage Foundation, Architect Yasmeen Lari has been instrumental in saving some unique heritage treasures of Pakistan. She has authored and co-authored several monographs and publications on history and heritage. In 2018, she won the World Habitat award with her design for a fuel-efficient chulah, or stove, which emits none of the toxic smoke that was blighting Pakistani women's health. The 80-year-old architect was awarded the prestigious Jane Drew architecture prize in 2020.

An economist – par excellence

A well known economist, diplomat and intellectual, Dr Shamshad has the honour of being the 14th Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, the first woman to assume this position (2005 -2009). In September 2011, she moved to the United Nations to serve as the Assistant Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Senior Adviser on Economic Development and Finance to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Dr Akhtar also served as the Vice President, Middle East and North Africa at the World Bank, and Director General of Asian Development Bank (ADB). Dr Akhtar is Phd in Economics and post-doctorate degree from University of Harvard. Recently, she has been appointed as the Chairperson of Pakistan Stock Exchange Limited Board of Directors, becoming the first female to assume the post.

The IT wizard

Jehan Ara was the President of the Pakistan Software Houses Association for IT & ITES (P@SHA) for over 20 years, 6 1/2 years of The Nest I/O and now Founder of Katalyst Labs focusing on growing Women Leaders and helping startups to scale. She is a motivator, an entrepreneur, a social activist and a strong advocate of extending the power and use of ICT to empower communities. She has more than 30 years of experience in marketing, communications and interactive new media in Pakistan, Hong Kong, the UAE and the Far East. An optimist, she is passionate about product and service development, new ideas and empowering youth and women in Pakistan. She has helped kickstart several initiatives including the Pakistan branch of ‘Women on the Web’, ‘Take Back the Tech’, and ‘Women’s Virtual Network’, all of which aim to have some impact on improving women’s social situations and supporting their entrepreneurial skills.

A league of her own

Maria Umar is the founder and president of Women’s Digital League (WDL) – an online platform (founded in 2009) that provides digital training and work to Pakistani women. This company gives a chance to all the educated young girls to get a job in the digital world. The company has been expanded to ‘The Digital League’ (TDL), a platform for Pakistan’s digital workforce, which provides digital solutions to individuals and corporate clients. While WDL focusing on training rural Pakistani Women in micro online tasks; TDL focuses on all kinds of computer-based services such as affordable content writing, virtual assistance, CRM systems, CMS website development etc to clients all over the world. Maria has been featured as an innovative leader by the local and international media, including Mashable, Forbes and Virgin. Maria was nominated as a Thought Leader by Ashoka Changemakers. Google Pakistan profiled WDL in its online campaign showcasing innovation in the use of technology.

The social crusader

Sheema Kermani is a celebrated classical dancer. Sheema has performed in many countries of the world including China, Egypt, Indonesia, U.S.A., U.K., Germany, France, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Bahrain, Sri Lanka and the Netherlands. In 1997, she was invited to the Hamburg Theatre Festival, and in 1999 to the Nandikar Festival in Calcutta. She has been an integral part of the feminist movement of resistance in Pakistan. She formed ‘Tehrik e Niswan’ in 1979. Over the years, Tehrik-e-Niswan has produced artistic and socially relevant plays. In 2005, Sheema Kermani was nominated as one of the ‘1000 Peace Women from across the Globe’ for the Nobel peace Prize. In 2015, Sheema co-edited a book titled ‘Gender, Politics, and Performance Art’. If there is one person who has worked relentlessly for women empowerment for more than three decades it has to be Sheema Kermani. She has worked extensively for women’s rights, and has made major contributions towards the feminist movement in Pakistan by raising awareness about multiple issues faced by women across different socio-economic classes.

The charismatic artist

Salima Hashmi is an artist, writer, actor, curator and a human rights activist. She taught at the National College of Arts, Lahore, for 31 years and was principal of the college for 4 years. She is a painter of repute whose works have been exhibited in Pakistan and in international exhibitions. She has exhibited her own work, travelled and lectured extensively all over the world, and has curated about a dozen international art shows in the U.K., Europe, the USA, Australia, Japan and India. In 1999, Hashmi received Pakistan’s Pride of Performance award. She was also nominated as Inaugural International Fellow by the Australian Council of Art and Design Schools (ACUADS) in 2011 for distinguished service to art and design education. The Alma Culture Center, Oslo, Norway presented her with the Alma Award in 2016 for promotion of tolerance through performance. The same year, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Bath Spa University in the UK. At present, Hashmi is the Dean of School of Visual and Communication Department at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore. Her book on the female artist, ‘Unveiling the Visible’, a seminal work on the subject, is an attempt to remind how women artists have been significant architects in shaping the art of this country.

Climbing high

Samina Baig is a high-altitude mountaineer who became the first Pakistani woman to climb all Seven Summits: Mount McKinley, Mount Elbrus, Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Aconcagua, Carstensz Pyramid, Mount Vinson and Mount Everest. She hoisted Pakistani flag at Mount Everest in 2013. She belongs to Hunza valley of Gilgit-Baltistan and started mountaineering along with her brother when she was only 15. Baig has been a professional climber since 2009. She was the first to climb the peak Chashkin Sar (above 6,000 metres) in Pakistan in 2010, which was later renamed ‘Samina Peak’ after her. A documentary film ‘Beyond the Heights’ has also been produced to feature her expedition to Mount Everest. Early in 2018, Samina was also named Pakistan’s National Goodwill Ambassador by UNDP. Besides the Himalayas, Baig has been employed as a mountain guide and expedition leader in the Hindu Kush and the peaks of Karakoram. Samina is still determined about her goal to continue hosting the green flag on icy peaks to prove to the world that Pakistani women are second to none in any sphere of life.

The comic Queen

Nigar Nazar is the first woman cartoonist of Pakistan. Nigar Nazar is a bright, shining star in the man’s world of cartoon strips and animation in Pakistan. A talented artist she owns an art studio Gogi Studios, based on her most popular character Gogi. Her cartoon Gogi first appeared on PTV in 1971. Since then, Gogi cartoons have appeared for several years in a number of newspapers and TV programmes. Nigar has represented Pakistan in a number of countries including Turkey, China, Nepal, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Australia, UK and USA. She is one of the founding members of the Asian Youth Association for Animators and Cartoonists (AYAAC) with headquarters in Guiyang, China. In 2005, The Government of Pakistan conferred on her The Fatima Jinnah Award for her contribution to art. She has authored several children’s and young adults’ books and comics. Her comic books deal with a range of issues from extremism to girls’ education. She uses her art as a platform for educating and creating awareness for the grassroot level of Pakistan. Mrs. Nazar has been a partner of Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF), Pakistan, and has worked with the Foundation on topics such as democracy, freedom of information and tolerance.

The wonder girl

Karishma Ali is a Pakistani footballer and the only girl from Chitral, who has successfully made her country proud by representing it on both national and international level. She has represented Pakistan at the Jubilee Games in Dubai, and her team was the first women’s team from Pakistan to participate in the AFL International Cup. This amazing young footballer has been named among Forbes’ 30 under 30 in 2019.

Ali is also the founder of the Chitral Women’s Sports Club - a training school for girls. Karishma wants to encourage other young girls in the region to take up sports and different activities. She also helped se set up a handicraft centre for women as the region is famous for Chitral embroidery and the initiative led her to take part in Milan Fashion Week in 2019 where she represented Pakistan’s unique handicraft. Moreover, her achievements also include her participation in the Australian Football League International Cup in 2017, as a part of the very first women’s team.

The digital warrior

An accomplished lawyer and a human rights activist, Nighat Dad is the Executive Director of Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan, created in 2012. With an extensive experience in cyber laws, she is also an independent development consultant. She is among the pioneers who started lobbying for Internet freedom in Pakistan.

She has been actively campaigning and engaging at a policy level on issues focusing on Internet Freedom, Women and technology, Digital Security and Women’s empowerment. Her work in the field of IT security has earned her many international awards. In 2015, she was named in the TIME magazine’s rundown of cutting edge pioneers, for helping Pakistani women fight online harassment. She also won the Atlantic Council Freedom Award along with the prestigious Tulip Award in 2016.