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    How Fatima Jinnah’s Nomination As Presidential Candidate Empowered Women

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    Mujeeba Batool underscores the political struggle of women in the early years of Pakistan. She argues women worked with great zeal in those years, but within the ‘acceptable’ Islamic and cultural framework to seek their basic rights.


    Rouse (2006) in her book “Gender, Nation, State in Pakistan: Shifting Body Politics”, noted that “By and large the policy in the early period was one of the “benign neglect” whereby gender relations continued to be governed and ruled by social custom and practice, inevitably affected by the economic and political policies of the state”. (Rouse S. , 2006, p. 67)

    Nonetheless, women (from ruling elite and religious parties) in the early years of Pakistan were able to achieve some concessions from the state. They worked with great zeal but in an “acceptable” Islamic and cultural framework i.e. nurturing and caring role- for refugees’ rehabilitation and resettlement immediately after the partition. Fatima Jinnah established the Women’s Relief Committee and several other such committees/ organizations were also created and run by women.

    Soon after the independence two aspirant women, Begum Shaista Ikram Ullah and Begum Jahan Ara Shanawaz reached to first constituent assembly as members and contributed to important legislation regarding political and legal rights such as inheritance and family laws and polygamy etc. With the efforts of these two phenomenal women, Pakistani women achieved dual voting rights which were later abolished by Ayub Khan.

    Later Fatima Jinnah was nominated as the presidential candidate of combined opposition parties.  “By agreeing to challenge Field Marshal Ayub Khan at the height of his dictatorial power, she did not only electrify the nation but also took a massive step towards the political empowerment of women”. (Shami, 2013).

    Till the 1960s women recognized their demands for legal rights, the educated and politically aware women managed to safeguard legal rights for them and their fellow women in the country through Muslim Family Laws Ordinance (MFLO) 1961. The MFLO is debated by scholars whether it had equitable benefits for all the women of Pakistan or it benefitted privileged class women as well as its appropriateness concerning violation of provisions made.  

    Rouse (1988) in her article, Women’s Movement in Pakistan: State, Class, Gender, writes, “Women attained voting rights, and the Family Laws Ordinance was passed in 1961. Under this law, women were officially able to inherit agricultural property (in consonance with Islamic law), second marriages were made contingent upon agreement by the first wife, divorce was made more difficult for the male, women attained the right to initiate divorce for the first time, and a system of registration of marriages was also introduced. (Rouse S, 1988, p. 9)

    Ayub Khan’s regime ended with massive countrywide protests and the constitution was once again abrogated by Yahya Khan who imposed martial in the country in 1969. General elections were held under Yahya Khan in which Awami League won the elections convincingly but Yahya Khan was unable to transfer power to Mujeeb Ur Rehman; instead, a military operation was launched in East Pakistan which ended in 1971 resulting in cessation of East Pakistan and creation of new country Bangladesh.

    Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) gained a popular majority in the 1970 elections in West Pakistan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto assumed power in 1972.  It is believed that women in Pakistan voted independently without any pressure from the men as educated women belonging to People’s Party-led an effective campaign for Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s popular politics of equality and freedom from oppression.

    Two phenomenal women, Naseem Jahan and Begum Ashraf Abbasi were tasked by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1973 to give their inputs in drafting the new constitution and as result of their efforts, women gained status of equal citizens. “The 1973 Constitution gave more rights to women than any previous constitution in the past.

    Article 25 of rights declared that every citizen was equal before law and Article 25 (2) said there would be no discrimination based on sex. Article 27 of fundamental rights stated that there would be no discrimination on the basis of race, religion, caste or sex for appointment in the service of Pakistan.

    Article 32 of the Basic Principles of State Policy guaranteed reservation of seats for women, and Article 35 stipulated that the state shall protect marriage, family and mother and child”, quoted Saigol in her account of Women’s Movements in Pakistan. (Saigol, 2016, p. 20) The PPP government took concrete steps for women’s social, political and economic emancipation.

    Moreover, several organizations like Commission on Women and Women’s Institute, Shirkatgah, Aurat Foundation, Women Front and many other women organizations in smaller cities of Pakistan were created, the members (educated, professional) of these organizations played pivotal role in creating vibrant women’s movement in Pakistan in the years to come.

    However, the period of General Zia’s dictatorship disrupted the vibrant political activism of women; lots of women politicians had to flee the country.  After the promulgation of Hudood Ordinance by General Zia, this void was filled by urban, educated, middle-class women of WAF.

    To be continued…

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