Islamabad: Pakistan has some of the most exemplary women leaders working in diverse sectors from agriculture to health to technology, making their mark in national and international front and contributing to Pakistan’s development. As part of International Women’s Day, we look at 10 Pakistani women who are a role model for millions and are inspiring a generation of girls all around the world.
1. Dr Sania Nishtar – health and development leader
Dr Sania Nishtar, who is currently serving as Special Assistant of Prime Minister on Poverty Alleviation and Social Protection, is described as a passionate leader who “has a deep understanding of her field of work”. As a leader in global health and development, Dr Nishtar is spearheading the government’s flagship social protection programme, Ehsaas, improving the livelihoods of millions of Pakistanis and supporting women empowerment. Dr Nishtar has dedicated her efforts to reduce the widening gap between the rich and the poor, to protect the country’s most vulnerable population and to improve health systems in Pakistan. She has a PhD from King’s College London and has won several national and international accolades.
2. Dr Sarah Qureshi – aerospace engineer
Dr Sarah Qureshi is a Pakistani aerospace engineer who is considered a trailblazer for women in Pakistan. She is working in a field where women make up a very tiny percentage with the biggest gaps in technical and leadership positions. Dr Qureshi is developing the world’s first contrail-free aircraft engine to reduce aviation induced global warming and make air travel environmentally safe. “At Aero Engine Craft, we are devoted to offering a solution to save the planet by reducing aviation’s climate impact due to contrails,” Dr Qureshi told Gulf News in an interview. She has a Master’s degree in Aerospace Dynamics and a PhD in Aerospace Propulsion, both from Cranfield University, UK.
3. Sana Mir – Cricket star
Sana Mir is the first name that comes to mind when one talks about women’s cricket in Pakistan. “Mir has been the face of Pakistan women’s cricket for many years and a real source of inspiration for the young generation of women cricketers…Through her determination and passion, Sana broke the glass ceiling for women cricketers in the country” said Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chief executive officer Wasim Khan. Sana Mir took the top spot in women’s ODI rankings in 2018. She has played 226 international matches, including 137 as captain, since her 2005 debut. She is one of only nine women cricketers to have taken 100 ODI wickets and among only five women players to score 1,000 runs in ODI matches. She was ranked ninth among bowlers and the most successful female spinner at the time of her retirement at the age of 34.
4. Nigar Johar – Pakistan’s first woman three-star general
Lieutenant General Nigar Johar is the first woman three-star general in Pakistan’s history. She was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general in 2020. The officer has also been appointed as the first female surgeon general of the Pakistan Army. The officer, who hails from Swabi district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, started her journey as a cadet in 1981. She described the journey through promotion and ranks in the army as long but rewarding experience. She also has the honour of being the first woman officer to be given command of an armed forces hospital. In the region and the Muslim world, “I am the first lieutenant general and I’m proud but immensely humbled. I feel there is a huge responsibility to lead my medical setup into excellence”, said Lt Gen Nigar.
5. Muniba Mazari – activist, artist, motivational speaker
Muniba Mazari, Pakistan’s first UN Goodwill Ambassador to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, is a role model for many. Mazari is a writer, artist, singer, activist and a motivational speaker. At the age of 21, a car accident changed her life and left her half-paralysed. However, the immense pain that she endured because of the accident became her strength and allowed her to connect with others in pain. The experience turned her into an activist, encouraging women and girls who have experienced discrimination or violence and spread awareness about child violence and abuse, and support children’s education. The wheelchair-bound activist who is shattering the glass ceiling is called the iron woman of Pakistan.
6. Parveen Rahman – social activist and hero of the poor
Parveen Rahman, a social activist is an unsung hero who fought poverty and tirelessly worked to improve the lives of those living in poverty in Pakistan. In 1982, she joined the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) and dedicated her life to the development of the impoverished neighbourhoods particularly for the residents of Karachi’s Orangi Town, one of the largest informal settlements in the world. “Parveen gave poor communities the confidence to realise that they knew what was best for them and that achieving their goals was possible through self-sufficiency and by lobbying the government to play its part,” her sister said. The courageous woman was killed near her office in 2013 as many believed her work to secure legal land rights for the poor enraged groups of land-grabbing criminals. Arif Pervez, a friend of hers, said she had been receiving death threats for a long time, apparently from the mafia involved in land grabbing.
7. Yasmeen Lari – Pakistan’s first female architect
Pakistan’s first female architect, Yasmeen Lari, started her career in the early 1990s building some of the most iconic buildings of Karachi including the Taj Mahal Hotel, Finance and Trade Centre and the Pakistan State Oil House, making her mark in a male-dominated profession. But the 2005 earthquake changed the direction of Lari’s career and her life forever. The earthquake, which killed nearly 80,000 people and left 400,000 families displaced, compelled her to devote all energies to providing homes to the marginalised. 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. Her foundation has built more than 50,000 houses for victims of floods and earthquakes in Pakistan since 2010. The 80-year-old architect was awarded the prestigious Jane Drew architecture prize in 2020.
8. Jehan Ara – tech leader
Jehan Ara is the President of the Pakistan Software Houses Association for IT & ITES (P@SHA). 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 29 years experience in marketing, communications and interactive new media in Pakistan, Hong Kong, the UAE and the Far East. She is also advocating for online privacy and data protection legislation. Jehan Ara is also working on an initiative called the Women’s Virtual Network to connect educated women with potential employers, mentors and peers remotely to bring more Pakistani women into the economic fold and support the network for professional women.
9. Shazia Parveen – Pakistan’s first female fire fighter
Shazia Parveen is hailed as Pakistan’s first female fire fighter. She was only 22 when she joined the rescue service in 2010 in Vehari district of Punjab province. Parveen chose the challenging job with a passion and mission to save and serve the people. After putting out fires in fields and factories, she also served as a fire instructor at the Punjab Emergency Services Academy in Lahore where surprisingly many of her students were girls. Parveen feels her profession is empowering and would inspire other Pakistani girls to opt for non-traditional careers.
10. Karishma Ali – footballer and founder of sports school
Karishma Ali who hails from the remote valley of Chitral is the first girl from her hometown to have played football at a national and international level. The 22-year-old footballer has been named among Forbes’ 30 under 30. Karishma 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 just the way her father supported her. 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 where she represented Pakistan’s unique handicraft.