From Purdah to Powerhouses: How Women Catalyzed the Pakistan Movement
In the annals of history, the stories of courageous women often remain hidden, overshadowed by the deeds of their male counterparts. Yet, the Pakistan Movement was illuminated by the contributions of these unsung heroines who shattered stereotypes and blazed trails towards freedom. While purdah confined many Muslim women to the walls of their homes, a handful emerged as catalysts of change during the Khilafat Movement, a precursor to Pakistan’s quest for independence.
One of these trailblazers was Bi Amma, mother of Maulanas Mohammed Ali and Shaukat Ali, who made her voice heard from behind a sheet during public gatherings. However, it was the Quaid-i-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who orchestrated a revolution in the emancipation of Muslim women. Contrary to popular belief, he championed women’s empowerment, envisioning them as equal partners in the pursuit of a separate homeland.
The turning point arrived during the 1938 Muslim League session in Patna, where Jinnah established the All India Muslim Women’s Sub-Committee. By the mid-1940s, a constellation of women leaders emerged within the Muslim League, organizing and mobilizing both in cities and districts. Notable figures such as Jahanara Shahnawaz, Begum Salma Tassaduq Hussain, Shaista Ikramullah, Zari Sarfraz, and Lady Abdullah Haroon spearheaded the movement.
The momentum grew as the Pakistan Movement gained steam. The Muslim Students Federation and its women’s wing played a vital role in mass mobilization, demonstrating remarkable courage by even traveling to socially conservative areas. Begum Fatima, the founder principal of Jinnah Islamia College for Girls in Lahore, played a pivotal role in rallying female students. The impact of charismatic leader Jinnah’s words, when he emphasized the crucial role of Muslim women in realizing Pakistan’s dream, cannot be understated.
In 1946, when the Muslim League was excluded from forming the provincial government in Punjab despite winning all Muslim seats, women Leaguers staged massive demonstrations that left a lasting impact. They also stood alongside their male counterparts during police raids following the ban on the Muslim League National Guard and the RSS. Their active participation showcased their unwavering commitment to the cause.
The resilience of women leaders shone even brighter as they engaged on the global stage. Jinnah nominated Jahanara Shahnawaz and MAH Ispahani to present the case for Pakistan at an international forum, countering misrepresentations about the movement. Their eloquence left a profound impression.
As the referendum for Pakistan neared, women Leaguers continued their tireless efforts. One remarkable instance was when a woman scaled the Punjab Secretariat to replace the Union Jack with the Pakistani flag – a symbol of defiance and commitment.
The Quaid-i-Azam’s leadership not only transformed the Muslim League into a potent mass organization but also ignited a social revolution. The once-secluded women emerged as activists and effective parliamentarians, proving their mettle in shaping Pakistan’s destiny. This legacy continues to resonate, even as the journey for women’s emancipation and empowerment faces ongoing challenges posed by outdated legislation.
The history of Pakistan’s freedom struggle stands incomplete without acknowledging these remarkable women who defied conventions and played an integral role in the creation of a nation