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Pakistan formed part of the Mughal Empire, and more recently,

together with India and Bangladesh, was part of the British Empire.
On independence in 1947 the state of Pakistan was formed with two
wings, West and East. In 1971, after a war, East Pakistan seceded
and became the separate country of Bangladesh. Pakistan has five
main ethnic groups of its 147 million population, they speak seven
main languages and 97% of them are Muslim.

Note to images: where not attributed, the pre-1975 pictures are taken from
Women of Pakistan, a book produced by the Government of Pakistan for
International Womens Year, 1975.
Women in political struggle

Prior to independence from British rule and the creation

of Pakistan in 1947 a number of women were involved in
the struggles for female emancipation and
independence from colonial rule. Womens dress
depended, then as now, on region, class and occasion.
The sheer variety of dress has dwindled over the years
with a move towards shalwar kurtas (baggy trousers and
tunics) becoming the standard.
Raana Liaqat Ali,
wife of Pakistans
first Prime Minister,
and founder of the
All Pakistan
Association was the
first woman
ambassador and
provincial governor.

Mohtarma Miss Fatima

Jinnah, sister of
Pakistans founder,
Mohammed Ali Jinnah,
was prominent in all
public arenas and the
first Muslim woman to
contest the presidency
in 1965.
Fatima Jinnah and Raana Liaqat Ali both wore the ghararas, a loose
divided skirt. Ghararas are now only worn in weddings.
Shaista Ikramullah, representing
Pakistan in a UN conference 1956-57

Jahanara Shahnawaz
The two women members of the first
Constituent Assembly (1946-54) are both in
Saris were commonly worn by urban
professional women in West Pakistan (now
Pakistan) until the late 1970s.
The national struggle threw many women into the limelight as
determined freedom fighters. Hundreds of them filled British jails. The
story of the young girl who, defying the Police, scaled the walls to hoist
the Muslim League flag atop the Punjab Assembly building in Lahore, has
now become a legend.

Demonstration in front of Womens Jail,

A pro-independence procession of Muslim
Lahore, which had in it many Muslim
women in pre-independence days.
women arrested by the British
Begum Nusrat Bhutto, 1975, wife
of thedream
The Prime of Minister on the social
an egalitarian
order based on of aWomen
just and ofdemocratic
Pakistan wearing a sari. So called
economic system will never come
Islamization under General Zia ul
Haqstrue if the female
dictatorship half of the
branded continues
the sari to be the
as an unIslamic
form of dress. The sari sex.
is now
making a comeback in fashionable
circles but sarong-like
Begum Nusrat lungis
Bhutto, wife of Prime and
laachas Alias
wellMarch 1975.traditional
as other Pakistan took
an active
dresses part in the 1975
considered International
peasant wear
Womens Year and Nusrat led the delegation to
are steadily disappearing.
the UNs first womens conference in 1975.
Womens Action Forum protests the rape and murder of the Masoom sisters.
Lahore, 1987. Azhar Jafri
Women in Karachi protesting against water shortages in 2001.
Note that the photographer has chosen to show the women with covered faces,
and perhaps they have chosen to cover for reasons of anonymity.
AFP, The Nation, March 2001
Women activists of Pakistan Peoples Party (one of two major political
parties) protest against Maulana Niazis fatwa against Benazir Bhutto.

Ishaq Chaudhry The Muslim 12 August 1992

Women from one of the mainstream politico-religious parties Jamaat-e-Islami
protesting outside the Supreme Court against Qazi Hussain Ahmeds imprisonment
one of the leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami. They have filed a petition against his
arrest and are therefore making the Peace/Victory sign.
The Daily Pakistan Lahore, January 2002
Women protesting against the closure of a polling station at its regulatory time arguing that they
were already waiting inside the station to vote. T-shirts, Iranian style chador and scarf mingle with
local fashion.
AFP. Women voters, 1988 General Elections
March 8th celebration (1998, Sindh province).
Women at
These womens class, backgrounds and status show
through their dress as clearly as through the work
they do

Working class
fast food outlet,
K M Chaudry, The
Muslim, March
Karachi Stock
AFP, The Nation,
September 1999
Harvesting wheat in Punjab (2000)
Women crossing the dried up Indus river in search of
water, Sindh Province.
AFP, The Nation, March 2001
Drama artists rehearsing in Radio
Pakistans studio in Rawalpindi.

In the 1960s kameez (tunics) were

short and the shalwar wide. None of
the women has covered her head
with the dupatta.
Farming family from a village in Sindh.
Sorting scrap
metal at a Lahore

AFP, Daily Times,


Pakistan has always had a strong sporting tradition. In 1975 the

Government was very proud and supportive of womens sports:

Until recently the concept of young girls sprinting across athletic

tracks or dashing around sports arenas was anathema to a social
order which had decreed that womens place was the home. The
few bold and the brave who managed to defy social dictates of the
times could, however, move no farther than badminton and table
tennis courts. Whatever talents were, they remained undiscovered
and underdeveloped in the absence of training facilities and

Women of Pakistan, Government of Pakistan, 1975

Group of National athletes at the National Training and
Coaching Centre, Karachi.

Note the variety of covering which would not nowadays be possible

all would be in track-suit bottoms and baggy long-sleeved shirts to
ip at Lahore
Hockey in College.
Lahore College for Women sports day
Lahore Dawn, January
Dawn, February 2000 2000
Under the 1977-1985 martial law regime when
dress codes tightened, women continued to play
sports but under more difficult conditions. The
participation of all Pakistani women in sporting
events abroad or in public (in front of an audience
that could include males) stopped. In the early
1980s Pakistans highly successful womens
hockey team was turned back from the airport
while on its way to an international event. After
the return of democracy, women were able to
compete internationally although there is still a
reluctance to open womens sports events to the

The 1977-1985 martial law regime emphasised Pakistans

connections with the Middle East and downplayed its Asian
history, and promoted the veil. Forms of purdah never
before seen in Pakistan are now widespread in urban areas,
including the Iranian-style veils and Middle Eastern
headscarves, which are replacing the traditional Pakistani
chaddar and traditional burqas stylised in the cartoon. But
dresses vary as seen in the shopping scenes:
Moment II, 1999
Aisha Khalid
Pakistan: Another Vision,
Fifty years of painting and
sculpture from Pakistan,
Shirkat Gah 2000
Urban shopping

Urban shopping 1. Lahore, Camerapix,

Pakistan, 1994
(2004) anon. wluml
Women on the move

The freedom of women has ebbed and flowed

with successive political regimes. This has not
only shown itself in dress but also in womens
daily activities and individual mobility.
Karachi Harbour, c 1910-20.
A woman driving a taxi, even today,
would make an unusual sight. Mrs
Waheeda Baig started operating a
driving school for women in the
fifties. After the war of 1965, she
became a full-time cab driver,
astonishing many and annoying
some. No women taxi drivers are to
be seen nowadays.
UKS Diary 1998
Filling up in the 1960s.
She is one of the very few
women riding a motorcycle one
can see on the streets of Lahore.
Woman happily riding her
donkey cart
Dawn, 2001
A young woman getting from A A horse drawn tonga in Lahore
to B on Lake Manchar. a cheap and popular form of
transport in Lahore and other
Pakistan from mountains to sea, 1994
Modes and
Codes: traditional
dress to ethnic chic

Rural and nomadic women

retain their traditional
dress more than urban
and better-off women...

Gujar women and girls

in the main street of
Madyan, Hindu Kush.
Linden-Museum, Stuttgart, Arts and
women of Peshawar,
of the Swat Valley, Johannesc
Katter, 1989
Torwali women on a visit to Madyan
Johannes Katter, 1989
Stylized variations of the shalwar-
kameez traditional to most parts of
Pakistan are now commonly seen at
specially staged cultural events
and sell in shops around the world
to better-off women who know little
or nothing of the culture the dress
comes from or the weight of
meaning it once carried.
Swati traditional dress, baggy
Shalwar and Kameez with a Chaddar
resting on both the shoulders.
Women of Pakistan, 1975

We should know about the women in

Swat that, from the age of
puberty a women is literally shut up in
the house and can leave it only with
the permission of her father or her
husband, and only on special
occasions and under special

The Life of the Women in the Zenana, Viola

Forster-Luhe, 1989
Ministers, baboos asked to wear national dress
By Ansar Abbasi

ISLAMABAD: National dress should be worn on formal occasions, this is not a demand
of the newly emerged Islamic political force - Muttahida Majlis-e-Aamal - but a
direction of the military regime to all its key members and top bureaucrats.

Through an "immediate" circular issued to all the federal ministers, advisers and key
bureaucrats including federal secretaries, the cabinet secretary Javed Masud directs
that on all formal occasions the national dress should be worn.

The ministers, secretaries, advisers most of whom have been seen wearing western
attire during the last three years of the military regime are now told to wear national
dress ie "white or black sherwani/achkan or a buttoned up black waist-coat (V shaped
in summer and closed collar in winter), kurta/kamees and shalwar/pyjama, black
shoes and matching socks, preferably with Jinnah Krakuli cap."

A conspicuous change is now expected in Pakistan television where the lady

newscasters and announcers have stopped wearing headscarf, models and television
artists are shown in western dresses in entertainment programmes and commercials
and Azzan (call for prayers) has been stopped.

The News International, Pakistan. October 16 th, 2002