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8 Mar

International Women’s Day: 12 contemporary Pakistani women to achieve ‘firsts!’


Pakistan has had a fair share of luck in regards to the powerful women it has been a home to. From strong-willed politicians like Benazir Bhutto to creative artistes of the highest repertoire like Noor Jehan, it has been the countless collective efforts of iconic ladies who have shaped the country we live in today and due to whom we can happily celebrate a milestone like the International Women’s Day.

Paying homage to the women who have changed the status-quo with their accomplishments, we look at 12 contemporary female icons of Pakistan…


Samina Baig – First Pakistani woman to climb Mount Everest




Tired, cold, hungry and roughly 800 feet from Mt. Everest’s summit, Samina Baig had only one thought in mind, and that was to reach the top. Fighting all odds, this Hunzai woman proved that as the first Pakistani female to reach the top of Everest, she would be sending a message of hope and inspiration to fellow Pakistanis.


Uzma Yousuf – First Pakistani woman to climb Spantik Peak




A female mountaineer from Peshawar, Uzma Yousuf had set the bar high with conquering the 7,027-meter-high Spantik peak in the Northen Areas – which is known for its treacherous cliffs and peaks. The 43-year-old has also climbed the 5,098-meter-high Rush Peak in February 2017. She was the first woman ever to do it in the winter season.


Namira Salim – First Pakistani woman to reach the North and South Poles




With her achievements speaking more than anything one could write about her, Namira Salim is the first Pakistani to have reached the North Pole in April 2007 and the South Pole in January 2008. She is also the first Asian and first Pakistani to skydive over Mount Everest, during the historic First Everest Skydives 2008! Apart from that, the young Pakistani achiever is the only Pakistani member of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic – the world’s first commercial space liner – and is widely known as the first Pakistani to travel into space.


Zenith Irfan – First Pakistani female motorcyclist to travel across Pakistan solo



Soon to be essayed by Sohai Ali Abro in a film, Zenith Irfan is the first female motorcyclist to travel across Pakistan solo. Her father dreamt of traveling around the world on his motorbike, but when he died young at age 34, the icon decided to fulfill his dream and go on a ride of the lifetime.


Minhal Sohail – First female shooter to represent Pakistan at the Olympics



While Pakistan has given birth to a number of great sportspersons, Minhal Sohail is the latest powerful addition to the list as she became the first female shooter to represent her country at the Olympics when she participated in the Olympics in Rio De Janeiro.


Malala Yousafzai – First Pakistani female Nobel-Laureate



Becoming the youngest Nobel-Laureate in history at 17, Malala Yousafzai is an icon whose work for human rights advocacy– especially for the education of women and children in her native Swat Valley – has grown into an international movement of the highest standard. with countless supporters behind her.


Krishna Kumari – First Hindu-Dalit woman in Pakistan to be elected to Senate



Becoming Pakistan’s first Hindu-Dalit to be elected to the upper house of parliament, Krishna Kumari worked against all odds and did the unimaginable to be elected a senator in Pakistan’s parliament.


Ayesha Farooq – First Pakistani female fighter jet pilot




Battling misogyny and quashing stereotypes, Flight Lieutenant Ayesha Farooq became the first Pakistani fighter pilot of the Pakistan Air Force. She now flies missions in a Chinese-made Chengdu J-7 fighter jet alongside her 24 male colleagues in Squadron 20! That’s pretty amazing.


Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy – First Pakistani Oscar winner




Bringing Pakistan’s entertainment landscape to the limelight, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy did what was considered impossible for the longest time by winning not one, but two Academy Awards! Truly a legend of the Pakistani media industry, Sharmeen has six Emmy Awards to her name apart from her coveted Oscar wins! Plus, if that’s not enough, she has also been previously named one of the 100 most influential people in the world.


Maheen Khan – First designer to extend Pakistan’s embroidered craft to Hollywood



A powerhouse who has provided Pakistan with fashion choices for decades, Fashion doyenne Maheen Khan has long been associated with excellent craftsmanship and minimalistic design. However, apart from her sartorial contributions, Maheen is perhaps one of the few Pakistani couturiers who put Pakistan on the Hollywood map by supplying embroidered textile craft for films like Sweeney Todd, Phantom of the Opera, Elizabeth I, Elizabeth II, Alexander, Golden Age, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Cinderella amongst others!


Nilofer Shahid – First Pakistani designer to showcase at Paris Fashion Week



From showcasing her craft at The Louvre in Paris and Royal Albert Hall in London to dressing Hollywood stars and socialites, the Grades De Chevalier honorary Nilofer Shahid is undoubtedly an icon for Pakistan for her contribution in the development of culture and fashion design. Her stellar list of clientele includes discerning names like Princess Diana, Benazir Bhutto, Cherie Blair, Princesses Haifa and Nourah of Saudia Arabia, Jemima Goldsmith, pop star Madonna and countess Martha Morzotto to name a few!


Nabila – First Pakistani make-up brand to go international




Amongst the various contemporary female icons of Pakistan, Nabila has been a true bastion in the fashion industry with her contribution to make-up and styling. If all of her Lux Style Awards aren’t enough proof of her prowess, she is also the first Pakistani to go international with her make-up and has provided it to Hollywood!

NOTE: So yes, Kumail Nanjiani, Hollywood may not be able to ‘find Pakistan on the map’ but these icons have made Pakistan known throughout the world!

Shahjehan Saleem

The author is Deputy Editor at Something Haute as well as a professor in the Media Sciences department at SZABIST, Karachi. Socio-cultural theories and geography fill up the rest of his time.