Check out some amazing women from the region! Both past and present, here are some of the most influencial women of South Asia:
Sarojini Naidu–India (1879-1949): The daughter of Aghornath Chattopadhyaya, the founder of Nizam College, she studied poetry in England and was proficient in six languages. She fell in love with a doctor who was not a Brahmin (although she was) and married him at a time when inter-caste marriage was not allowed. She was elected the first woman President of Congress and participated in the Indian Independence Movement. At one point, she spent time in jail alongside Mahatma Ghandhi. She became the governor of the United Provinces (present day Uttar Pradesh) upon India’s independence in 1947, the first Indian female governor.
Queen Soraya Tarzi–Afghanistan (1899-1968): Always seen in public with her husband, at social and political events, Soraya was the wife of King Amanullah Khan. She campaigned against polygamy, and encouraged girls’ education, not just for those in the big cities, but also for the poor and conservative in the countryside. She also championed for women to be involved with nation building, and founded the first magazine for women Ershad-E-Niswad (Guidance for Women).
Indira Gandhi–India (1917-1984): Indira’s father, Jawaharlal Nehru, was the first Prime Minister of Independent India in 1947. In 1959 Indira became the fourth elected woman to the Indian National Congress. Five years later, Indira’s father died. The same year she was named the Minister of Information and Broadcasting. She acted as Prime Minister after her father’s death until the next election in 1967. She won that election, becoming the first woman ever elected to lead a democracy. Between 1975 and 1977 she instated a state of emergency and effectively turned her rule into a dictatorship. She allowed free elections in 1977 and was voted out of office. She was reelected in 1980 but assassinated four years later by her bodyguards. Indira was known for her promotion of economic growth in India and believed everything she did was for the betterment of the Indian people.
Benazir Bhutto–Pakistan (1953-2007): Became the first woman leader of an Islamic country in 1988 at the age of 35. After her father was hanged following a military coup in 1979, she became the leader of his party, Pakistan People’s Party. She was ousted from the country until 1986. When the leader of Pakistan, General Zia died in a plane crash, she was elected Prime Minister of Pakistan. She was dismissed from this position in 1990, re-won elections in 1993, and was again dismissed in 1996. After spending some time in Dubai, she returned to Pakistan as the leading opposition candidate for the Pakistan People’s Party for the upcoming 2008 elections. Unfortunately, she did not make it. She was assassinated on December 27, 2007. Benazir Bhutto was a champion of democracy, education, reform, and human rights. She was honored with many awards for her achievements including the United Nations Prize in the field of Human Rights the year after she died.
Meena Keshwar Kamal–Afghanistan (1956-1987): She was the founder of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) in 1977, which promoted equality and education of women. She also launched a bilingual feminist magazine Payam-e-Zan (Women’s Message) and founded Watan Schools, which aided refugee children and their mothers by offering hospitalization and the teaching of practical skills. At French Socialist Party Congress, she represented the Afghan resistance movement. In 1987 she was assassinated.
Habiba Sarabi–Afghanistan (1956-present): Became the first ever woman Governor of a province in Afghanistan in 2005. She worked at a hospital before the Taliban came to power. Once the Taliban came into power she left for Peshawar and took her children with her. In Peshawar she became the health manager for the Afghan Institute for Learning and also ran women’s rights workshops in refugee camps. She currently works for Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan, which provides education, health and work to women refugees and their children and coordinates literacy courses in Kabul.