Pakistan: Khawar Mumtaz

Forced to choose between her job as a university lecturer and her activism, Khawar Mumtaz decided the job had to go.

— Khawar Mumtaz

The work of activist and writer Khawar Mumtaz (born 1945) over more than two decades has helped to place women's rights on the agenda of government, political parties, and religious parties in Pakistan. The 33 per cent reservation of seats for women in local government, and in provincial and national parliaments, was achieved through the collective action of Khawar and other women activists. Her visible activism continues to inspire many others to fight for women's rights.

Khawar Mumtaz raised her voice against injustice and discrimination, even though it meant giving up her job as a university lecturer. When the university questioned her involvement in street protests against Pakistan's military regime in the 1980s, she quit. Civil society in Pakistan has been enriched by her decision: Khawar coauthored the definitive book on Pakistani women's struggle for their rights, becoming one of the country's most prominent activists. This great-niece of Ismat Chughtai, a leading Indian writer and feminist, became involved with the left movement in Pakistan in the 1970s. In the 1980s, she joined other Pakistani women in their struggle against the antiwomen laws of the military regime. She was arrested at a rally against the proposed Law of Evidence in 1983. Giving up her job the same year, Khawar spent two years writing Women in Pakistan: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back? with her friend, the sociologist und women's rights activist, Farida Shaheed. The book documents the path of the Muslim women's movement from the 20th century fin de siecle to contemporary times, and received the Prime Minister's Award in 1989. Khawar joined the Shirkat Gah Women's Resource Center in 1985, later becoming a fulltime coordinator. She worked without pay for years to establish the organization and consolidate its financial base. Over the previous decade, Khawar has increasingly focused on reproductive rights, health, poverty and environmental issues, especially those relating to women. She is respected in Pakistan as someone whose working style is inclusive and interactive. Khawar is a team player. As coordinator of the NGO forum, which has more than 2500 members, she has been a model of participatory decision-making. Thanks to her leadership, this forum, comprised of diverse interest groups and members, has remained cohesive and relevant.

Shirkat Gah Women's Resource Center