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 Women’s
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. Women’s 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 Pakistan’s first
Prime Minister, and
founder of the All
Pakistan Women’s
Association was the
first woman
ambassador and
provincial governor.
Mohtarma Miss Fatima
Jinnah, sister of
Pakistan’s 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.
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 Women’s Jail, Lahore,
which had in it many Muslim women arrested by
the British Government.
A pro-independence procession of Muslim
women in pre-independence days.
Begum Nusrat Bhutto, 1975, wife of
the Prime Minister on the frontispiece
dream of
of Pakistan’
an egalitarian
of ‘Women
a sari.
on a‘Islamization’
just and democratic
So called
under General
Zia ul Haq’s
will never
come true
if the female
sari as an
of the the
to be the
form of dress.
The sari is
now making
a comeback in fashionable circles but
as Zulfikhar
Nusrat Bhutto,
of Prime
1975. Pakistan
an active part in
wear are
1975 International
Year and Nusrat led
delegation to the UN’s first women’s conference in
Women’s 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 Niazi’s 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 Ahmed’s 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 Work
These women’s 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 1990
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
Pakistan’s studio in Rawalpindi.
In the 1960s kameez (tunics) were short
and the shalwar wide. None of the
women has covered her head with the
Farming family from a village in Sindh.
Sorting scrap metal
at a Lahore factory.
AFP, Daily Times, May
Pakistan has always had a strong sporting tradition. In 1975 the
Government was very proud and supportive of women’s 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 women’s 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 cover the body shape.
Lahore Hockey
Women sports day
Iqbal Ch, The News,
Dawn, February 2000 April 2001
p at Lahore
Dawn, January
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 Pakistan’s highly successful
women’s 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
women’s sports events to the public.
Outside Influences
The 1977-1985 martial law regime emphasised Pakistan’s
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 Iranianstyle 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
Shirkat Gah
Pakistan: Another Vision, Fifty
years of painting and sculpture
from Pakistan, 2000
Urban shopping 2.
Urban shopping 1.
(2004) anon. wluml
Lahore, Camerapix,
Pakistan, 1994
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 women’s 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.
The Sun, January 2nd 2000
Woman happily riding her
donkey cart
Dawn, 2001
A young woman getting from A to B
on Lake Manchar.
Pakistan – from mountains to sea, 1994
A horse drawn tonga in Lahore – a
cheap and popular form of transport
in Lahore and other cities.
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
Crafts of the Swat Valley, Johannes
of Peshawar,Katter,
c 1910.
Torwali women on a visit to Madyan
Johannes Katter, 1989
Stylized variations of the shalwarkameez 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 16th, 2002

Pakistan - University of Missouri