Whether you supported her or disagreed with her political position and activism, it is an undeniable fact- Asma Jehangir did indeed have style, and her significance and legacy will live on for generations to come.
As the country prepares to mourn the loss of the veteran lawyer and activist, who passed away from a sudden cardiac arrest on Sunday, at the age of 66, we look back at the life and achievements of a woman like no other. Even her harshest critics and detractors would agree that it is unlikely we will witness such a brave, bold and formidable figure as Asma Jehangir.
Her commitment to democracy and persistence for standing up to what was wrong can be seen in the earliest of her days- when she took on Yahya Khan in the Supreme Court of Pakistan to protest the unfair imprisonment of her father, Malik Ghulam Jilani. In early 1970s Pakistan, a strictly patriarchal society, an eighteen year old girl found herself making history, as the Supreme Court decided in her favour, declaring the military government illegal. Since then, for better or for worse, Asma’s commitment to democracy and democratic ideals has been unwavering.
Often times, her battle for democracy included standing up against the military and judiciary, moves that came at great costs to her. Yet Asma has always been a woman who has never relented to public opinion or pressure. In a country with strong patriarchal structures and strict codes of behaviour for women, she broke all glass ceilings, by facilitating Pakistan’s women’s rights movements in the 1980s and 2000’s, co-founding the very first all-women’s legal firm, as well as Pakistan’s first free legal aid clinic to help destitute and oppressed women; not to mention becoming Pakistan’s first female bar council president. Not only did she pave the way for women to enter the legal profession, which they are now doing so in droves, she did it while being unapologetically herself.
Asma Jehangir was a controversial figure, as anyone who stands up for human rights against the status quo are. Whether she was criticising military rule, or protesting women’s right to choose their husband, or defending a fourteen year old against blasphemy charges, echoes of insults from right-wing nationalists followed her. All the critics, however, admit that she is a woman like no other.
Pakistan today has lost a feminist warrior, whose commitment to human rights has paved the way for generations to stand up for their rights.