Books, Pop Culture, Interviews

This Pakistani writer illustrated a book in homage to female Pakistani role models

Pakistan is home to an equally inspiring number of female role models as any other nation.

Pakistan for Women is a collection of illustrated stories of 50 amazing and inspiring Pakistani women from all walks of life. The book features influential women who are firefighters, singers, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists – women who have climbed literal and figurative mountains.

It is the first Pakistan-centric collection of its kind geared to inspire girls and women alike to not only learn about the wonderful women Pakistan has produced, but to take inspiration and motivation from them and know that they too can achieve great things. 

The writer and illustrator behind Pakistan for Women is 23-year-old, Pakistani Maliha Abidi who is currently studying medical neuroscience at the University of Sussex in England. Outside of her interest in science is also a passion for making amazing artwork at home.

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Nothing feels better than sitting in your cozy spot and reading something inspirational. I became the first student of this book as with each day, I researched a story and dug deeper. Now, I look back and as my book turns 1 month old, I cannot believe how many people, Alhamdulillah, know about it. One of the most wonderful things about this book was that I worked on it on my own pace and I made my own schedule. When working on something creative, this is very important but discipline is important as well otherwise when will you complete something? Order your copy of @pakistanforwomen today by simply sending me a DM or if you are in Pakistan, you can get it from any of the @libertybooks stores or off their website as well. Do send me photos of your copies of the book and don’t forget to hashtag #PAKISTANFORWOMEN #PakistanForWomen #WomenEmpowerment #Selfpublished

A post shared by Maliha Abidi? (@maliha_z_art) on

Being a Pakistani woman and an artist who focuses on women empowerment, over time she has built up an audience through her social media who know and love her work. She decided to do a series on Pakistani women who have accomplishments that need to be celebrated, to showcase pride in her heritage and her country.

“It was like a light bulb moment. I wanted to combine my passion for art, writing, and celebrating women, and just bring it in to one book, and that’s how the idea of the book Pakistan for Women came into existence,” said Maliha whose aim has been to put together a book that not only inspires but teaches children too.

When she first started making a list of names for her series, she thought she’d have a maximum of 25, but the list kept growing until it reached almost 80 women. She then realized it had to be more than just a series of artwork.

She started illustrating the most well known names first, like singer Abidah Parveen and the political figure Fatima Jinnah, the women that people commonly already know of. Then, she moved on to some of the lesser known figures such as the firefighter, Shazia Parveen, and Nargis Malvala, the Pakistan-American astrophysicist. 

A collage of six illustrations of Pakistani women featured in "Pakistan for Women", showing Samina Baig, Noor Jehan, Asma Jahangir, Zenith Irfan, Noreena Shams, and Abidah Parveen.
[Image description: A collage of six illustrations of Pakistani women featured in “Pakistan for Women”, showing Samina Baig, Noor Jehan, Asma Jahangir, Zenith Irfan, Noreena Shams, and Abidah Parveen.] Via @pakistanforwomen on Instagram
“There were moments where I felt very overwhelmed, because when you’re writing about such incredible women. it’s like a responsibility. You need to tell their origin story in the right way, to do justice to their stories. You cannot just illustrate them and write about them,” she explained, recalling instances where she had to illustrate a profile more than once like Abidah Parveen’s which entailed four reworks.

At times like these, my father and husband kept me sane,” she added, crediting them as her rocks throughout the whole process. They not only gave her the encouragement she needed but also gave her honest constructive criticism instead of just hollow encouragements.

In Desi culture, there are many people who stop girls from doing something because they are girls or want them to become someone else just so they can get married.

Maliha wants people – largely women in Pakistan and those outside as well to showcase a positive side of the country – to read these stories and realize that if given the chance or the resources, women can make, not just their lives, but the lives of millions around them better as well.

“I would like everyone reading this book to feel inspired because these women come from a country where a lot of people think that women don’t have a lot of rights, and women are supposed to be oppressed,” explained Maliha.

“That is the reality in many parts of Pakistan, I will not deny that, but at the same time there are amazing stories of women who rose above everything and broke glass ceilings.

“The message is about connecting to your heritage and being proud because most of the time it’s easy to take your home country for granted. But if we keep a positive reminder in front of us then we can criticize it in a healthy way in order for us to be better while also appreciating it,” she added.

Maliha also believes that this book will be a good influence for the female population of Pakistan and has already “gotten so many messages from people saying ‘reading this book has changed my perception of Pakistan and how I see Pakistani women.’ And I think that’s an incredible feeling. I honestly feel so proud every time I read such messages,” she said.

“At times women may think they’re not capable of doing something just because they’re women. There’s so much social and societal pressure as well, so I do not doubt that for a second that they will be able to see themselves as powerful just because there are other women who are so powerful within Pakistan,” she added.

“Dear women,” wrote Maliha in Pakistan for Women, “please know you are amazing, you are fearless, you are incredible, you are unbeatable. Being a woman is your biggest strength.”

Pakistan for Women is available for purchase on Amazon UK.

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