Pakistani activist and human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir passed away. Jahangir died at 66, due to cardiac arrest. She led the way in human rights issues pertaining to women, children and religious minorities. She often used her sharp wit and direct manner of speaking to achieve her goals. This voice was often appreciated by those who believed Pakistan’s civil society could progress through an improved human rights record. There are also many who believed that her actions and advocacy was destroying the country’s traditional, political and social order.
In 1983, Jahangir, a member of the Lahore Punjab Women Lawyers Association, had been called to the supreme high court due to her protesting a proposed law of evidence, which would greatly decrease the value of any testimony of a woman (this is said to have valued the testimony of a woman as half that of a mans). Many protesters were tear gassed and beaten by police, among the several protesters jailed, Jahangir was one.
Though such a thing may have deterred most, she continued to tackle human rights issues by taking cases. She would refer the poor, or those who could not fend for themselves. She helped with her sister Hina Jilani, who headed a center for legal aid known as the AGHS Legal Aid Cell. Jahangir went on to later co-found the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in 1987, acting as a chairperson until 2011.
She later gained global recognition for her acts defending the underprivileged, as did her active voice against Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws. This unfortunately led to her becoming the recipient of a great deal of death threats. She even went on to attempt holding a mixed gender marathon in Lahore, in order to bring attention to the violence against women. This resulted in attacks by conservative Islamist groups, which had been assisted by the police. It was later confessed they had been ordered to beat the participants and tear off their clothes.
She was a truly remarkable individual representing Pakistan, and her actions had promoted the well being of the masses. She had become the first women to establish a law firm for women, which had created the Women’s Action Forum. This forum campaigned against discriminatory aspects of Pakistan’s legislation. Such as the Hudood Ordinances, which were passed under the regime of General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq. Women who had been raped had to prove their innocence or else themselves be convicted of adultery.
It is important to recognize the many accomplishments of Asma Jahangir, and though she has passed, Pakistan will likely feel the effects of this remarkably strong woman for ages to come.