Asma Jahangir “Little Heroine”

By Mahjabeen Malik

Asma Jahangir was the most vigorous lady lawyer for Human Rights and social campaigner in Pakistan. It won’t be wrong if we say that she was the robust voice of female and oppressed living in the world specifically in Pakistan. She had co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and she had participated actively in the Lawyers’ Movement.

Early age and Educational Career:

Asma Jahangir was born in Lahore on 27 January 1952 with a golden spoon in her mouth. She belonged to a well-off and politically strong family of Kakazi Pathan. Her father Malik Ghulam Jilani was a civil servant but after his retirement, he joined politics against military dictatorships. Consequently, he was put into jail for his straightforward views even against military and the action for East Pakistan (Bangladesh).

Her mother Begum Sahiba was an educated woman. She studied at Forman Christian College in Lahore. She was a bold and pioneering woman who started her own business of clothing until her family’s property was seized as the result of her husband’s boldness and confinement.

At a very tender age, Asma Jahangir had to involve in the protest against her father’s detention, later on, she protested against the confinement of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972.  She had filed a petition against General Yahya Khan. She had raised her voice against dictatorship.


She was sent to the Convent of Jesus and Mary for her early education. She passed her graduation examination from Kinnaird College then got admission in LLB in the Punjab University and obtained a degree of LLB in 1978 from the same university. She achieved a PhD degree from the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. She had been studying at Queens University Canada, Simon Fraser University, Canada and Cornell University, United States.

Struggle for Oppressed:

Throughout her career, she had been fighting for oppressed and defending the human and women’s rights, rights of minorities and children’s rights in Pakistan. She had criticized the Hudood Ordinance and blasphemy laws of Pakistan. She had protested against the Islamization of Zia-ul-Haq program in the country.

Asma Jahangir and her sister, Hina Jilani, co-founded the first law firm with their other fellow activists and lawyers in 1980. She was beaten and arrested with her fellow activists of Women’s Action Forum WAF in 1983 as a result of a public protest of the Punjab Women Lawyers Association in Lahore.

In the favour of the controversial case of a blind girl Safia Bibi, WAF demonstrated a protest in 1983. A blind girl of thirteen years old Safia Bibi, was raped by her employers and conceived so consequently she was put to jail with the charge of fornication, the poor girl spent three years in Jail. Ultimately, Asma Jahangir defended her on her plea.

In 1982 Asma Jahangir got a title of “Little Heroin” for involving in a protest march in Islamabad against a decision by Zia-ul-Haq and she made Zia-ul-Haq reform his decision. As she said, “Family laws [which are religious laws] give women few rights” and that “They have to be reformed because Pakistan cannot live in isolation. We cannot remain shackled while other women progress’’.

Asma Jahangir and her sister Hina Jilani established the first free (AGHS) Legal Aid Cell in Lahore in the history of Pakistan. It also provides shelter for women in the name of “Dastak”. Asma Jahangir also protested against injustice against female and she wrote in her letter to The New York Times, “Women are arrested, raped and sexually assaulted every day in the presence of female constables, who find themselves helpless in such situations”.

Asma Jahangir was an adversary of child labour and capital sentence.  She went against the Lahore High Court in 1996 when the court set a rule that an adult Muslim woman cannot get married without the consent of any male member of the family. If any woman gets marriage without the consent of her family, she will have to cancel her marriage (nikah). Against that rule, Asma Jahangir protested and compelled the court to review the decision.

She had also insisted the government of Pervez Musharaf make better the record of human rights domestically. Asma Jahangir had the honour of becoming the first Pakistani lady to deliver the 2017 Amartya Sen Lecture at the London School of Economics. She had also the credit of becoming the first female president of Pakistan Bar Council and she had performed a mandatory role in the restoration of judiciary too.

She was an author too and prescribed two books: Devine Sanction the Hudood Ordinance and Children of a Lesser God. Many publications and Dawn newspaper published her articles.

Personal Life:

She was married to Tahir Jahangir and had two daughters Muniza Jahangir (Journalist) and Sulema Jahangir (Lawyer) and had a son Jilani Jahangir (Lawyer).

Journey to Eternal Life:

Asma Jahangir passed away due to cardiac arrest in Lahore on February 11, 2018. May Allah rest her soul in peace. On her death, Pakistani women, children and subjugated deprived of a mother. She was a Pakistani mother Teresa, who protected children, women and oppressed people like minorities.


Asma Jahangir won the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders and the Ramon Magsaysay Award for the greatness of spirit shown in service of the people in 1995.

In 2000, she achieved the King Baudouin International Development Prize as chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

Both of the sisters Asma Jahangir and  Hina Jilani received awards the Millennium Peace Prize by UNIFEM (the United Nations Development Fund for Women) in collaboration with the non-governmental organisation International Alert.

The Lisl and Leo Eitinger award was awarded to Asma Jahangir in 2002.

She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 for taking part in the 1000 Women for Peace project.

She achieved the Freedom of Worship Medal for her Human Rights and Religious Freedom activism, in a ceremony held in Holland at the International Four Freedoms Award 2010.

In the honour of her services in Human Rights, she was awarded the Hilal-i-Imtiaz, the second-highest civilian award of Pakistan on 23 March 2010.

She established the Supreme Court Bar Association election on 27 October 2017 by defeating her competitor Ahmed Awais and obtaining 834 of total votes and became the first-ever women President of SCBA in the history of Pakistan.

On 10 December 2010, she was awarded the 2010 UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights, recognising her efforts as a human rights defender.

In 2012, she was awarded the North-South Prize of the Council of Europe.

Asma Jehangir got “Friends of Liberation War Honour”  on 13 April 2013 award by the Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on behalf of her late father Malik Ghulam Jilani who had supported the liberation war for Bangladesh.

On 4 June 2014, she was awarded the “Stefanus Prize”, a Human Rights Prize emphasising the Freedom of Religion or Belief (Article 18 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.)

She was awarded The Right Livelihood Award ” in 2014 for defending, protecting and promoting human rights in Pakistan and more widely, often in very difficult and complex situations and at great personal risk”.

On 26 October 2018, she was awarded United Nations Human Rights Award posthumously for her contributions that promote & protect human rights.

She won the Nishan-e-Imtiaza too in 2018.