Women who dared to push for change – we thank you.

Benazir Bhutto (1953–2007)

This is a woman that had the determination and tenacity to make a difference. She also made the ultimate sacrifice. In 1988 she was the first elected female prime minister of a Muslim country. That was a massive and significant achievement. She was 35 years old. That country was Pakistan. A country which had been ruled through dictatorship, she helped move it into a promising democracy. Benazir Bhutto’s aim was social reforms. She was particularly keen in helping women and the poor. She was globally mourned when she was assassinated in 2007.

Benazir was no stranger to politics. Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had served as Pakistan’s 9th Prime Minister (prior to that he was the 4th President of Pakistan). Zulfikar was the founder of the Parkistan’s People Party (PPP).

In 1982, at age 29 Benazir became the chairperson of the PPP – one of the major political parties in the country. The PPP had grown in popularity and in strength since its inception in 1967. The unfair and biased execution of her father in 1979 by the government did nothing to wane followers and supporters.

Benazir had an obvious abundance of charisma and intelligence. She was 16 years old when she commenced her studies at Harvard University. She graduated in 1973 with a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Comparative Government. She furthered her education by studying philosophy, political science, and economics at Oxford University, graduating in 1977 with another Bachelor of Arts degree. Like many university students finding their fit, she became involved in some politically motivated groups and demonstrations. 

Benazir was passionate about many things. One of her most passionate causes was most criticised –  the empowerment of women.

I think that it is also important to understand that she was living in a country which was not all that female-friendly. Yes, she became Prime Minister – twice in fact. However, just like in Australia we have the Liberal Party and Labor Party and they both tend to make achieving anything for this country difficult, Benazir would have come up against opposition also. Her feminist legacy is a little tainted in the eyes of some. One of the criticisms which plagued her was the Hudood Ordinances. These are laws which were enacted in 1979.  The intention of which was to implement Shari’a law. By doing this, it would mean that the laws in Pakistan would conform with Islamic directives limiting women’s freedoms. This would have been no easy feat to depose.    

Benazir was rallying for a third term in office as Prime Minister when she was killed. Her attacker, 15-year old Bilal, shot her and then blew himself up. It is said that the Pakistani Taliban requested he carry this out.  The world lost an exceptional woman. Her loss was felt around the world and she was globally mourned.

Photo credit www.britannica.com and REUTERS/Alamy