Famous Women From South Asia

Check out some influential South Asian women from the past and present:

Nazo Tokhi

Nazo Tokhi—Afghanistan (1651-1717):  Commonly known as Nazo Ana, she was a prominent Pashtun poet and literary figure.  Mother of the famous early-18th century Afghan King Mir Wais, she grew up in an influential family in the Kandahar region.  In addition to her writing, she mediated disputes between rival Pashtun tribes and encouraged their alliance against the Persian Safavid rulers.  Nazo Tokhi is remembered today as the “Mother of Afghan Nationalism.”  There are a number of schools and other institutions named after her throughout the country.


Rani Lakshmi Bai

Rani Lakshmi Bai—India (1835-1858):  The Queen of Jhansi, she was one of the leading figures of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and a symbol of resistance to British rule in India. She was the queen of the Peshwa-ruled princely state of Jhansi, in the northern part of India.  She died in 1858 during the battle for Gwalior.  She donned warrior’s clothes and rode into battle to save Gwalior Fort, about 120 miles west of Lucknow in what is now the state of Uttar Pradesh.  Because of her bravery, courage, wisdom and progressive views on women’s empowerment in the 19th century, she became a national heroine and icon of the Indian independence movement.  Rani Lakshmi Bai was memorialized in bronze statues at Jhansi and Gwalior, both of which portray her on horseback.

Fatima Jinnah

Fatima Jinnah—Pakistan (1893-1967):  Known as the “Mother of the Nation,” Jinnah was an instrumental figure in the Pakistan independence movement.  She was the sister of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.  In 1947, she started the Women’s Relief Committee, which later formed the nucleus for the All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA). Jinnah was the first Muslim woman to contest the presidency in 1965, as a candidate of the Combined Opposition Party.

Pratibha Patil

Pratibha Patil—India (1934-present):  She is the 12th and current President of the Republic of India and first woman to hold the office.  She was sworn in on July 25, 2007, succeeding Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.  Patil began her professional career as a lawyer at the Jalgaon District Court and worked for various social causes, especially uplifting poor women.  Before becoming President, she served as a member of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, Deputy Chairwoman of the Rajya Sabha, Member of Parliament and the first female Governor of Rajasthan.  She holds the unique distinction of not losing a single election she has contested to date.

Safia Ahmed-jan

Safia Ahmed-jan—Afghanistan (1941–2006):  An Afghan women’s rights advocate and outspoken critic of the Taliban for the latter’s suppression of women, she secretly taught women during the period of fundamentalist rule.  She worked as a teacher, high school principal and provincial director of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Kandahar province prior to her assassination in September 2006.  U.S. President George W. Bush said of Ahmed-jan, “She was a leader who wanted to give young girls an education in Afghanistan.  She was a person who cared deeply about the future of the country.”

Salima Hashmi

Salima Hashmi—Pakistan (1942-present):  An accomplished painter, writer, professor and anti-nuclear weapon activist, Hashmi taught at Pakistan’s prestigious National College of Arts (NCA) for 30 years and served as head of the NCA for four years.  In 1999, she received Pakistan’s Pride of Performance award.  Today she is the Dean of the School of Visual Arts at the newly established Beaconhouse National University in Lahore.  She has written extensively on the arts in Pakistan and India.  She also runs her own art gallery featuring works by young artists.