Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz


Social worker

Designation: Politician
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Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz

Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz (1896 - 1979) was a politician in British India and in Pakistan. She was the first woman to preside over an Asian legislature.

Born April 7, 1896 in Lahore, British India to well known Arain Mian family, Jahanara Shafi was the daughter of Sir Muhammad Shafi and married to Mian Sir Muhammad Shah Nawaz. Educated at Queen Mary College, Lahore, she was involved in public life. Her sister Geti Ara Begum and brother-in-law Mian Basheer Ahmed were prominent Muslim League leaders.

Her eldest daughter Mumtaz Shahnawaz was also a Pakistani diplomat and writer. Her younger daughter Begum Nasim was married to Major General Akbar Khan. They were both arrested in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case.

An active social worker, she pushed for reform of Muslim law, campaigning against polygamy through the All India Muslim Women's Conference, and was an office bearer of the organization for many years. She was nominated to be a member of Lahore Municipal Committee in the 1920s. She also became involved in the All India Women's Conference which had been set up in 1927 by Margaret Cousins.

In 1932, she was nominated by the Viceroy as one of two representatives of Indian women at the Round Table Conference. Along with Radhabai Subbaroyan, she campaigned for increasing women's suffrage and providing reserved seats for women in the legislature. On her return to India she joined active politics and was elected as a member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly.

Begum Shahnawaz closely worked with women across party lines to work for social reform. She was a part of a committee headed by Sarojini Naidu and Mridula Sarabhai that investigated the conditions of women in India and stated steps that the government required to take. The Report was submitted to the National Planning Board of the Congress Party.

In 1935, she formed the Punjab Provincial Muslim Women's League. In 1937, she was elected a Member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly and was appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Education, Medical Relief and Public Health. In 1938, she formally joined All India Muslim League and was inducted in the Woman's Central Sub-committee. 

In 1942, the Government of India appointed her as a member of the National Defense Council. She refused to abide by Jinnah's call to resign from the league and was expelled from the party. In 1946, she was again elected a Member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly. Along with Mirza Ahmad Ispahani, she was sent on a goodwill tour to the United States of America to campaign for Pakistan.

In 1947, she played an important role in the Muslim League’s civil disobedience movement against the Punjab government, getting arrested along with other leaders of the Punjab league. Under the terms of the Cabinet Mission Plan, she was elected a member of the Constituent Assembly of India. However, like most Muslim League members she did not take her seat and left for Pakistan. She and Shaista Ikramullah were the only two women in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly and Central Legislature.

Post independence, she remained active in public life in Pakistan. She was one of the founders of the All Pakistan Women's Association which was active in women's rights. She, along with Begum Rana Liaquat Ali Khan, was instrumental in pushing for reforms in family law. She was one of three women appointed to the Commission on Marriage and Family Law Reform, 1954. The Commission submitted its report in 1958 by suggesting various reforms to the existing laws governing marriage, divorce and provision of inheritance to the orphaned grandchildren. The recommendations were duly incorporated through the adoption of the Muslim Family Law Ordinance 1961. This helped in restricting polygamy, and ensuring that women were guaranteed their rights as was promised in the Koran.

Begum Jahanara Shah Nawaz wrote several pamphlets on educational and social matters. She wrote a book titled 'Husn Ara Begum' in Urdu and her memoirs titled 'Father and Daughter' in English.

She died in l979.

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