From Marvel to the Grammys: The education of Pakistani women taking the world by storm

women from pakistan
Pakistani-Canadian actress Iman Vellani's debut as "Ms. Marvel" has once again put the talents and accomplishments of Pakistani women into the global spotlight. Source: Eugene Gologursky /Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

Brown girls are taking over the world, and they’re just getting started. Kamala Khan’s onscreen debut struck a firestorm of approval from critics and pop culture fans, especially among girls and women from Pakistan and those in the diaspora who’ve had to suffer a slew of Hollywood misrepresentation. 

Iman Vellani’s electric portrayal of the titular character is far from the only trailblazing win that Pakistani women have been claiming at the global stage. From the Grammys to iconic speeches at the United Nations, meet some of the most influential women from Pakistan that are commanding the world’s attention with a lethal dose of intellect, talent, and charm, with a solid education at some of the world’s best universities.

4 women from Pakistan who are making waves at the global stage 

Malala Yousafzai

Famous women from Pakistan

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai graduated from the University of Oxford in 2020, and continues to fiercely advocate for women’s education worldwide. Source: Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool/AFP

Youngest Nobel Prize Winner. Oxford graduate. Activist extraordinaire. Malala Yousafzai is a name that needs no introduction. The firebrand poster girl for gender equality is the modern day beacon of hope for girls who are forcibly denied schooling due to patriarchal violence.

At just 15 years old, her remarkable story of surviving an assassination attempt after getting shot in the head by the Taliban elicited an outpouring of worldwide support and ire against her aggressors. The life-changing event turned out to be the catalyst for her to win the Nobel Prize two years later.

Based in Birmingham since 2013, Malala was able to continue her education at Edgbaston High School for Girls, before entering Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford University to major in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE) and successfully graduating in 2020.

Arooj Aftab

Famous women from Pakistan

Arooj Aftab poses with her Best Global Music Performance Award trophy in the press room during the 64th Annual Grammy Awards. Source: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP

If this is your first time seeing her name, do yourself a favour by tuning in to her songs, and let her meditative voice serenade you. Aftab’s hit single “Mohabbat” from the album “Vulture Prince” earned her the Best Global Music Performance Award at the Grammys in 2022, a historic first-ever win from a Pakistani artist. The song drew rave reviews from various critics; even Barack Obama picked it as one of his top summer tracks in 2021.

Her genre-defying blend of reimagined poetic Urdu verses with elements of jazz fusions has deep roots in her Pakistani heritage. It’s also a product of her education at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she won a scholarship to pursue a degree in music production and engineering.

Speaking of her music, which has transcended cultural and linguistic barriers, Aftab’s ode to grief through her latest album was a form of catharsis for her own loss following her brother’s death. “If there’s something that I can do to hold people through the collective grief process, then why not?” she told The Guardian in an interview.

Fatima Bhutto

Coming from a prominent political dynasty in Pakistan, Fatima Bhutto is one of her country’s most recognisable writers who came into international prominence when she published her non-fiction book “A Song Of Blood And Sword,” a memoir detailing her family’s tragic legacy. 

The author of seven books, Bhutto was educated at Barnard College for her undergraduate degree, where she majored in Middle Eastern languages and cultures. “Writing is a form of reckoning for me, a way of witnessing and remembering [that which] power would have us [forget],” the writer quipped when speaking to her alma mater.

Famous women from Pakistan

Writer and journalist Fatima Bhutto hails from a prominent political family in Pakistan, and is the author of seven books. Source: Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP

Bhutto would later go on to complete her Master’s degree in South Asian studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, where her dissertation focused on Pakistan’s resistance movement. 

The writer-journalist continues to courageously pen her views on current affairs and criticisms of corruption in Pakistan, and has contributed to various media outlets such as The Guardian, The New Statesman, and Foreign Policy. 

Aliza Ayaz 

The star student is one of the most prominent women from Pakistan who has wowed the world with her dedication to climate activism. After Malala, she is the only Pakistani student to have been appointed as the United Nations youth ambassador for Sustainable Development Goal 13 (SDG13), a feat she achieved in 2020. 

A graduate of the University College London (UCL) specialising in global health and epidemiology, Ayaz was responsible for establishing the university’s Climate Action Society, which became a full-fledged non-profit that now works closely with the UN and the British government. She was previously the joint winner of the UCL’s Student Award for Outstanding Commitment to Sustainability in 2019.  

“I think the coolest element was being able to attract and retain Generation Z – a generation that is so busy doing job applications, socialising and finding its own feet to an idea that was associated with an ‘environment frenzy’,” she told UCL of her win. She has delivered prominent speeches internationally, including at the UN and at UK parliamentary events.