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Most of us have heard of Malala and Benazir Bhutto; a few may even know about Maleeha Lodhi and Asma Jahangir. But have you heard of Shukria Khanum, the first female pilot in Pakistan? Or Perween Mustafa who worked to empower local communities? Or Shamim Akhtar, Pakistan’s first female commercial truck driver? These and many more feature in Fearless: Stories of Amazing Women from Pakistan (Puffin) by Amneh Shaikh Farooqui and illustrated by Aziza Ahmad. Amneh’s motivation was her 11-year-old bookworm daughter. “When she turned seven, Anya started reading books about amazing women from across the globe.” But there were “hardly any women of colour and, from within that group, hardly any South Asian women. Malala sometimes made the cut but no one else really did.” Encouraged by Aurelie Salvaire, a French gender activist, Amneh decided to write a book inspired by Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. “Children find it easier to project themselves in existing role models. Yet, apart from a very few usual suspects, people do not know of the hundreds of Pakistani women who are leaders, innovators, activists, entrepreneurs and change-makers in their own fields,” she rues. Project Fearless began in 2017 and initially seemed like smooth sailing but she parted ways with the first publishing house due to “creative differences”. Amneh wanted to tell young Pakistani girls “stories of women who had managed to break new ground and most importantly sound like an encyclopaedia.” She even tried self-publishing but didn’t succeed. Finally, an agent in India picked up the ball and the book was published earlier this year by Puffin, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

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