Begum Shaista Suhrawardy Ikramullah (Urdu: شائستہ اکرام الله) (July 22, 1915 – December 11, 2000), was a prominent Pakistani female politician, diplomat and author.
Born Shaista Akhtar Banu Suhrawardy in Calcutta, British India as the only daughter of Lt. Col. Dr. Hassan Suhrawardy, OBE, CStJ, FRCS. She was educated at Loreto House of the University of Calcutta with a BA Hons. After her marriage she left to study at the School of Oriental and African Studies, where she had the honor of being the first Muslim and Asian woman to receive a PhD, from the University of London. Her doctorate thesis “Development of the Urdu Novel and Short Story” was a critical survey of Urdu literature.
She married Mohammed Ikramullah, a member of the Indian Civil Service in 1933. Her husband later went on to become the first Foreign Secretary of the Government of Pakistan and Ambassador to Canada, France, Portugal and the United Kingdom. Together, they had a son and three daughters.
The Suhrawardy family had always been involved in politics. Her cousin Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy was the Premier of Bengal, and she herself had addressed her first public gathering in 1931. During her husband’s posting in Delhi, she came in contact with Muhammad Ali Jinnah and joined the All-India Muslim League. Along with Fatima Jinnah, she set up the Muslim Women Student’s Federation and drew girls into Muslim League Activities.
In 1945, Begum Ikramullah was asked by the Government of India to attend the Pacific Relations Conference. Jinnah convinced her not to accept the offer, as he wanted her to go as the representative of the Muslim League and to speak on its behalf.
She was an active defender of fundamental rights in the assembly and conscious of the lack of balance between the two halves of Pakistan. Her first speech was to support a resolution that the Assembly should meet in Dhaka, capital of the more populous East Pakistan, as well as Karachi.
She was one of the two female representatives of the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan (1947). She was Pakistan’s Ambassador to Morocco (1964 to 1967). She was a delegate to the United Nations on several occasions, and was a member of the Committee that worked on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the Convention Against Genocide.
She is also known as an author and essayist who used to contribute regularly for magazines Tehzeeb-e-Niswan and Ismat, the former being an Urdu magazine for women that was first published in 1898. Her volume comprising short stories called Koshish-e-Natamaam (with an Introduction by Professor Ahmad Ali) and Safarnama are her other works in Urdu. Her works in English include Letters to Neena, the much acclaimed book Behind the Veil: Ceremonies, Customs and Colour (first published in 1953), which is a collection of essays on Muslim society from a woman’s perspective. Her remarkable autobiography, From Purdah to Parliament (published in 1963), was followed by a biography of her cousin Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy. In her last days, she completed working on an English translation of Mirat ul Uroos and an Urdu volume on Kahavat aur Mahavray.
She died in Karachi on December 11, 2000 at the age of 85.