Professor Dr. Mira Phailbus – A Living Legend

By Ayaz Morris


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Imagine for a moment – if there were no women in the universe, what would the world look like? If a family, a society, or a nation did not have an educated, well-informed, female force, what would happen to such a society?  Pakistani society is based on male supremacy; A woman entering a leadership role fifty years ago was no less than a challenge. It was certainly a long journey and a struggle; a courageous journey to be lauded.

In today’s article, you will be introduced to one such personality who has rendered invaluable and precious service in the field of education and for the development and prosperity of women in Pakistan. I phoned Dr. Mira Phailbus and made an appointment. I went to Lahore from Karachi at the agreed time to meet her at her home; She received me graciously and we had a memorable conversation. I interviewed her and went back to Karachi after some days. However, there was still a lot of work to be done on my article.

Last month, I called Dr. Phailbus for another meeting. It was very interesting and meaningful.
Dr. Mira Phailbus was born into a Christian family in Lahore on September 29, 1937. Proud to be a Lahori, Dr. Phailbus says that her father, Ernest Jivanandham, and her mother, Irene Jivanandham, were excellent parents who gave her and her siblings an education and an environment that instilled self-confidence and self-awareness from the very beginning. In 1960 she married Theodore Phailbus and they were blessed with three daughters and a son. She says it was through his support that she was able to successfully carry out many of her responsibilities.
She received her elementary education at the Cathedral School and went on to attend Kinnaird College for Women. She earned her Master’s Degree in Geography, became involved in teaching, and later became the Principal of Kinnaird College.

As Principal, she promoted the College’s academic excellence and maintained its standard. She was selected for and appointed to various positions of responsibility because the Government trusted her and recognized her ability as an excellent administrator and a reliable and honest person. Dr. Phailbus earned many honors: She was awarded the Sitara-e-Imtiaz. She retired as Principal Emertitus, Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore. She was Minister for Education and Minorities Affairs in the Caretaker Government, Punjab -2007. Dr. Mira Phailbus made a wide-ranging contribution to women’s development and education in Pakistan. She was inspired by the belief that women equipped with higher education contribute to the well-being of society as dignified, intelligent, competent and creative individuals. Over the years her work had wide influence in Pakistan and internationally. The recognition she has received includes the following:

Honorary Doctorate of Law, Davidson College, USA (1982) Palmes Academiques for Services to French Culture (2002) Former Member, Punjab University Syndicate Member, Forman Christian College Board since 1972 Former Member of the National Commission on the Status of Women Strategic Advisor for Aurat Foundation for the Rule of Law Program. Former Member, Federal Education Advisory Board (2001) International Mission Boards
Founding President, Asian Women’s Institute (1975)  Founding Director, Pakistan Women’s Institute (1975) First Chairperson, of Pakistan Cricket Board (Women’s wing) (2004-2006)  International Scholar’s Award, Committee on Higher Education, Presbyterian Church, USA (1991) Presidential Award, Izaz-i-Fazeelat 1993 President’s Award for Pride of Performance (1994) Founder-Chairperson, Programme for Women’s Improvement (2002) Member Syndicate, Fatima Jinnah Women’s UniversityMember, Board of Management, Fatima Jinnah Medical College
Commissioner, Punjab Health Commission (2019-2022) Author, “Kinnaird Remembered”, Published 2013. Here she records the history and events of the College during her tenure. Professor Phailbus combines the dynamism of the great and the generous spirit of the most caring and is thus admired, respected, and loved by all. What matters is not her success in all her endeavours, so much as her significance. What matters is every act of integrity, compassion, courage, or sacrifice that has enriched, empowered, or encouraged all who came her way.
A significant honour was Dr. Phailbus’ appointment as the first woman Ombudsperson in Pakistan. There were many difficulties she faced in building awareness of the Harassment Bill that had been passed by the Government. The public, particularly the women, were unaware of its importance. They did not realize it was to protect them against any sexual harassment at the workplace. Once women came to know and trust Dr. Phailbus and her decisions, cases came pouring in.

She says that she worked extremely hard in this regard, first on her own, but later with a strong team. She conducted numerous awareness programs on TV channels; she visited many large and small cities, met ordinary people, political and social leaders, and heads of institutions, and raised awareness about women’s rights and laws.
Dr. Mira Phailbus is highly regarded in education circles in Pakistan and enjoys unique international recognition. She has also had the honor of speaking at some of the world’s best universities.

She served for over forty years, first as a faculty member and then as Principal of Kinnaird College for Women in Lahore. She has been a source of inspiration to women everywhere. She was also known as a “fighter” who took a firm stand against the violation of merit a number of times. She never compromised upon her principles.
Apart from the service she has rendered, her contribution has been her support for quality and dignity in the educational field; the development and empowerment of women, and the improvement of their lot in our society.
She has invariably put herself last and her cause first. She is a role model our society may emulate; an icon for the next generation.

Dr. Mira Phailbus says she is thankful to God, her family, and colleagues who have supported her through many difficult moments of a full and productive life. She believes with trust in God, faith in yourself, and hard work, you can attain your goals. Dr. Phailbus emphasized that women’s education, skills, and independence are very important to Pakistan’s prosperity and development. Education is the foundation upon which success is built.
As she recounted the experiments and observations of her life I looked closely at her facial expressions and the spark in her eyes and listened to the cadence of her voice.

I felt she was watching the kaleidoscope of her life’s journey. I did not feel I was sitting with a great personality but as if we were two persons of the same mind, having a deep conversation. Each of her words struck me and I tried to catch the words with my pen.

Suddenly, I saw the clock, the spell was broken and it was time to leave for the airport. I marveled at what a woman could achieve in a lifetime. An educated, intelligent woman with leadership skills could adorn many generations in one lifetime. She had enlightened many lives in the span of one life, epitomizing the importance of women in the universe in the truest sense.

I think this generation who have devoted their lives to the service of others, has become rare now. They are those who spread the light of education without prejudice of color, race, caste, rank, or status for the welfare of society at large and for its collective improvement. Their goal in life was to guide and render service.
For Dr. Phailbus education was a mission and service through education was worship. The first page of her book, ‘Kinnaird Remembered’, carries a quotation from Rabindranath Tagore: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

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