“When I first got elected, they said: ‘A woman has usurped a man’s place! She should be killed! She should be assassinated! She has committed heresy!’”
At age 35, Benazir Bhutto was one of the youngest chiefs of state in the world. More than that, she was the first woman ever to serve as prime minister of an Islamic country, but the road that brought her to power would also bring exile, imprisonment and devastating personal tragedy.
Only days after young Benazir Bhutto returned to her native Pakistan from university studies abroad, the country’s elected government was overthrown. Her father, Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was imprisoned and eventually executed. Young Benazir was also repeatedly arrested, then imprisoned, and finally forced into exile, but she never abandoned the hope of restoring democracy to her homeland.
She later returned from exile to lead a pro-democracy movement, and when free elections were finally held in Pakistan in 1988, Benazir Bhutto herself became prime minister. She made abolishing hunger and providing access to healthcare her top priorities, brought electricity to the countryside, and built schools all over the country. Although she was herself a devout Muslim, her reforms frequently brought her into conflict with the same religious fundamentalists who had opposed the election of a woman as prime minister. She was elected a second time in 1993, but the president of the country dismissed her from office and dissolved the National Assembly. A military coup drove her from the country yet again, but after more than eight years in exile, Bhutto returned to Pakistan in 2007. Weeks before a national election in which Benazir Bhutto and her party were expected to prevail, she was assassinated by a suicide bomber. Her death was a devastating loss to her country, but the cause of democracy she championed is carried on by her family and followers.