Ageless Beauty: Zubeida Mustafa

By Courtenay Cooper Hall

Zubeida Mustafa: 72, First Female Pakistani Newspaper Editor

Zubeida Mustafa is a freelance journalist who writes a weekly column for Dawn, where she was assistant editor from 1975 to 2008. Dawn is Pakistan’s most widely circulated and influential English language newspaper, founded in 1947. Mustafa writes on a variety of subjects but her interest has mainly been in the social sector, which she has covered extensively. She has investigated in-depth issues, such as education, health care, women’s empowerment, children’s rights and the lives of ordinary people. She launched and edited Dawn’s “Health Page,” “Book Page,” “Education Page,” “CareerWise,” “Encounter,” “Karachi Notebook” and most notably “Books & Authors,” the first book magazine by any newspaper in Pakistan.

This past October, Mustafa received the 2012 International Women’s Media Foundation’s (IWMF) Lifetime Achievement Award for being a true trailblazer who paved the way for Pakistani women to ascend to the leadership ranks of her country’s news media. BELLA had the honor of speaking to this world-renowned journalist about her amazing career and how she defines the beauty in her life.


I am sure the definition of beauty is different all around the world. Our tagline is “Beauty as defined by you,” where we encourage our readers to define the beauty in their own life. As a woman in Pakistan, how do you define beauty?

For me, beauty is something that comes from within. I have met people who are “ugly” by conventional standards or dress with poor taste by generally accepted standards, but they are so charming and people are attracted by them. It is because they have a caring and cheerful personality. They are not conceited and are kind. This shows in their expression. I think that is beauty in the true sense of the word.

How do you live a beautiful life?

By being happy with oneself and the people around you, and never having regrets about the past. Even if you had acted differently at some stage, you can never know how life would have been then. That is why when I am asked that clichéd question about whether I would do anything differently if I could live my life again, I always answer I would have lived it exactly the same way I have done. If there is something you are unhappy about in the present, then go and change it. If you cannot change it, then change your own perceptions and accept with good grace whatever is bugging you.

You look amazing – what are your secrets for staying young?

Again, it depends on how you define youth. In physical terms, I feel if I am not falling ill all the time and can work long hours with concentration without collapsing, then I don’t worry about loss of youth – even if my skin is going dry and some wrinkles are showing! Since I manage quite well, I feel young. But I am realistic about it. I will not attempt to run a marathon. I didn’t do it when I was 18, then why should I want to do it now?

For me, mental youth is the really important thing. That means I want to learn new things. Of course, it takes time, but that is no reason why I should refuse it.  Two years ago at the age of 70 I started my blog, Initially I thought I wouldn’t be able to cope with it. But my web publisher, a very enterprising young man, helps me with it and we manage pretty well. Now he has put me on Facebook and I am discovering new methods of communication. It is fun.

What are you most proud of?

My two daughters. Together they represent all that I always considered best in life: kindness, charm, pleasing personalities and willingness to help. They are lively and cheerful.

What made you choose journalism as your career?

It was not a considered choice. I had begun my professional life as a researcher in a think tank. Before I launched my journalistic career, I was at the baby-rearing stage waiting for the two girls to start school. When the younger one was about to start school, I got this offer from the newspaper. The editor had seen my writings and wanted me to come and work with his paper. I hesitated a bit but I found it tempting because it promised a lot of flexibility that would allow me to combine work and family. I decided to try it for three months. I got so hooked that when I thought about my work situation again, 33 years had passed and it was time to retire.

If you could change one thing through your writing, what would it be?

I would want to change people’s approach to other human beings, whether they are individuals or nations. I think this has to change if we do not want to destroy the world. If we start thinking about other humans, we will find that our priorities will change and make us better men and women. It will be easier to root out commercialism, corruption, conceit and selfishness. These are the causes of all the evil in the world.

That is why I like to write about the good some people are doing. That way I hope I will make my readers think and that might begin the process of change in their minds. If everything became perfect, I would then stop writing.

Mostly I look around me for goodness and I do find it. That is what I liked about the IWMF Lifetime Achievement Award I was given. They recognized that one can be an achiever by writing about soft subjects, such as education, women’s empowerment, children’s rights and so on. I am grateful to the IWMF because it has given me the inner satisfaction and contentment that I have always sought. For me, that is beauty.

What is the best advice you ever received?

When I was a child, my younger brother would always tease me and try to provoke me by passing nasty remarks about my dolls. I would run to my father, whose favorite I was, seeking protection. He always told me, “Don’t be provoked by what others do. You must be proactive and chart out your own strategy rather than reacting to what others do.

If you could pick one thing about yourself that you love the most, what would it be?

My ability not to get bored with anyone or in any situation. I always have the capacity to feel interested in my surroundings, wherever I may be.

Are there any charities or foundations that you work with that are close to your heart? 

I am closely involved with the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT), Karachi, which is a health facility that provides free medical care to people with urological problems. I am on the Board of Trustees and am the vice president of the Board of Governors. It is a marvelous place as it provides the most modern and state-of-the-art treatment, including organ transplantation, free of charge to patients who are under privileged. They are treated with dignity because the director and founder Dr. Adib Rizvi believes health care is the fundamental right of every person whether they are rich or poor. The rich can afford the most expensive treatment but the poor who cannot pay are left to die. He says he will not allow that to happen in his hospital. Hence no one is turned away. It is his integrity and compassion toward his patients that have won him the public’s admiration. As a result he is able to raise public donations for the hospital.

To be helping in any way with this noble cause makes me feel so good and I love working with the SIUT. I am currenly completing a book on the Institute called Making the ‘Impossible’ Possible: The SIUT Story.”

Founded in 1990 by a group of prominent U.S. women journalists, the International Women’s Media Foundation is a Washington D.C.-based organization dedicated to strengthening the role of women journalists worldwide. The IWMF empowers women with the tools, knowledge and confidence to serve as a prominent voice on global issues. The IWMF’s programs provide training, support and advancement for women journalists worldwide. At the core of the IWMF’s mission is the belief that no press is truly free unless women have an equal voice.

Source: Bella NYC

2 thoughts on “Ageless Beauty: Zubeida Mustafa

  1. I am proud to know Zubeida Mustafa for many decades, in fact as far back as over 68 years memory can recollect and take me that far back. She writes with full passion, commitment and utter honesty – simply and to the point. I have had her several times in the NGO I work for, including as chief guest, where she has impressed the teachers and students alike. Her advice and encouraging talks we always look for. May Allah continue to shower His choicest blessings on her and continue to lead her on path of further glory and contentment.

    1. Thank you Ahmed. It is people around me and the good institutions that I visit, including yours, that give me inspiration and strength.

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