In 1981 she started the first all-woman law firm in Pakistan, along with her sister, Hina Jilani. They were founder members of the Women's Action Forum, a campaigning pressure group for women's rights and in 1986 they set up AGHS Legal Aid, the first free legal aid centre in Pakistan. In the same year, Asma and Hina were amongst the founding members of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
In 1982 Asma Jahangir earned the nickname "little heroine" after leading a protest march in Islamabad against a decision by then-president Zia ul Haq to enforce religious laws.
"Family laws [which are religious laws] give women few rights," says Jahangir. "They have to be reformed because Pakistan cannot live in isolation. We cannot remain shackled while other women progress." Nor, she says, can Pakistan succumb to religious intolerance. That's why in February she defended two Christians accused by a Muslim imam of blasphemy. She won the much-publicized trial, but has received death threats ever since. Indeed, for the past year she has had to travel with an armed bodyguard.
The 43-year-old also won the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for public service this year. And she could have been Pakistan's first female judge, except that she refused the offer. ''It would be hypocrisy to defend laws I don't believe in, like capital punishment, the blasphemy law and laws against women and in favor of child labor,'' she says. She does, though, talk of forming a new, liberal party.
In 2001, Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani were awarded the Millenium Peace Prize.