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20 Jan 2019 3:29
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  •   Home > News > International

    Malala Yousafzai's father on feminism, parenting and the fight for equality

    Malala Yousafzai says her father, Ziauddin, was "a feminist before we knew the word". This is how his extremely patriarchal upbringing shaped his approach to parenthood.

    "I could see that I was treated differently from my sisters. I was different for my parents because I was a boy."

    Ziauddin Yousafzai describes his upbringing in 1970s Pakistan as "very patriarchal".

    He received the lion's share of food and clothing, and had access to an education; a door that wasn't really open to his five sisters.

    "My father and my mother, they had tall, big dreams for me ... as a great doctor, a very influential person of the community," he told RN's Life Matters.

    "For my sisters, unfortunately it was a social norm ... [our parents'] only dream was to get them married as early as possible."

    From a young age, he imagined a different future for his own family.

    "I was determined that my daughter will not be treated in the same way as my father treated my sisters," he said.

    He grew up to become an educator and human rights campaigner — and raise Malala, the world's youngest Nobel laureate.

    She rose to prominence in 2012 following her attempted assassination by a Taliban gunman; an attack designed to silence her fight for girls' education.

    "It feels like they made a mistake. They wanted to silence one girl, but now there are millions and millions of girls around the world who are speaking out for girls' education," Malala told 7.30 recently.

    A great belief in education equality is something she perhaps inherited from her father, who has long fought for change.

    "He was a feminist before we knew the word feminism," Malala said.

    Mr Yousafzai, however, says his wife Torpekai is "the real being behind both of us".

    "One message that she always gives to me and to her daughter is always speak the truth, that is so important, and speak for your rights."

    Family as a 'small democratic institution'

    Their first child was stillborn, and Mr Yousafzai recalls great anticipation in the lead-up to Malala's birth.

    "I was thinking so much of her, she was the child I was waiting for," he said.

    From the outset, he says, Malala was a charismatic child who even managed to forge a close relationship with her grandfather.

    "My father, he was the father of five daughters, but he could never explore [an] interest in any of his daughters," Mr Yousafzai said.

    "For him all five daughters were kind of a liability, I'm sorry to say.

    "But looking at my love for my daughter, I think it attracted my father as well ... she was the first girl my father was very much fond of."

    Malala's birth was followed by the arrival of two sons, who Mr Yousafzai proudly declares are also great believers in "equality and fair treatment".

    He describes his own family as a "small democratic institution".

    "We were not rich in terms of money, we were really rich in terms of family values, in terms of having empathy, caring for others, in terms of respecting others, of faith and colours," Mr Yousafzai said.

    He says he and his wife have taught these values through their own actions.

    "If I want our son to be respectful to his sister or to be respectful to other girls ... I should respect my wife, I should respect my daughter," he said.

    "That way they learn how to respect other people."

    Mr Yousafzai, who has written about his experience in Let Her Fly: A Father's Journey and the Fight for Equality, says he has witnessed great change in Pakistan since his upbringing.

    But there is still one thing he wants from his country.

    "We dream for the day that the government of Pakistan will be able to ensure that every girl achieves 12 years' minimum of education — quality education, free education and the best of education."


    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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