Don’t clip your daughters’ wings … let them be free
Ziauddin Yousafzai’s stammer was a flaw he used to inspire his students when he was the principal of a chain of schools in the Swat Valley region of Pakistan. This was before his daughter Malala was assaulted by the Taliban.
“My top priority was confidence-building in children— to make them able to express their views and ideas, to trust themselves—to speak up,” he said.
“I used to say to them, ‘Look, I stammer when I speak and God has given you very fluent tongues, so speak up … If a weak man like me could be stronger, then what’s wrong with you?’”
For someone with a speech impediment, Ziauddin certainly likes to talk. In Swat, before the shooting, he was a respected educator, the leader of the elders of the valley and a social activist.
Today, advocating for education and women’s rights still tops his agenda. When speaking at the recent launch event for Girl Up, a platform to empower girls worldwide, he told the audience: “If you want to see a change in the life of your family and if you want to see change in your country, don’t clip the wings of your daughters and sisters. Let them be free.”
“My experience and my life tell me that education has empowered me. Had I not been educated, who would I have been to express my views? Education gave me that power.”
Education gave his famous daughter power, too. Malala was just 11 years old when she started blogging for BBC Urdu about her experiences of being a schoolgirl in Swat, where the Taliban was growing in influence. Girls’ education, music and television were among the things they were trying to ban at the time.
“Look at Malala. If she had not been in school, she wouldn’t have been so powerful. Her education gave her a power to raise her voice. Had she been illiterate, she would not have been able to speak with a cause, with a vision, with persistence.”
Following the popularity of Malala’s blog, she soon became a public advocate for girls’ education and was often interviewed on local television. It wasn’t long before she received threats from the Taliban. “She was a little celebrity in her own right. She had become a burning beacon,” Ziauddin said with pride. “Her message was spreading. The Taliban just couldn’t stand it.”
Now a household name worldwide, she has continued to strive for the rights of women and girls. Her memoir, “I Am Malala,” has been translated into 38 languages. But what kind of parenting leads to raising the youngest-ever nominee for the Nobel peace prize, I asked Ziauddin. “I didn’t clip her wings,” he explained, “I let her live as she wished.”
Malala marked her 16th birthday in July last year by addressing an audience at the United Nations headquarters in New York. In her speech, she described education as “our most powerful weapon,” while insisting that just “one child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.”
Malala added, “I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists.”
Most recently she has spoken up for the more than 200 schoolgirls who were kidnapped in Nigeria and, at press time, are still missing. The people of Nigeria have been in the family’s thoughts, especially as there are similarities with their own experience. Like the Taliban, the terrorist group Boko Haram, who claim responsibility for taking the girls, are also trying to ban girls’ education.
“Malala has said she is their sister and all girls around the world are their sisters and they stand with them. And all parents should stand with their parents. I stand with them. They should know there is hope. There is light even in the darkest cloud,” Ziauddin commented.
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