Ten years on: Malala Yousafzai's father says 'manhood' is standing with women's rights

Ziauddin Yousafzai says he is proud to be known through his daughter and her work to provide girls with access to education

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Ziauddin Yousafzai says he is proud to be known through his daughter Malala, the Nobel Prize-winning activist whose advocacy for girls' right to education gained worldwide attention when she and two friends were shot aboard a school bus by Pakistani Taliban militants on October 9, 2012.

“In patriarchal societies, women and girls are known by their male relatives, even on their gravestones, you will see zawjat [wife of] Abdullah or daughter of this person,” Mr Yousafzai, 53, told The National.

“So I wanted a daughter that would be known by her own name, identity and freedom and I didn't know that a day will come when I will be known by her. This is great, and I am so proud.”

In an interview before the 10th anniversary of the day militants shot and severely injured Malala, now 25, on her way home from school, Mr Yousafzai said he was “ashamed” of the response by men in Afghanistan to the Afghan Taliban closing secondary schools for girls.

“You'll hardly see Afghan fathers on the streets. It's as if they are compatible with the Taliban, too. It's a shame,” he said.

Afghan girls leave their school in Kabul. Afghanistan's Taliban rulers allow girls to attend primary school but not secondary school. EPA

“Fathers and brothers should raise their voice for the right of education for their daughters and sisters. They must stand with them. This is the real test of being a father, of being a man, for me. This is the real manhood.”

He said the Afghan Taliban, who are separate from the Pakistani Taliban but follow the same hardline ideology, had shown that their thinking remained largely the same since they last ruled the country 20 years ago, even though Afghanistan had changed.

While Afghanistan under western-backed governments was “a poor democracy that had little transparency and many issues, women and girls had the freedom to go to schools and universities and enter different sectors of life”, Mr Yousafzai said.

“Now, they're on the streets, raising their slogan: Food, Work, Freedom. Education gives you a voice, it empowers.

“The Afghanistan you see now is because of the education that prevailed over the last 20 years.”

Repeating history

The Taliban took over Kabul again on August 15, 2021 in a swift operation as US and other foreign forces pulled out of the country.

“In just over a year that Afghanistan has been under their control, the Taliban has taken Afghanistan 20 years back.”

Mr Yousafzai pointed out the Taliban's commitments to allowing the education of women and girls to continue under their rule.

“They had promised that they're Taliban 2.0, and they're a different Taliban — but in the last year, they proved that they have the same ideology that's oppressive to women, girls and minorities.”

2014 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai addreses the United Nations' Transforming Education Summit being held in the General Assembly Hall at United Nations headquarters in New York on September 19, 2022. EPA

One of the Taliban's first acts after seizing power was to abolish the Ministry of Women's Affairs and establish the Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.

The group founded the new ministry in the building that once housed the Ministry of Women's Affairs in a move that Human Rights Watch said “adds insult to injury”.

“This vice and virtue ministry is used for oppressing women and girls. It's all about issuing verdicts that a woman should not go out of her house or take long trips without a male relative,” Mr Yousafzai said.

Open challenge

He said he has “openly challenged” the Taliban to prove the existence of a verse in the Quran or a teaching of the Prophet Mohammed that bans girls' education.

“If such a thing exists, let me know, and I'll quit my mission and my campaign for women and girls' education, because I'm also a Muslim.”

He instead pointed to the role that women play in Islam.

“It's a shame that extremist groups are portraying Islam as a misogynistic faith but they are also misrepresenting Islam as something that gives no rights to women and girls.

“If you look at the history of Islam … women were independent individuals. They were not confined in four walls. They had a role. They were even fighting wars.”

Parenting by gender

Mr Yousafzai, who was bullied at school for his stammer, said that his early childhood showed him the contrast between the ways men and women were treated.

“I grew up with five sisters and I could see two sets of parenting: one for girls and one for boys. I was treated favourably because of my gender. I was served tea with cream for breakfast while my sisters were not. I had more pairs of shoes and better clothes, while my sisters did not.

“While I was pursuing my big dreams in school, my five sisters stayed home.”

Despite this, Mr Yousafzai did not put the blame solely on his parents.

“I will not just blame my parents for that because there were hardly any schools for girls, because patriarchal societies have patriarchal governments.”

A Taliban stands guard at the scene of a bomb blast in Kabul, Afghanistan, on September 30, 2022. EPA

In those types of societies, he said, “women die as if they were never born”.

Mr Yousafzai said receiving a proper education transformed him.

“Education made my inner being beautiful. It gave me values of love, respect, freedom and empathy and accepting the otherness of others irrespective of caste, creed, colour or ethnicity,” he said.

“The Prophet Mohammed says that a good Muslim loves for others what he or she loves for himself or herself.”

Turning tides

Mr Yousafzai said one of his early acts of feminism was decades before he learnt what the word meant.

“My cousin brought me the family tree two weeks after Malala was born. I looked at the family tree and it was all men: fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers. I drew a line from my name and wrote Malala.

“My cousin had a grimace on his face, but I just smiled.”

Now, some of the people who opposed some of his methods are his biggest supporters, he said.

“My nephew was very critical of Malala's public speeches when she was 12 and 13 years-old, (he) used to tell us that people in the village are speaking ill of the family because of this.”

The Afghan Taliban in May ordered women to cover fully in public, ideally with the traditional burqa. AFP

“Now, he is now running one of the biggest projects for girls' education in Pakistan, for 650 girls who are the first generation in their families to receive an education.”

Mr Yousafzai said that for him, real social change only began when he looked inward.

“When you stand for change in social norms, the first person you come across is you. But when you defeat your own self, then you are able to spread the message. When you are brave enough to swim against the tide, then a time comes when the tides go in your direction and the flow becomes very smooth.”

Updated: October 10, 2022, 4:06 AM
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