Malala on marriage: friendship, changing attitudes – and not cooking

Activist initially feared she would lose independence if she got married

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Malala Yousafzai has opened up about life as a newlywed after going public about her wedding, revealing she had to overcome serious reservations before tying the knot.

In a series of interviews, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and activist, who campaigns for the rights of women and girls around the world, said for years she had shied away from the concept of signing a marriage contract after learning about child marriage, forced marriage and traditional roles.

But the 24 year old, who graduated from the University of Oxford last year with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics, said her union with husband Asser Malik had not forced her to compromise her principles.

Asked who does the cooking, she joked that neither of them had strong skills in the kitchen, so “we’re currently ordering food and eating at restaurants”.

After meeting the Pakistani cricket executive while he was visiting friends in Oxford, the pair bonded over their shared love of the sport and she said he appreciated her sense of humour.

But despite the obvious chemistry, Malala told The Times she felt haunted by stories of friends in Pakistan who instead of pursuing an education were married and pregnant by the age of 14.

“So you see the contrasts of life: when you are receiving your education, versus when you’re not receiving your education,” she said. “And how vulnerable you can be in society to misogyny and patriarchy and forced marriages and early child marriages.

“I think that pretty much scares you from the idea of marriage. A lot of girls grow up with that fear.”

Writing in Vogue magazine, the Pakistani activist, who lives in Birmingham in central England, said she feared she would “lose my humanity, my independence, my womanhood” if she became someone’s wife and therefore wanted to put it off until she was “at least 35”.

Malala said she had concerns about marriage after reading reports about child marriage and forced marriage. Photo: The Andrew Marr Show.

Slowly, her beliefs about the concept of marriage began to break down when she became open to the idea that a culture could be changed if people adopted different attitudes.

Now, she believes that given the right education, awareness and empowerment, “we can start to redefine the concept of marriage and the structure of relationships, along with many other social norms and practices.”

Malala said conversations with friends, mentors and her husband convinced her she could tie the knot without the need to compromise, and instead “remain true to my values of equality, fairness and integrity”.

However, she said while she felt blessed to have married her “best friend”, she remains aware that many women continue to face challenges in marriage.

“I still don’t have all the answers for the challenges facing women – but I believe that I can enjoy friendship, love and equality in marriage,” she said.

In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, she said she was sceptical of the “imbalance of power” in some marriages, particularly those which see the woman forced into a union or the bride is a child.

She also said she was concerned about “how girls and woman make more compromises than men and how a lot of these customs are influenced by patriarchy and misogyny and patriarchy”.

“You have to question the systems that we are living in and you have to question the status quo but I am lucky that I found a person who understands my values,” she said.

She also touched on the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan and the group’s decision to block girls from going to school.

She said Pakistan had an important role to play in pressuring the Taliban to restore education for female students.

Malala rose to international fame in 2012 after the Taliban shot her in the head at the age of 15 in Pakistan.

She had been an outspoken critic of the hardliners’ efforts to block girls from obtaining an education and her work was published in blogs for the BBC.

Malala appeared on The Andrew Marr Show alongside British composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber, whom she has known for many years.

Next week, a gala performance of his latest musical, Cinderella, will raise money for the Malala Fund, which campaigns for the education of girls across the globe.

Updated: November 17, 2021, 6:38 AM