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Malala is my hero, says her father Ziauddin Yousafzai

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Most people know Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in 2012 by the Taleban for demanding girls’ rights to education, but few have heard of the playful squabbles she has with her brothers or the doting relationship she shares with her parents.

Malala’s mother Toor Pekai Yousafzai and father Ziauddin Yousafzai provided a peek into the family’s lives beyond the fame and humanitarian work to a captivated audience at the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature on Friday.

Ziauddin was in Dubai to promote ‘Let her Fly’, his book that traces the inspirational journey of Malala’s father from a boy in Shangla in Pakistan to a man who broke with tradition and proved there are many faces of feminism. He was joined by his wife Toor Pekai and the session was moderated by founder of the Cross Red Lines dialogue series Manal Omar.

Family of feminists

A family of feminists, the Yousafzais vehemently believe that prosperity in a home and the society-at-large can happen only through women’s education. Their daughter Malala is now in her final year of studies at Oxford University and continues her work with the Malala Fund, a non-profit organisation that advocates human rights and education of women and children.

Ziauddin said: “I am an equal partner of Toor. I have two feminist sons and a feminist daughter. In a patriarchal society such as ours, daughters are known by their fathers. I am proud to be known as Malala’s father.”

A woman who has been largely in the shadows since the now 22-year-old made global headlines, Toor Pekai spoke in her mother tongue Pashtun. However, she introduced herself to the audiences by speaking in English. “I am Toor Pekai. I have three children; two sons and a daughter. He’s my husband (pointing to Ziauddin), he’s a very nice man,” she said with rousing laughter from the audience.

In response to their style of parenting, Toor Pekai said: “I’ve always told my children to tell the truth and to stand for what is right. Boys and girls are equal and though people might be of different colours and races, everyone is equal.” She advised parents to listen to their children. “When children get scared, they don’t say what they feel,” she said.

Meanwhile, Ziauddin called the Yousafzais a family of five that is rich in terms of moral value where love, respect and empathy is very important. “We came from a lot of adversity and poverty. We would’ve never thought we’d reach where we are today.

When a lot of people ask me what I do right in raising my daughter, I tell them about what I did not do. I did not clip her (Malala’s) wings.”

Patriarchal society

Speaking about the state of education for girls in Pakistan, Toor Pekai said she regrets not going to school. “With education, I could’ve been anything. But we couldn’t get the same opportunities due to lack of education.”

Both Ziauddin and Toor Pekai were critical of the patriarchal system that has not allowed girls’ education in the Swat Valley. “The government at that time, even today, is very patriarchal. There are a lot of opportunities for men, but very little for women.” Toor Pekai said she did fear for the family’s lives when they were outspoken against the Taleban, referring to the conflicts in 2012. She said: “But I realised, if I didn’t raise my voice, then who would.”

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‘We want to visit India’

Ziauddin also expressed his desire to visit India, a country that he said is a major beneficiary of the Malala Fund. He said: “When Malala got it (the Nobel Prize) with Kailash Sathyarthi, who has hugely contributed to freeing children from labour, he had told Malala – ‘you are more popular than me in India’. We do plan to go to India. The highest number of champions for girls’ education are from India.”

Commenting on what Malala would like to do in the future, Ziauddin said: “A lot has changed since her time in Oxford. She has changed a lot socially, and I am so happy for her. What she wants to do with her future is her decision. She’s an adult, she has her own dreams.”

Dhanusha Gokulan

Originally from India, Dhanusha Gokulan has been working as a journalist for 10 years. She has a keen interest in writing about issues that plague the common person, and will never turn down a human interest story. She completed her Bachelor in Arts in Journalism, Economics, and English Literature from Mangalore University in 2008. In her spare time, she dabbles with some singing/songwriting, loves travelling, and Audible is her favourite mobile application. Tweet at her @wordjunkie88

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