Ziauddin Yousafzai never shies away from being called ‘Malala’s Dad.' It’s a label he wears proudly. In all of his interviews, his public speeches, and even in his book, ‘Let Her Fly’, Ziauddin Yousafzai urges the importance of being a supportive father. At the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, where Ziauddin Yousafzai was presenting his book, the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s father said, “Very few people in our patriarchal society are known by their daughters,” he said. “I am one of them and I am absolutely proud of it.”
Masala! Magazine caught up with Ziauddin Yousafzai on his visit and spoke to him about the lighter side of life of being Malala’s father. What does a regular day at the Yousafzai household look like? What does Ziauddin do around the house? “I wake up in the morning and offer prayer,” he responds. “I help the kids with the breakfast. I make sure the younger one eats eggs! The younger one and I fight over breakfast. He’s always fighting with me. I ask him if he’s eaten his eggs and he always says yes but I never believe him.” Ziauddin has two sons Atal and Khushal. “I check my email and I see if I have any housework,” he says. The family has settled in United Kingdom for a while since Malala is completing her studies at Oxford. “Sometimes I’m on social media or on the phone – I’m on the board for Malala Fund and we are constantly in touch with Pakistan where we do a lot of philanthropic work. Sometimes we meet people who come over or we meet at a local café.”
On 9 Oct 2012 @Malala was targeted by Taliban for raising her voice for Girl's education. Today I’m so grateful that she is getting her own edu.& fighting for edu.of 130million out of school girls.Hope to see a world where every girl can complete her education &choose her future pic.twitter.com/IQyOf6o5JS— Ziauddin Yousafzai (@ZiauddinY) October 9, 2018
Malala and Ziauddin, in all their interactions and stories seem to be great friends. However, in a patriarchal society and in the South Asian part of the world, fathers are generally accepted as strict and disciplinarians. It doesn’t seem like a regular father daughter relationship between Malala and her dad. Ziauddin confirms this. “We are great friends. She’s 21. And I’m 50. We’ve never felt bored or uncomfortable with each other. I’ve always enjoyed her presence because she’s a very funny girl. She’s got a great sense of humour and she’s very sharp. Sometimes I do ask her to sit and study but what I’ve begun noticing now is that I listen to her more now. Previously, she used to listen to me. After coming to Oxford, her level of confidence has also increased. Sometimes I go there and I am so happy that her class fellows really like her – they’re not impressed by her Nobel or her fame. She’s loved because she’s a good friend. It really makes me happy because she’s living a normal life.”
Ziauddin himself has come from a very patriarchal background and he talks at length about his bringing up. “I had five sisters,” says Ziauddin. “We had two brothers. We didn’t have a lot of facilities. Society around us was comfortable with the set rules: women would get married and bear children and boys would become pilots and doctors. My sisters didn’t go to schools. We didn’t have a lot of schools around us. But we knew people who even had schools around them but they send their daughters.”
What stopped him from accepting the regular, accepted yet toxic stereotypes of masculinity and gender bias? When I ask him how he was able to think ‘differently’ from his peers and how he didn’t believe or grow up with notions in his head about how a ‘man’ should be, he responded saying, “It was only the word ‘feminism’ that we realized existed after coming to the UK. In reality, we had been practicing it back home. When I was a child, I was dark skinned. I was not considered ‘handsome’ and our teachers would discriminate. The fairer children would be liked by the teacher. I also used to stammer a lot as a child and I was a very sensitive child. I used to get bullied. So in a way, I rebelled against any kind of discrimination I saw around me. To this day, I can’t stand bullying. And I saw, all around me, that girls get bullied. I couldn’t bear it. There’s another incident that left a lasting impact on me. I had a cousin, who was stuck in a horrible marriage. She couldn’t leave that man due to social pressure. That made me think deeply about all of this too. Plus. I read a lot of books. I read books about Martin Luther King Jr. and books about world leaders’ books. Fatima Jinnah, Benazir Bhutto, Asma Jahangir – they were all inspiring women. I used to think if I ever have a daughter, I would teach her that she is no less than a man in any way.”
How can we help change the mind-sets of men who don’t want to let their daughters grow? I ask. “The first rule/step towards change: how do you look at a woman? Once you realize that they are equal, they are both capable, then the attitude correct itself,” answers Ziauddin.
Let Her Fly is out today. I wrote this book to show how change can begin with you and your family. I hope readers will enjoy it and can learn from my journey. https://t.co/oGXcRzG02a pic.twitter.com/SzuKPyorrr— Ziauddin Yousafzai (@ZiauddinY) November 8, 2018
Is there a special way that they unwind as a family? “We play cricket. Malala is not very good at it!,” Ziauddin laughs. “She bowls badly. Atal often coaches her.” He mentions that the kids who play cricket with his family are Army Public School attack survivors Ahmed and Waleed Khan. This also includes Samiullah, one of the survivors of Bacha Khan University, Mardan, which was also attacked by terrorists. Samiullah couldn’t speak properly because the roof of his mouth was damaged in the attack. Ziauddin and his family brought him to UK and helped him with surgeries and recuperation.
Ziauddin talked about his book and said how he had written it “as a son, as a brother, as my wife’s equal partner, how we came from a patriarchy – to become a liberal family. It’s a family story.”
The book, says Ziauddin, “will make you laugh.” He goes on to explain what it was like to live in the UK after living in Pakistan for many years. “It was a cultural shock.
Especially for my son. And the book is all about family. You know there are many organizations which are helping to bring a change in the injustices against women in the world. There is Metoo, there was the suffragette movement that enabled women to get the right to vote, now you’ve got UN Women, then Oxfam – all of them are big organizations working towards social justice. But the biggest and the most important organization that can help you establish equality is family. And that is what I have learnt. My wife is prettier, more talented than I. I wish she had been educated. She often says, there’s no difference between a man and a woman. It’s just that a man is given a book and an education whereas society takes it away from the woman.”
Ziauddin Yousafzai’s book ‘Let Her Fly’ is out now and available in bookstores.