The Father of the Girl Who Lived

On October 9th, 2012, a 15 year old girl was shot in the head at point-blank range by the Taliban for standing up for her right to  education–and managed to survive. On that day, from being a spokesperson popular for her campaigns demanding the right to education in Pakistan, she became a powerful symbol of inspiration for women across the world, and went on to become the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She is Malala Yousufzai, the epitome of courage.

Today, Malala is a name that resonates strength and determination. But very few of us are aware of the name ‘Ziauddin Yousafzai’, the father of the girl who was shot by the Taliban and lived. In her autobiography ‘I am Malala’, the very first chapter states “My father is different from most Pashtun men…”– he was a man who celebrated the birth of his daughter with immense love; unlike many Pashtuns, he is the wise man who didn’t clip his daughter’s wings but encouraged her to pursue her dreams. He is a Pakistani educator who strongly believes in the need for education for all.

He is a Pakistani diplomat, educator, educational activist, and human rights campaigner. He is the co-founder and chairman of the board for the Malala Fund. He also serves as the United Nations Special Advisor on Global Education and is the educational attaché to the Pakistani Consulate in Birmingham, UK. Despite coming from a conventional family where he was treated as superior to his sisters and was given the privilege of education unlike them, at a young age he realised the importance of education, and the need for it to be accessible to everyone, especially women. He did not let this realisation be limited to a mere thought, or die down as a momentary spark, but fueled it with action till it became a bright light in the form of his own public school open for girls, and publicly propagated the importance of education. When his daughter, Malala, was old enough to start understanding that at a certain age girls were prohibited to attend school to focus on serving their fathers and brothers, he inspired her to speak up for her rights and pursue education.

In 2014, he conducted a TED talk titled ‘My Daughter, Malala’. He reminded the world of a simple truth that many don’t want to hear: women and men deserve equal opportunities for education, autonomy, and an independent identity. He told stories from his own life and the life of his daughter, Malala, who was shot by the Taliban for daring to go to school. “Why is my daughter so strong?” Yousafzai  asked– “Because I didn’t clip her wings.”

On November 8th, 2018, he published his autobiography titled Let Her Fly: A Father’s Journey and the Fight for Equality. It is the Guardian‘s pick as one of the biggest and most interesting books of the year. Let Her Fly is Ziauddin’s journey from a stammering boy who grew up in a tiny village high in the mountains of Pakistan, to being an activist for equality and the father of the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and one of the most influential and inspiring young women on the planet. Told through intimate portraits of each of Ziauddin’s closest relationships – as a son to a traditional father, as a father to Malala and her brothers, someone educated and brought up in the West, as a husband to a wife finally learning to read and write, as a brother to five sisters still living under patriarchy – Let Her Fly looks at what it means to love, to have courage and fight for what is inherently right.

This is a landmark book from the man behind the miracle that is Malala, and shows why we must keep fighting for the rights of girls and women around the world. Today in 2019, 7 years after the incident, the duo of father and daughter are only fighting with more conviction and vigour, helping thousands through Malala Fund.

“If fathers are crucial to the wellbeing of their daughters, their daughter’s happiness and success is also pivotal to their own satisfaction.”

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