Ziauddin Yousafzai is the father of the latest Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai and her story has now become legendary. At the age of 11, her fight against the patriarchal society of her culture in Pakistan began when she started a blog for the BBC in which she challenged the right of her society to hinder the education of women. The attempted assassination which followed whilst she was travelling on a school bus has served as a catalyst for the amazing work she now does promoting the education and the emancipation of women globally.
What is not often considered is the role Malala’s parents played in her upbringing which has ‘allowed’ her the freedom to stand up and confidently stand for what she believes in. Her work is amazing but it is the work of her parents before her of which we should really take note.
Malala’s father is a former headmaster and was indeed Malala’s headmaster in Pakistan at the time of the attempted assassination. He has always seen the role of women in his society differently and as a matter of principle has consistently encouraged the education of girls in all of his schools. This approach openly challenges the patriarchal model within his culture and society.
Breaking the rules
What he was/is doing is breaking the rules: he is breaking protocol, breaking the ‘code’ of normality within his society. He is pushing against one of the pillars of ‘conformity’, knowing (as many others do but are too afraid to say anything) that it is wrong.
Islam as a religion does not discriminate against women. In fact it sees (and has always seen) women as equals. Indeed the prophet Mohamed actually worked for a successful business woman who later became his wife. What has happened however is that over time, those in control, those who wield the power within Islamic Society have created ‘rules’ of their own which they ‘attribute’ to their religion. The sadness is that this has become so engrained in the minds of muslims worldwide that they see it as part of their religious and cultural requirements.
Ziauddin Yousafzai and his wife have always encouraged all of their children to recognise their gifts and to realise their full potential. They have encouraged them to be themselves, to take risks and not to be afraid of standing up for what they believe is right. They have refused to clip Malala’s wings, even backing her up when she chose to go public when most parents would have encouraged silence.
In March 2014, he gave a talk to a live TED audience about his role as a parent in allowing Malala to ‘fly’. His is a story of courage, of challenging his society, and allowing her the freedom to become the person we recognise today. Never forget that the courage his wife has shown is equally remarkable.
As you watch this video, consider how many rules and perceptions we follow here in the UK. Why is it that our society is so afraid? Why is it that the support for UKIP is growing so fast? Are we giving our children the best possible guidance? Could it be that our own rules and perceptions are flawed?
Ziauddin Yousafzai inspires us to look at things differently – to ask ourselves which direction we are going in and to consider our lives differently and those whose lives we directly impact upon – like our children.
My new book 'Why Follow Rules? Trust your Intuition' is now available on Amazon.