From the torment caused by the shooting of his young daughter to rebuilding life anew far from home, Ziauddin Yousafzai has gone through his fair share of ups and downs. Khadijha Tariq got in touch with him to find out how it’s been.

The Man Who Let Malala Fly

Ziauddin Yousafzai, father of Pakistani Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai and co-founder of the global Malala Fund that supports girls’ right to education and across the globe, recently penned down his experiences in a book named Let Her Fly.

The book narrates his personal struggles against the patriarchal setup he grew up in and the challenges he negotiated along the way. He is currently settled in Birmingham, England with his wife and three children far from the world he once called home, but building a new life in an alien land climate and culture was not easy he said. Recalling the fateful shooting of Malala in 2012

when the Taliban started banning girls’ education. That led to a change within me and from an educationist, I became someone who began fighting for girls’ right to education.

He said, recalling the fateful shooting of Malala in 2012, Yousafzai said the attack changed the life of his family completely. It was sudden and unanticipated, and he never thought anything like that could have happened. “I was very happy in Swat, administering a school with 1,100 children. It was quite fulfilling. But after the incident, we were forced to come to England for Malala’s treatment, as it was not possible in Pakistan.”

A NEW LIFE

But coming to England was not as rosy as it appears. “It was extremely difficult in the beginning and one of the reasons was that my sons had never been out of Pakistan. Although I had had the opportunity to visit the US for a month in 2010, my sons never had been out of the country. My wife also struggled immensely with the language barrier for she couldn’t speak English.”

But there was much more to cope with. “There was nothing in common between the people of Pakistan and England. The weather here was another world from Swat. There was also a communication gap and my wife remained in a lot of stress. My elder son felt seriously homesick, however, my younger son adapted to life rather quickly. Then there was the stress of Malala being under treatment. She underwent multiple surgeries and stayed hospitalized for three months.”

There were even problems for Malala in adjusting to life after her procedures, despite her having become a global icon by the time she stepped out of school.  She joined a girls’ school, but had a hard time initially for she could make any friends. But things got better for her after two months. And yes, people in Birmingham were extremely welcoming and helped us a lot to settle in, Yousafzai said. Pakistan will always be home, although England comes a close second. Our hearts are still in Pakistan.

Parenthood is an enjoyable experience, but also requires a lot of interest on part of parents. Children differ from one another and have different individual sets of need. Parents should have a friendly relationship with their children so that they can share everything with them

Problem Identification

So was getting a girl an education in Swat really that much of a problem back in the day?

Yousafzai said it hardly was. A number of young girls were getting education with Malala. Girls’ education was never a problem. It was quite normal as Malala was not the only girl studying nor was I the only father who was sending his daughter to school.  More than 50,000 girls were getting educated, which means there was a lot of education going around in Swat. However, many girls were married early and not many were allowed to work. That was a major challenge. If you talk about 40 years ago, yes, education was not a social norm and people did not send their daughters to school then. So when I looked at my sisters not being able to get an education, I was very keen for my daughter to get educated.

So what happened if things were pretty much ok? Yousafzai said the real struggle started when the Taliban started banning girls’ education. “That led to a change within me and from an educationist, I became someone who began fighting for girls’ right to education.”

The father of three said that the real challenge was not girls’ education, but letting his daughter to do what she wanted to. “Although many parents allowed their daughters and wives to read and write, it did not go beyond that. For me, education was more than that. Even my friends were not happy and raised questions about why a girl should appear on the media or how could I allow her to attend international seminars and conferences.”

Activism

Talking about education activism, Yousafzai said activism should not only be focused on education, but quality education for that matter. All aspiring education activists should invest their time and energy towards ensuring quality education for all,

If you want to change an individual, a community or a society, the most important thing is education and quality education. Girl’s education is not really about learning computer sciences or mathematics. It’s about empowerment, emancipation and freedom so that women, like men, can contribute to the well-being of their country.

He added that neither societies nor the world could progress or change without promoting girls education.  Malala Fund and World Bank conducted a research which indicated if every girl gets 12 years of basic education in the world, it would add $30 trillion to the world economy.  Plus, education can also help in leveraging poverty, stopping early child marriages and endorsing social equality, he added.

Parenting

Given the highly friendly bond which Yousafzai appears to have with his daughter Malala, we asked him for some tips on parenting as well. “Parenthood is an enjoyable experience, but also requires a lot of interest on part of parents. Children differ from one another and have different individual sets of need. Parents should have a friendly relationship with their children so that they can share everything with them.”

Asked about the kind of father he was, Yousafzai said his children shared everything with him and he was the first person they came too in times of trouble. He urged parents to develop an open relationship with their children and trust their children and their capabilities.

A father and mother must be the first people to believe in a child’s capabilities. Only then can a child believe in his or her abilities. For instance, when Malala was growing up, I used to appreciate her for small things. You don’t need to pretend. Every child is special and possesses a unique set of talents. Encouragement builds a child’s personality , he added.

Yousafzai also urged parents not lead by example. “If I am a liar, how can I preach my children not to lie?

This approach is wrong because our children draw values and learn from us. If I want my son to respect women and treat them equally, I must present a good example to him. The way I treat my wife and daughter will determine how my son treats his mother, sister other women

Khadija Tariq has done masters in mass communication and currently is a content editor for Academia magazine. She has previously worked as freelance Academia writer.She can be reached at Khadijha@academiamag.com and tweets at @khadijhatariq