Nobel or not, here's why we should thank Malala's father

Thank you Ziauddin Yousafzai for your part in creating the miracle of Malala.

Lakshmi Chaudhry October 11, 2013 14:40:12 IST
Nobel or not, here's why we should thank Malala's father

“In my part of the world, fathers are known by their sons. Daughters are very much neglected. I am one of the few fortunate fathers who is known by their daughter,” said Ziauddin Yousafzai of his 15-year old Malala in his acceptance speech for the Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Womens’ Freedom in Paris earlier this year.

Yousafzai is undoubtedly ever prouder today. His young daughter may not have won the Nobel Peace prize, but she was the most popular nominee for an honour usually reserved for world leaders and big name activists. The committee's omission does not diminish his victory. As Yousafzai and Malala's many admirers well know, to have nurtured such a child is itself sufficient reward -- and a tremendous achievement for any parent, more so a father raising a girl child in Taliban-infested Swat Valley.

Nobel or not heres why we should thank Malalas father

Malala with her father: Reuters

"But as much as the world loves Malala, could world peace actually be better advanced by awarding the prize to her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai?" asks a provocative ForeignPolicy.com post by PJ Aroon, "The founder of the girls' school Malala attended, he is an anomaly in his area of Pakistan -- a progressive man who understands the value of educating girls. Without her dad, there would be no Malala, the confident, literate, English-speaking activist. Instead, she would most likely be lost among the four out of five girls in her region who don't go to school."

Setting aside the red herring of pitting father against daughter, Aroon's bold thesis, however, is an important reminder of an unacknowledged truth: A Malala is not a miracle of birth, innately endowed with  indomitable courage or fixity of purpose. Her best qualities have been nurtured by a family, particularly a father who risked his own life for the very same cause. Malala's heroic narrative is, as documentary filmmaker Adam Ellick (who made her famous in the West), puts it, "is a story about a father and a daughter, more than a story about a girl.”

(Malala's mother by her own admission has not been involved in her activism. Malala told Ellick that she "did not care about those things.")

And in Swat valley, where the rule of patriarchy is absolute, his role in raising an independent, modern young woman makes him a critical and urgently needed role model. As Ziauddin himself has acknolwedged, "In a male-dominated society, change will come and change could be initiated by men.… The journey which girls can travel in 100 years, if they are accompanied by their male partners -- brothers, fathers -- it could be just a few years, five years, six years."

As we honour Ziauddin and Malala, let us also take a moment to remember the many other fathers on the subcontinent who choose to cherish their daughters against all odds, and despite great peril. There is Saidal Pazhwak in Kabul, the father of two young daughters, who has helped train around 10,000 women teachers in Kabul, and says, "I believe that education is a girl's right."

Equally heartening is 8-year old Mahmun's illiterate father who refused to trade his child as the blood-price of a murder, despite being ordered to do so by the local elders. The entire family fled and now lives in poverty and fear, but still her father says, "We are borrowing money from others so we can feed the children. We have no choice. Nothing matters more to us than our two girls and their lives."

A father's commitment to a girl child is all the more decisive in our part of the world where he looms large as the head of the household, where his approval is decisive in all matters. His love is therefore all the more precious, more so when he teaches his daughter to value herself as a human being — even in a society that rarely affords her that privilege.

So thank you Ziauddin Yousafzai for your part in creating the miracle of Malala.

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