In October 2012, a Taliban-affiliated gunman shot Ziauddin Yousafzai’s daughter Malala soon after she boarded a bus en route to her school. In Swat, Pakistan — where Ziauddin and Malala live — the Taliban had outlawed all girls from attending school — but Yousafzai, an educator and steadfast crusader for women’s rights in Pakistan, refused to take Malala out of his school.
“When in many [societies] fathers are usually known by their sons, I am one of the few fathers who is known by his daughter,” Yousafzai says at TED2014, “and I’m proud of it.”
In 2009, a BBC journalist asked Yousafzai if any of his students would be willing to tell their story of living in Pakistan under Taliban rule. Parents of his students found it too dangerous, so Ziauddin suggested that his 12-year-old daughter, Malala, write about her life as a young schoolgirl.
Despite great personal risk, Malala said yes. “Malala started her campaign for education and women’s rights in 2007,” Yousafzai says. “She became a very famous, very popular young girl. Before that, she was my daughter, but now I’m her father.” (In an exclusive video, hear Malala introduce both her father and her mother to our audience.)
Even before she was born, Yousafzai was determined to instill in his daughter a sense of strength, confidence, and passion. “When Malala was born and for the first time … I went and looked into her eyes,” he says, “I [felt] extremely honored.”
This view comes in direct conflict with conceptions of women in many areas of the world, Yousafzai says: “The story of a woman is a story of injustice, inequality, violence and exploitation.” In Pakistan, the birth of a girl follows a very common pattern: “When a girl is born … she is not welcomed, neither by father nor by mother. At the age of five, when she should be going to school, she stays at home … When she turns 13, she is forbidden to leave her home without a male escort … She becomes the so-called honor of her father, brothers and her family. If she transgresses the code of that so-called honor, she could be killed.”
“This plight of millions of women could be changed if women and men think differently,” Yousafzai says — “if they can break a few norms of family and society, if they can abolish the discriminatory laws of the systems in their states that go against basic human rights of the women.”
Throughout her childhood, “Malala stood out, and she stood for the right of education,” Yousafzai says. “She spoke from every platform she could … and her voice was the most powerful voice, and it spread like a crescendo all around the world.”
“Dear brothers and sisters,” he ends, “We learn from her how to be resilient in the most difficult times … Despite being an icon for the rights of children and women, she is like any 16- year-old girl … People ask me what is special about my mentorship that has made Malala so bold and courageous, vocal and poised. I tell them, ‘Don’t ask me what I did. Ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings, and that’s all.”