Malala Yousafzai's father Ziauddin Yousafzai gave a touching speech at the 2014 TED conference in Vancouver yesterday, speaking about how his daughter came to stand up to the Taliban and how proud he is of her.
The speaker, who was not on the original speech list, made a surprise appearance following a video that Malala made for the conference attendees. As a teacher and steadfast crusader for women’s rights in Pakistan, Ziauddin Yousafzai said he does not regret inspiring his daughter to dream of emancipation from a patriarchal Pakistani society.
"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 said, "and I’m proud of it".
Malala and Ziauddin Yousafzai meeting Queen Elizabeth II at the Reception for Youth, Education and the Commonwealth at Buckingham Palace in November 2013
In 2009, when 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 he suggested that his then 12-year-old daughter, Malala, write about her life as a young schoolgirl.
"People ask me, what did I do to make Malala so bold and courageous? I did not clip her wings," he said.
But even before she was born, Yousafzai was determined to instil a sense of strength, confidence, and passion in in his daughter. “When Malala was born and for the first time … I went and looked into her eyes,” he says, “I [felt] extremely honoured”.
“The story of a woman (in Pakistan) is a story of injustice, inequality, violence and exploitation. 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 honour of her father, brothers and her family. If she transgresses the code of that so-called honour, she could be killed.”
Malala and Ziauddin Yousafzai at the University of Edinburgh in October 2013
He continued, "This plight of millions of women could be changed if women and men think differently 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."
He said he was trying to change society by teaching his girl students "to unlearn obedience" and teaching his boy students "to unlearn so-called 'honour'".
Throughout her childhood, “Malala stood out, and she stood for the right of education,” Yousafzai said. "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."
He ended his speech saying, “Dear brothers and sisters, 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.”
Teenager Malala Yousafzai survived a shot in the head by Taliban gunmen in 2012, for campaigning for the right to go to school. Since, she has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, appeared on the cover of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World and spoken in front of the likes of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
She did not attend the Ted Talk, but recently spoke at the Women Of The World Festival at Southbank Centre in London on International Women's Day.
(Words: Sejal Kapadia, Images: Rex Features)