This is the transcript of a Seeking Peace podcast episode featuring Ziauddin Yousafzai.
Melanne Verveer From Georgetown University, this is Seeking Peace. I’m Melanne Verveer, and this is Ziauddin Yousafzai.
Ziauddin Yousafzai I’ll tell the men that patriarchy is something that is not only harmful for the girls, it’s also harmful for the men. Societies who don’t believe in their women and girls, they walk with one leg.
Melanne Verveer Ziauddin Yousafzai is a Pakistani educator and ardent advocate for girls’ education. He’s also the father of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. After Malala was attacked by the Taliban in retaliation for speaking about girls rights to go to school, Ziauddin helped her establish the Malala Fund. Together, they work to break down barriers keeping other girls from attending school.
[ARCHIVAL AUDIO – MALALA YOUSAFZAI GIVING HER ACCEPTANCE SPEECH FOR THE 2014 NOBEL PEACE PRIZE CEREMONY] Thank you to my father for not clipping my wings and for letting me fly.
Melanne Verveer Ziauddin also serves as a UN Special Advisor on Global Education.
We reached Ziauddin at his home in the UK to speak about men’s role in promoting girls’ rights and gender equality.
Ziauddin Yousafzai It is a great pleasure and honor to be speaking with you. I tell people that being a daughter’s father and especially Malala’s father, I feel so honored and so grateful.
Melanne Verveer She is just a remarkable young woman. You know, she often talks about the fact that you were determined to give her every opportunity that a boy would have in your society. How did you proceed? Did you get questioned by other men in the community where you were living in Pakistan?
Ziauddin Yousafzai Ah, yes. In the beginning when I was encouraging Malala and not just to be an educated girl, but to be a girl who is a girl known by her own name. Because I had five sisters and none of my five sisters had an opportunity to receive education. And at that time, we had hardly any school for girls. But also my parents did not have any big dream for my sisters. They had very tall dreams for me because I was a boy and for my five sisters their only dream was to get them married as early as possible.
So coming from that patriarchal society, being in that patriarchal family, our people could see the change in my behavior. I often tell the story that when Malala was born and she was hardly [a] few weeks after her birth, my cousin brought a family tree. And when I looked at the family tree, it was a long list for 400 years and they were all men. And I picked up my pen and drew a line from my name and wrote Malala. I could see the disapproval on his face that he was thinking of me, that I was a crazy man putting a girl name on a family tree. So these were the things in the beginning that people did not like in me. But once they saw the impact of a girl and or activism, I think, later on [the] same people joined us.
Melanne Verveer Such a graphic description of what it was like in terms of attitudes. But you were teaching at an all girls school in Pakistan while Malala was growing up. Is that right?
Ziauddin Yousafzai Yes. So the school I started, it had a girls campus and a boys campus. In the beginning, girls and boys up to grade nine and 10 were together. But unfortunately, when Talibanization started, so we had a pressure from those circles that we must separate girls and boys. So at that stage in 2003, 2004, we had a girls high school and a boys high school.
Melanne Verveer So when the Taliban took over, were girls still able to go to school?
Ziauddin Yousafzai I mean, the way they discouraged girls and then they started bombing schools, it’s quite a story. Because in the beginning, in 2003, 2004, they started an FM radio and that was the beginning of Talibanisation and they just started a heinous propaganda against girls education. And the chief of the Taliban, he used to give sermons and speeches and most often he started speaking against girls’ education. So he wanted to demotivate parents to send their girls to school. And like he used to say in his speeches, he used to name the girls, even on his FM radio, that, for example, “Khadija, Aisha – these girls from that particular area, they have left school in grade five, in grade seven. And I congratulate them because this education, modern education is un-Islamic. And these girls are very brave that they quit the school. And this will bring blessing to their families in this world and in the afterworlds.”
So, I mean, these were the kind of things they were doing in the beginning. Later on, in 2007, [the] Taliban became very violent and they burned more than 400 schools. And in December 2008, they gave an announcement on their FM radio that no girl will be allowed to go to school. Old or young, no girl at all. And if she goes to school, the parents and the manager or the principal of the school will be responsible.
Melanne Verveer So in the context of that very difficult situation that you just described to us, Malala was speaking out publicly about girls’ right to go to school, to have an education. I’m sure that obviously made her a target by some of the Taliban. Were you worried about her speaking out?
Ziauddin Yousafzai So what happened basically… Talibanization started and it escalated in 2007 and [2008 and 2009]. And meanwhile, the most beautiful valley in Pakistan… for decades, it was a center of tourism. It became the hub of terrorism. Talibanization was everywhere. And international media and national media had keen interest to write stories and to give stories from the Swat Valley. But the problem was [the] Taliban was so horrible and their fear was so big that nobody wanted to speak. People were quiet. So, the political leaders were also their target. The influential people were their target. Many police stations were closed and the police just left the police stations to Taliban. Even Taliban establish their own police stations. So in that situation, there were a few, hardly few people who spoke for the right of peace and the right of education and I was one of them. And some of our friends were killed by [the] Taliban. They were killed in target killing. I received threats from [the] Taliban on their FM radio. So, in that very environment when we were speaking, Malala also started speaking.
And then she started that BBC blog. And then later on, we together did The New York Times documentary “Class Dismissed in the Swat Valley” that captured the last day when the schools were closed by [the] Taliban. So, in the beginning, I was not much concerned. It was more about me. And it was an error of judgment on my behalf that I took it for granted that [the] Taliban held, bombed and burnt more than 400 schools. But they didn’t harm a child or a teacher. In 2012 – January – it was for the first time that I received that [the] Taliban had issued a threat to Malala, and to one other, a human rights activist. And they said that they are in their target. She just said that she wanted education. Education was her right. So we did not think that they will come after a girl and after a child, because in Pashtun culture, even in tribal fights, you are not supposed to take a child and a girl. So I mean, culturally, from Islamic point of view, we took it for granted, but we were wrong. And they came for the worst.
Melanne Verveer And so eventually Malala took a bullet for a girl’s right to go to school. And you lived through that harrowing experience not knowing if she would survive. And thank God she did. But it must have been just some horrible, horrible moment for you and the family.
Ziauddin Yousafzai Yeah, of course, it was the most traumatic, the most tragic day in our life because that very day on nine October 2012, it was a normal day, like all days in a sense that she took a half of the egg in the morning and we had quite nice chat at our breakfast. And then she rushed to school because that was the second day of her examination. I went to school, and from school I went to the press club because I was the president of the school’s association and we were demonstrating a rally over there. And being the president, I was the last speaker. So before my speech, I switched off my phone and meanwhile, my close friend received a call from my school and he was told that something has happened. And then my friend told me that your school bus has been attacked. Those news were like the most horrible news. My heart sank.
And I went to the podium. I spoke for a few minutes. And then I told the gathering that I had an emergency and I have to rush to the hospital. And then I was told by another friend on the phone that the school bus has been attacked and Malala and the two other girls had received bullets. I rushed to the hospital. And when I saw Malala, I just kissed her on her forehead, on her cheeks and… I left my home definitely with the hope that in the afternoon I will go back to home, but this never happened. From the press club, I went to the hospital in Mingora, from Mingora, she was flown in helicopter to Peshawar Army Hospital. And there she got the life-saving surgery that saved her life.
Melanne Verveer Well, it’s just a remarkable story that out of such a terrible tragedy she has survived and she’s gone on now to get her university degree from Oxford. You must be so proud of her. And she has vowed that she will continue the fight that she started when she spoke out there in Swat Valley that every girl should go to school. So you have stood by her. You have been her strongest support. She has set up the Malala Fund. Can you tell us about the fund and what you are doing with her today?
Ziauddin Yousafzai Yes. I mean, as you mentioned, that the girl who was speaking for 50,000 girls when [the] Taliban banned girls education in the Swat Valley is now standing up for 130 million girls all around the world and speaking for their right to education.
[ARCHIVAL AUDIO – MALALA YOUSAFZAI ADDRESSES THE 2013 UNITED NATIONS YOUTH ASSEMBLY] The terrorists thought they would change my aim and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life. Except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.
Ziauddin Yousafzai She was unstoppable in Swat and she was unstoppable after the attack. And that’s why when she was even in the hospital and we had like she started conversations and she got recovered in the very early days, she was more resilient and braver. And she continued her mission. And we together co-founded the Malala Fund. This fund – its vision is that every girl should have an access to quality education, that she may choose her future. And girls should learn and lead. The fund in the last five years has grown very strong. And right now we are working in almost eight countries. And now when Malala graduated from Oxford, as you mention, now she herself has taken the charge as the Chair of the Fund. And I’m so proud of her that at such a young age now she is leading a global nonprofit organization for girls’ education and her dream is to see every girl, every girl in every corner of the world in school.
Melanne Verveer Well, you have been an extraordinary supporter to your daughter and her work, as you’ve described it, is so critically important. And I know this cause has gotten complicated in recent months because of the pandemic. I know that the Fund has estimated that some 10 million secondary-aged girls – they may not return to school. It’s even more difficult in those fragile states and refugee camps. And so the work is that much more needed. And I’m sure that you have doubled your efforts in that regard.
Ziauddin Yousafzai Yes, indeed. I mean, this is [a] very unprecedented and very difficult time for everyone. And especially it’s a difficult time for education and girls’ education. That’s why we need to double our efforts, our struggle, and to highlight that girls’ education – this is so important. And that’s why we are reaching to our leaders, we are reaching to organizations that obviously, of course, health is the most important issue, but we should not ignore education in general and girls’ education in particular, because this is the most important investment. We have research together with the World Bank – it was done before [the] pandemic in 2018, two years ago. And it tells [us] that if we educate all girls in the world – primary and secondary – we will add up to 30 trillion dollars to [the] world’s economy. So you can see that girls’ education is very transformative. It helps economies. It helps social values. It brings equality. It helps democracies. It brings peace. We should be mindful of this fact.
Melanne Verveer Absolutely. And you said that just in such a compelling way. Before we close this wonderful conversation, I wanted to ask you about yourself, your own example. You have been an inspiration to fathers everywhere, I dare say. But you’ve also been a tremendous support, a male champion, if you will, for progress for women and girls the world over. I read an article, Mr. Yousafzai, in which you wrote, in Time, that you didn’t hear the word feminist until you were 45 years old. But I’m wondering, what do you have to say to your fellow males around the world about its importance?
Ziauddin Yousafzai What I say, I say from my own experience. I was one of the brothers of five sisters in a very patriarchal society in a village in the north of Pakistan. And education changed me. Education transformed me into the kind of person that I am now.
I remember how much important education – my education – was to my parents. But my five sisters did not receive any education. And they were even smarter than me. They could be doctors, engineers. They could be pilots. They could be politicians, leaders. But as they did not receive education, their life ended in a different way. They became mothers very early. They have children now. And that’s why I tell that in many parts of the world, in patriarchal societies, women and girls die as if they were never born.
So I believe in education for change. And I have seen this change in my life. The cousin who was critical for entering a girl name [in] the family tree is the biggest supporter. The village where I grew up. I didn’t see any girl to be going to school – right now there are 500 girls, the first generation of girls, who are receiving quality education. It gives me hope. And I can see this change. And I’ll tell the men that patriarchy – it is not only harmful for the girls, it’s also harmful for the men. Societies who don’t believe in their women and girls, they walk with one leg.
When you believe in girls’ education and women empowerment and gender equality, it [does] not only emancipate women, it liberates men.
Melanne Verveer Beautifully said and it has been wonderful speaking with you today, Mr. Yousafzai. And I just want to say you’re not just an eloquent spokesperson for the Malala Fund, for the work of your daughter that you have both been so deeply committed to, but also an important example of men’s leadership and support and the importance of men championing these issues. So thank you for all that you’ve done. Thank you for all that you’ll continue to do. Please extend our best wishes to dear Malala and godspeed in all that you do.
Ziauddi Yousafzai Thank you so much for having me on your show. Thank you so much.
MELANNE Verveer This year, Malala graduated with a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University. And the Malala Fund published a report about Girls Education and COVID 19 stating that 10 million secondary school-age girls who were in school before the pandemic will likely not return. You can find out more about the obstacles for girls’ education and support the Education Champion Network Mission at Malala.org.
Today’s interview was produced by Laura Ubaté. If you like what you heard, please share it far and wide. You can find all of our episodes on your favorite listening app or at seekingpeacepodcast.com.
In our next episode, we’ll meet 27-year-old Muqadasa Ahmadzai. As a poet, activist, and aspiring member of Parliament, Muqadasa risks her life every day by spreading messages of peace in Taliban strongholds across Afghanistan.
Muqadasa Ahmadzai In terms of security, I work in the eastern zone and the Taliban and ISIS are present here. I am very bothered and disturbed by this. Due to these security concerns, I hide my face from the general public and the media. I fight, I work. And as I am performing my activism and my work, I do not want to become a target. Because if I get killed then my activism will remain unfinished and left behind.
Melanne Verveer That’s next time, on Seeking Peace.
The second season of Seeking Peace is a production of Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security, and Adonde Media, in collaboration with Our Secure Future.
I’m your host, Melanne Verveer. Thank you for listening.