Education activist Ziauddin Yousafzai addressed BYU students in a virtual forum and emphasized the importance of fighting for women’s right for education.
PROVO, Utah (November 19, 2020)—BYU hosted a virtual forum Tuesday featuring Ziauddin Yousafzai, the father of women’s right activist Malala Yousafzai. Mr. Yousafzai spoke about his and his family’s efforts to defend the rights of women and to foster a respect toward female education through the world.
Yousafzai reflected that as a child, he saw how women were treated both at home and in the community, and he was uncomfortable with what he saw. His mother sisters were given scraps and sorry excuses for clothes and shoes, while he and his brother were given full meals and all the acceptable clothing.
Yousafzai said that these injustices were nothing compared to depriving women of an education.
As a boy, Yousafzai was bullied for having a stutter, both by classmates and teachers. Rather than lashing out and acting in violence to the bullies, Yousafzai reacted with what he calls “positive revenge;” rather than retaliating, he decided to rise up against this childhood oppression and take the moral high ground.
“What empowered me was education,” stated Yousafzai. He claimed that his education made his “inner being beautiful, just, and fair.”
As he grew older and married, Yousafzai acted on his desires to empower women with education, as he had felt empowered through education as a boy. He had a “commitment to stand for the rights of girls.”
With his wife Toor Pekai, Yousafzai structured his family in an egalitarian form, a family of “equality, mutual respect, compassion, and human dignity for all.”
Yousafzai commented, “I believe that family is the most powerful institution for change.”
His daughter Malala was born on June 12, 1997, and he and his wife decided to name her after Malalai of Maiwand, a female national folk hero of the Middle East who rallied troops to fight against British soldiers in the 1800s.
Yousafzai said that the story of Malalai of Maiwand always inspired him because she used her voice for good, and she was known by her own name, not by her relationship to her father or another male relative, as is common with official records in the Middle East. Yousafzai wanted his daughter to be her own person, not solely defined by her male relatives.
Mr. Yousafzai and Malala have worked side by side for years, protesting against societal norms and Taliban violence to promote equality for women and women’s right to education.
Yousafzai ended the forum with his daughter’s famous quote: “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”
—Molly Ogden Welch (Communications ’22)