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One-on-one with Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai

A young girl stands in front of Ziauddin Yousafzai to read a letter she wrote for his daughter, Malala.

Ziauddin Yousafzai joined Plan Canada’s President and CEO, Rosemary McCarney, to speak to a group of primary school students about gender equality at Secord Elementary School in Toronto.

As a parent, you make incredible sacrifices for your children. For Ziauddin Yousafzai, his choices nearly cost him the life of his daughter, Malala Yousafzai.

In October 2012, Malala, a 15 year old schoolgirl from Pakistan, was nearly killed after Taliban gunmen tried to assassinate her on her way to school. She was targeted for her outspoken campaigning for girls’ right to an education. But with her family by her side, Malala made a miraculous recovery. Today, Malala is still fighting for girls’ education, and her father, Ziauddin, couldn’t be prouder.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Ziauddin, 44, on his recent trip to Canada. We wanted to get to know the man who raised Malala.

Raising Malala Yousafzai

From the beginning, Ziauddin did what was best for his daughter. He encouraged Malala to go to school. And he let her stand up for what she believes in —education for all. While in Pakistan, Ziauddin ran a school for both boys and girls and as education ambassador to his native Pakistan, Ziauddin understands the importance of education, especially for girls.

“You see personally as a father, I think that education is very important for all the daughters. I had five sisters and none of them could go to school. But I’m not the only father who sent his daughter to school – there are millions of girls who are going to school in Pakistan, and many fathers wish to send their daughters to school. But still, as compared to boys, girls are ignored.”

“Education is the only way for the emancipation of women. It is not simply for girls. It is not simply the learning of a few language skills, or the learning of some skills for their professional life, but in reality, it is a way to their freedom. It’s a way to their independence. It’s a way to their individual integrity. And it’s a way to their life as a human being.”

A message for fathers and for girls

Watch below as Ziauddin gives his advice to fathers and young girls around the world looking to stand up for what they believe in:

Like father, like daughter

Like Malala, Ziauddin describes education as his passion. Together, their crusade for universal education has captured the attention of millions around the world. So what did Ziauddin do to raise a daughter who has become a global symbol of girls’ right to education?

“What was special about my teaching as a father? What was special in my guidance as father? Don’t ask me what I did; ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings. I did not stop her from doing things. I let her be her, and that makes a big difference.”

It sure did. From a very young age, Ziauddin recognized the potential in his daughter. She was just 10-years-old when she began writing a blog for the BBC, telling her stories about life in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.

“She spoke from every platform. I think that your own voice is the most powerful voice when it comes to your rights. If I speak for you, that’s good, but when you speak for yourself that is more powerful. I believe that having a voice connects children from around the world, and Malala’s voice empowers the children of the world. The world must know that children should be listened to.”

The bullet that almost silenced Malala

When Malala was attacked by the Taliban in 2012, life changed for the Yousafzai family. But Malala kept fighting, and Ziauddin refused to back down.

‘It strengthened my perspective about campaigning for girls’ education – about the campaign for education as a whole. It strengthened my belief in the truth.”

“Every man and every woman is born with potential, with great specialties, and with diverse qualities. Society should let everybody polish his or her potential. If you let the girls and boys both be the way they should be – you just guide them in a proper way with their freedom of thought and freedom of expression – then you will have a different generation.”

You can help girls receive the education that is their right.