Ziauddin Yousafzai speaks on the power of education

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Ziauddin Yousafzai, education activist and father of Malala Yousafzai, gave a BYU forum on Nov. 17. He spoke on how education inspires change and activism. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

Ziauddin Yousafzai, education activist and father of Malala Yousafzai, said equal education opportunities can change the world during a BYU forum.

The Nov. 17 forum focused on Yousafzai’s experiences in Swat Valley, Pakistan, where education opportunities for women were limited. He advocated for equality within his own family and in the school he started. His and his daughter’s current activism is based on ensuring girls can choose their future and have access to free and safe education.

“Education transformed me into the kind of person that I am,” Yousafzai said, adding that it made his inner being beautiful, just and fair.

To Yousafzai, having a quality education means to be skeptical about the bad things and social norms in society. Education brings change and makes the world healthier, wealthier and more prosperous, he said.

When the Taliban started bombing schools and banning girls’ education, Yousafzai said he had to raise his voice. Malala also raised her voice, declaring that education was her right and the right of the girls of Swat. 

“Taliban used the beautiful name of Islam — rather they abused the name of Islam — for their political agenda, for their power,” Yousafzai said. The Islam he knows is love, peace, tolerance and respect to all people.

Malala spoke to every platform she could, and the Taliban wanted to eliminate her, Yousafzai said. She was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in retaliation for her activism efforts. “Miraculously, she survived,” Yousafzai said. She’s now raising her voice for 130 million girls who are unable to attend school. She wrote an international best-selling book, and was named the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 at the age of 17.

“I always tell people that when your rights are violated, you must raise your voice, because your voice is the most powerful voice,” he said, adding that he sees Malala as a leader on a global stage, and he’s one of her millions of supporters. 

He and Malala want to see a world where every girl can choose their future, learn and lead, he said. Their mission is for every girl to have 12 years of access to quality, free and safe education. 

Yousafzai’s interest in activism for women began as a child. He said he first noticed inequalities between girls and boys within his patriarchal family. The biggest discrimination, he said, was that his sisters didn’t get to attend school, as this wasn’t a social norm. 

“Their life was decided as they were born. They could not dream beyond becoming wives and mothers,” he said. 

Yousafzai also said he wasn’t comfortable seeing forced marriages and honor killings as a boy. Education was what inspired him to do something about these injustices.

It enabled and empowered him not to “flow with the tide of the society like a dead fish,” but rather swim against the tide of social norms.

Yousafzai said he and his wife had their own family based on equality. In patriarchal societies, men usually don’t consult their wives, but Yousafzai said his wife is the first person he talks to when he’s in trouble. 

“We started this change from our family. I believe that family is the most powerful institution for bringing any change,” Yousafzai said. He added that while his family was not rich economically, they were rich in their values. 

In addition to his efforts with his family, Yousafzai started a school that gave equal opportunities to girls. He taught the girls to be respectful, but that it’s okay to disobey when their basic human rights are violated.

He closed with a quote from his daughter, Malala. “One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.”

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