It was only earlier this year, in June, that Malala Yousafzai was questioning the entire reason for marriage, telling British Vogue: “I still don’t understand why people have to get married. If you want to have a person in your life, why do you have to sign marriage papers, why can’t it just be a partnership?” And then last week, she surprised the world by announcing she had gone and got married.
“Today marks a precious day in my life. Asser and I tied the knot to be partners for life,” she tweeted.
There were a number of people who expressed surprise over her decision given her earlier comments. And there were others who wondered if the marriage was arranged, as is the cultural practice for many Pakistanis.
Yousafzai’s friend, Khadija Siddiq, told the UK’s The Telegraph newspaper the marriage wasn’t arranged. “Malala is very wise and true to her words and her cause. She wouldn’t do something she didn’t want to do. She’s right about being in a partnership, and Asser offers that to her.”
While not much was initially known about how Yousafzai and her husband Asser Malik met, internet detectives discovered the couple were together in a group photo from 2019 on Malik’s Instagram.
Yousafzai later mentioned that she and Malik initially crossed paths in Oxford and ended up becoming best friends.
Since the announcement of her wedding, Yousafzai has had to defend her earlier comments about marriage, going on BBC TV to clarify: “I was not against marriage. I had concerns about marriage and that is true for many girls around the world who have seen reports about child marriage and reports about forced marriage,” she said in her interview.
She also wrote in Vogue magazine, she wasn’t against the concept of marriage, just cautious about it.
“I questioned the patriarchal roots of the institution, the compromises women are expected to make after the wedding, and how laws regarding relationships are influenced by cultural norms and misogyny in many corners of the world.” She wrote, “I feared losing my humanity, my independence, my womanhood – my solution was to avoid getting married at all.”
Yousafzai has always been outspoken about the rights of girls and women and considers herself a feminist, even though as an 18-year-old she considered feminism to be a “tricky word”.
And it was because of her feminist principles that Yousafzai questioned the institution of marriage.
"I couldn’t call myself a feminist if I didn’t have reservations," she wrote in Vogue. "Growing up in the north of Pakistan, girls were taught that marriage was a substitute for an independent life. If you don’t study, get a job and build a place for yourself, you must get married soon. You failed your exams? You can’t find work? Get married!"
Malik meanwhile has kept a fairly low profile, leaving his new wife to face the press - something Yousafzai has done since she was a schoolgirl campaigning about the importance of education for girls.
He did however tweet: “In Malala, I found the most supportive friend, a beautiful and kind partner — I'm so excited to spend the rest of our life together.”
No one will truly know the reasons behind why Yousafzai and Malik chose to get married when they did. Though some, including Christina Lamb, who wrote her autobiography I Am Malala wondered whether it was the influence of her parents love marriage that inspired Yousafzai to find her own life partner.
Lamb told The Telegraph: “She’s grown up seeing what a happy marriage can do. If it’s the right person, it can be very helpful for her to have a partner in her life.”
And perhaps ultimately it is love that’s made Yousafzai enter into the next phase of her life. As she told The Times: “But then I found my partner, Asser, and he is an amazing friend and companion and he supports me in my work and I literally feel the same as I was feeling before. And I think that’s what you want in a good relationship.”
No one out there can begrudge a young woman wanting love and companionship even if she does happen to be the youngest ever Nobel Prize Laureate and one of the most famous faces in the world.
As she wrote in Vogue, “I still don’t have all the answers for the challenges facing women – but I believe that I can enjoy friendship, love and equality in marriage.”