At 18-years-old, Malala Yousafzai (Malala) is an inspiration to millions worldwide. Apart from becoming history's youngest Nobel Peace Prize Laureate in 2014, an advocate for gender equality and education for women, and fearlessly standing up to the Taliban who shot her in the face, it's easy to forget she's just a teenager.
Credit must also go to Malala's parents - her mother Toor Pekai Yousafzai and father Ziauddin "Zia" Yousafzai, a teacher in rural Pakistan and co-founder of the Malala Fund.
Zia spoke to American journalist and activist Maria Shriver, sharing his experience as a parent of three empowered, confident, and progressive children, and the lessons he'd like to pass on to other parents.
You don't have to push your kids. Just don't hold them back.
“People often ask me what I have done in my mentoring that has made Malala so bold and courageous, vocal and poised, and I tell them, ‘Don’t ask me what I did, ask me what I did not do. I didn’t clip her wings, that is all,'” he tells Shriver.
Encourage your children to have opinions and dare to voice them.
In rural Pakistan, where daughters can still be seen as a burden and female infanticide is still practised, Zia says he was delighted at the birth of Malala, envisioning a whole new and empowered path for her future.
“When Malala was small, I encouraged her to come and sit with me during meetings and join me in conversation when I had friends over,” he says.
He says educating young boys, and encouraging them, too, to break gender stereotypes is just as imperative.
“I have used education for emancipation. I use it to teach boys to unlearn the teachings of ‘obedience’ and ‘honor’ in the way it is taught over there," he shares.
“The Malala Fund believes that basic education is important but secondary education allows them to fly and to be leaders within their communities, to really empower them.”
Education is the antidote for gender inequality.
“The education changed me, but I’ve always been sensitive to discrimination of class and people who have been looked down upon,” Malala's father says.
Zia is a strong advocate for education for girls, especially in increasing the retention age in school through to secondary school. But he concedes it's not just a militia-led ban (like the Taliban in Pakistan) that's preventing change. Patriarchal mindsets within conservative homes need to change, too.
“In those regions of the world, girls are as free as butterflies until age twelve and then they can’t leave the house without a male escort,” he says. “The Malala Fund believes that basic education is important but secondary education allows them to fly and to be leaders within their communities, to really empower them.”
Share the chores equally amongst both sons and daughters.
Though most parents in the Western world wouldn't dare to give their daughters more chores than their sons, in a country where gender stereotypes are still rock solid, Zia says it's important to defy them within the household first.
“Growing up, my brother and I were always preferred over my sisters — we were even offered the better parts of the chicken to eat, but my father was scholarly and sent me to school,” he says. These days, Zia leads by example, helping his wife with chores in the home.
“There is a responsibility of men and boys to motivate one another by their actions. Household chores are not just for a woman or man; that’s wrong. My sons need to see me do things to help their mum and we need to lead by example,” he says.
"Household chores are not just for a woman or man; that’s wrong. My sons need to see me do things to help their mom and we need to lead by example."
Appreciate your children for more than 'being pretty' or 'getting good grades', but for simply being themselves.
There's a whole movement about ensuring parents compliment their young daughter with more than "you're so pretty", to ensure they grow up knowing they are valued for more than their looks alone.
“I’ve always appreciated my daughter, not just her academic or wise achievements, but even the way she spoke or performed. Parents must appreciate the small merits of their children. They’re wise and smart so tell them that they are. Controlling them doesn’t work, so be open and believe in your children,” he advises.
Ultimately, Yousafzai believes all these ideals stem from one core value - love.
“Love should be more valued than anything else with our children,” he says. “You should not lose the love and respect for yourself in the hearts of your children, and vice versa.”