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'I didn't clip Malala's wings... I let my daughter be herself'

His daughter Malala is a Nobel Peace Prize winner - here, Ziauddin Yousafzai talks to Lisa Salmon about his new book Let Her Fly and how equality has shaped his family

Guiding influence: Ziauddin with his daughter, Malala Yousafzai
Guiding influence: Ziauddin with his daughter, Malala Yousafzai

By Lisa Salmon

As children grow, they need more freedom and less protection from their parents, but giving them that freedom comes with risks.

The risks, however, are not normally as extreme as those faced by Malala Yousafzai, whose campaign to get girls educated in her native Pakistan led to her being shot in the head by a Taliban gunman at the age of 15.

Airlifted to the UK for treatment, she survived, going on to become the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner. She is now studying for a degree at Oxford University.

Malala's activism and extraordinary characteristics were, at least in part, shaped by her equally extraordinary father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, an education activist, human rights campaigner and teacher.

Ziauddin (52) rebelled against inequality at a young age and founded a girls' school. When he had a daughter, he vowed she would have the same access to education as boys.

He now lives in the UK with his wife, Toor Pekai, and their two sons, and has just written a memoir, Let Her Fly - a moving account of fatherhood and his lifelong fight for equality.

Here Ziauddin, who is co-founder with his daughter of the Malala Fund, which invests in girls' education, discusses his book, parenting, equality and living in the UK.

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Did you and your wife's liberal views shape your daughter's own views?

"I always tell people when they ask me what's special about my mentorship for my daughter not to ask me what I did, but ask what I did not do. I did not clip her wings. I let her be herself. That's one part of parenthood which is very important. My wife and I believe in freedom of thought and expression, and in our home environment we encouraged our three children to be strong and believe in themselves. This has had a strong influence on them."

Now you live in the UK, what do you think about the way children are brought up in this country?

"When we were in Pakistan, we had a great family life. Everybody had the right to speak what was on their minds and in their hearts and to share everything with one another.

"I have learnt a lot in the last seven years. The difficult part of my parenthood was with my sons and especially with my oldest son. When we came to the UK, he was angry and emotional and wanted to play Xbox all the time.

I had a difficult time with him until a family friend reminded me he was a teenager. She assured me he was going through changes and she was right. Now I am best friends with my sons.

"I appreciate the way children are brought up in this country. In Pakistan, there's a lot of patriarchy and religious influence. In the UK, raising children is a joyful experience - you let the children learn, you guide them and you advise them sometimes, but you don't impose yourself on them."

Has it been hard for you to convince your sons they are as special to you as Malala?

"In Pakistan, my eldest son told a friend that I was more focused on Malala. When I heard this, I was very sad, but I told him I was sorry he felt that - he shouldn't feel that. My love for him is unconditional, but I also told him that for the rest of the world he has to earn love and respect with his behaviour, his hard work, his brilliance.

"My children are very happy siblings - they love and respect one another. There is no feeling that Malala is a Nobel laureate or more special in the house. They argue and they fight like every family."

Are you and your family still frightened of the Taliban?

"This is a difficult question. Yes, we are frightened of the Taliban, but the Taliban are frightened of us. Really, they don't like us because we believe in girls' education, which they oppose. We believe in female empowerment, which they can't see. We believe in culture, in music, in fine arts, and they don't believe in any such thing.

"They see us, especially Malala, as a symbol of change, a woman who gives courage and hope to other women of her country to stand up for their rights.

"When I say we're afraid of them, we're not afraid they will harm us. Pakistan is our home. It's the country of future generations, so it really frightens us when we see more Talibanisation, when we see democracy weakened, liberal people being harassed and their liberty and freedom of speech being taken away. That is frightening."

Do you still campaign for more equality in Pakistan?

"Things have changed in Pakistan a lot in my life. None of my five sisters went to school. Now, from the same village, there are 250 girls going to school and receiving quality education.

A school has been built with Malala's Nobel Peace Prize money and the help of the Malala Fund. And that's not the only school, there are girls attending public school too. Now parents have different dreams for their daughters. They want to see them educated, so they send them to school."

It's been an incredible journey for your family. With hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently?

"It wasn't our choice to have an incredible journey; that's what makes it incredible.

It wasn't planned, it wasn't thought out. Even with hindsight, my view is the same - I couldn't have done things differently. The only option could have been that I remained silent about the right of girls to education and didn't raise my voice, but that isn't me, nor my nature. It isn't Toor Pekai's, nor Malala's, nor my sons'.

"The cruelties and atrocities that were inflicted by the Taliban were unbearable. I have sorrows, but I have no regret at all. What I did, what Malala did, we did everything for our human rights, for our land and for our people and we are proud of what we did."

Let Her Fly by Ziauddin Yousafzai, published by WH Allen, £9.99

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