We need more men like Malala's father

Malala Yousfazi's story is well known around the world now, and as a one of the nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year, her passion for women's education has been given an international platform.

She is clearly an inspiration for many, although there are those who would take away from her achievements by claiming she is a 'good native'; someone who can be used as an example to justify the actions of Western nations.

Looking beyond this though, the story of Malala is not about Malala herself, because as many have pointed out, there are many like her around the world.

The story is rather that of the Yousfazi family, and particularly her father Ziauddin.  This story is about the strength of fathers in a world where bucking the cultural norm not only reflects on the individual, but on the entire family and is one of the more difficult - but worthwhile - paths to tread.



I cannot speak for Pakistan or Afghanistan, but as a Sudanese born child to parents of mixed heritage in Northern Africa, our cultures have many similarities in expectation and tradition.

In Sudan, the levels of education that women attain - or allowed to attain - are often restricted by the income bracket and cultural expectation of the family.  Middle to high income bracket groups often see school education (including for women) as a given.  Those from poorer parts of the country do not always have that luxury. Unfortunately, most of the nation's wealth resides within the three central cities of Khartoum, Omdurman and Bahri and so many living in rural and remote areas miss out.

The kicker? The level of influence of the attitudes of men in the family.  Sudan, like many Middle East and North African nations, is intensely patriarchal.  No matter how much 'gumption' a woman may have, or how 'brave' she is, without the support of the family and the alpha men in the unit, some things are unlikely to be tolerated.  This is not to say 'all the women are oppressed', as media often regurgitates, but it does mean that men continue to control much of the public discourse and the public domain more generally.

It is very difficult for a woman to support herself in a house alone, for example.  One's reputation and the way they are seen by the world is the most valuable currency in a collective society.  It is a dis-empowering situation in some senses, particularly if one is used to the freedom of choice and independence women are allowed in other parts of the world to .  However, it is the lay of the land...

It is against this backdrop of patriarchy that the importance of male support begins to be clear.  I see my own father in Malala; a man who values education, opportunity, and sees his daughter not as a less capable member of society who should be married as soon as possible to produce grandchildren, but as a functioning, contributing citizen who has the ability to do so much more than the minimum expected.  My father moved across the world for these opportunities for his daughter, and supported me in every educational pursuit that he felt added value.  He encouraged my passions, even though traditionally, fields such as mechanical engineering and working in very male dominated environments is not always seen as 'appropriate' or fitting for a 'good Sudanese girl'.  I am where I am today largely because of both my parent's efforts, and the blessing of his support has allowed me to be in a role that will hopefully inspire others in some way.

My point is this.  It is unlikely that Malala would have been able to do the things she did - write for the BBC, continue her education - if it weren't for her father's support.  Without the blessings of the patriarch in Sudan, life decisions become quite fraught and difficult; I have little doubt this would be the same in Pakistan. Her father's attitude likely legitimised her actions in the area and allowed her to communicate and make a stand without ostracising her own family in the process.

It is the support of men like Malala's father which is absolutely required in the fight for women's equality, education and liberation in countries such as Sudan and Pakistan.

Without their support, it is an uphill battle that is unlikely to be overcome any time soon.

With their blessings and bolstering however, a difference can be made.

Here is to the fathers of our daughters.