When your daughter is 14 and she gets shot in the head by the Taliban for speaking about the importance for girls’ education, and she survives, you would have a pretty good idea that she is no ordinary girl. Since that happened in October 2012, Malala Yousafzai has gotten the life-saving surgery she needed in the UK where she is now based, has spoken at the United Nations, released a best-selling book, become the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize nominee in 2013, and was featured on the cover of Time magazine and touted as one of the ‘100 Most Influential People’ in the world.
Malala is no ordinary teen girl, but if it wasn’t for her, many other teens in her home country of Pakistan, and other regions where girls’ education is frowned upon, would not have the role model and advocate they need to show the rest of the world why we need to make sure girls in every country around the world have access to education.
But it’s not just teen and pre-teen girls she is advocating for. Malala is also teaching her own mother, Tor Pekai Yousafzai, how to read and write! Imagine that! She gives birth to a world-changer, who in turn is birthing a change in her mother’s world with something as simple as literacy.
Malala and her mother were invited by the New York Times to talk about education and how her mother is even learning how to speak in English slowly.
“She wants to learn. She wants to get an education. She goes to school five days a week. She does her homework,” says Malala during her appearance the the TimesTalk. One of the reasons Malala’s mother decided it was time to learn, was because she needed to be able to read the labels on medication bottles in England.
Tor Pekai is learning how valuable education can be for everyday tasks. That is an empowering feeling no doubt. Malala’s dad, Ziauddin Yousafzai, has been running a girls school for many years, but it has taken this long for his wife to become part of what the rest of her family is doing.
In fact, Malala talks about how the traditional male-female roles in her family have shifted slightly now that her mother is getting educated.
“My mother is now learning English, becoming independent, goes to see the doctor on her own, goes to the shops and markets on her own,” she said. “On the other hand, my father is now going towards the kitchen. He makes eggs. He cannot really do a lot of cooking, but he brings plates to the table, brings cups, puts jam and butter in those things. So he is getting better.”
“These things are very important for us, because in many countries, people think the kitchen is just a woman’s job, and the man’s job is to go outside, earn money, and he’s going to control the family. So our family shows an example to the world of how things change with the help of awareness.”
Ziauddin gave a TED Talk in March 2014 breaking down the negative implications of some traditional gender roles in Pakistan. He talks about how young girls have no say, no rights, and are forced to get married really young and are not generally given access to education. They are expected to take care of a family and the home, while the boys go off to school.
Here is his powerful video in full:
First Lady Michelle Obama mentioned Malala in an essay she wrote to girls in Seventeen Magazine recently, imploring them to “take their education seriously”.
“62 million girls around the world are not in school, and in some countries, fewer than ten percent of girls complete high school (as compared to 85 percent in the U.S.). Sometimes, families simply can’t afford to send their daughters to school. But often, the problem isn’t just about resources, it’s also about attitudes and beliefs,” she says.
“In some places, girls are viewed as less worthy of an education than boys, so when a family has limited funds, they’ll educate their sons instead of their daughters. In some parts of the world, girls are forced to get married young – sometimes before they even reach puberty – to men who might be three or four times their age, and instead of attending school, they wind up having children at a young age.
She continued to say that there are girls around who would give anything to have the education girls in the west have, so they shouldn’t take that lightly.
“In some countries, there are terrorist organizations who view educated girls as a serious threat and do everything in their power to keep girls from going to school.” No one knows this more than Malala, as well as the nearly-300 kidnapped girls in Nigeria by terrorist group Boko Haram, which Michelle Obama also mentions. What Malala is doing is giving the rest of the world a first-hand glimpse into how powerful education can be, and also showing how impactful girls can be even in their own families.
Here you can watch the full interview with Malala and NY Times correspondent Jodi Kantor. It is a full circle moment for the newsmedia publication, as it was a documentary they did on Malala in her home town of Swat, Pakistan in 2010 that initially brought worldwide attention to the young girl’s courageous crusade.
Malala’s story is inspiring, yes, but her mother now learning to read, write and speak English as an adult is also a brave act. She is defying typical standards in her own culture, and will hopefully in turn allow her peers to recognize the value of being educated.