Fight for girls' education requires reformed curricula: Malala's father

Children's-rights activist Malala Yousafzai.

WASHINGTON - "Don't take peace for granted; be mindful as it can be usurped," cautioned Ziauddin Yousufzai, Malala's father, addressing an auditorium full of students and teachers at the George Washington University's Global Women's Institute (GWI) last week, at the launch of a free online resource guide for colleges and universities based on I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was Shot By The Taliban. The resource guide is a collaboration between Little, Brown and Company and the Malala Fund.

Recalling the times when Swat was rocked by violence due to incessant fighting between the army and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants, Ziauddin said many of his friends would caution him against taking stands. "Why not speak? It's cowardice not to!" he would say in response.

The book that chronicles Nobel laureate Malala's life will now become a teaching tool for students across the world, said Mary Ellsberg, director of the GWI. "It embodies what Malala stands for: access to education," she said, adding: "We want this to be a tool for the next generation of global citizens."

The guide focuses on eight themes - memoir as literature and history; education as a right for girls; cultural politics (gender and history in the book); religion and religious extremism; violence against women; leadership; media and global feminism.

Recalling an incident, Ellsberg told the audience that while working on the guide, when she asked Malala if she were a feminist, the teenager replied quizzically that "if feminism means equality for all, then I am a feminist".

Also read: Malala Yousufzai honoured with Liberty Medal

Ziauddin also touched upon some of the themes briefly during his speech. He said that while for many the story started when Malala was shot by a 15 or 16 year old, the incident had a long history behind it. He said for posterity it was important to look into "how we reached that point; it was no accident". Ziauddin linked the incident to history - the almost decade old Soviet war in Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989 when the youth of Pakistan was "used as fuel" by none other than the US and madrassahs mushroomed in the country ( for which the curriculum was drawn up in Nebraska).

Ziauddin said it wasn't simply the story of his family but "of the world; of the 57 million out of school children half of whom live in conflict zones. It is the story of the children who are in the camps of Jordan and who are refugees from Syria. It is the story of the 300,000 children in Lebanon."

The sight of children, wearing backpacks, walking happily to school every morning against the beautiful backdrop of Swat valley was the "most beautiful sight", Ziauddin recalled.

He said there were many stories in the book. If it was the story of a family "where a daughter is an inspiration to the father", it was also a story on social norms and changing those.

"To become the change, one has to start from one's self and at one's own home. It does not require a lot of effort; just needs breaking the shell of the false ego you tend to build around yourself."

His speech was replete with anecdotes. Recalling the day Malala won the Nobel Peace prize, Ziauddin said: "When she returned home from school, I went up to open the front door for her and greeted her because she was a Nobel laureate after all."

"I hugged her and started to cry but she was extremely calm and poised."

On the sidelines of the launch, Shifa Mwesigye, a young Ugandan journalist, told Dawn: "I remember watching Malala Yousufzai's interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour after winning the Nobel Peace Prize. I posted on my Facebook page asking if my country had teenagers her age who spoke so eloquently, confidently and with such intelligence. How did she get there? I guess the answers to my questions lie in her book I am Malala."

The book has lessons for everyone, she says.

"Young people can now take something from that book on leadership, education, defence, commitment and human rights. Parents can learn from the book and encourage their children to stand up for what they believe in. We can all learn from it the value of educating a female child and the benefits of that."

"She's very committed to her studies. Even that day was a regular school day for her. She keeps telling me she wants to get admission in a university or a college based on her grades; not because she is Malala. It's very important to her," Ziauddin said.

During a panel discussion on how to break down barriers to girls' education, Ziauddin said that although there was no magic wand, it was important to devise curricula which broke stereotypes and included role models inculcating the "real meaning of dignity, respect and honour" among the youth.

"It needs courage to break centuries old taboos, and we need to work at several levels," he said.

Speaking to Dawn at the event, Aarti Dhar, a journalist from Indian newspaper, The Hindu, who was among the audience, said the theme that touched on media and how it took on Malala's story would be of particular interest to many in her field.

"After all, it was the media that took Malala's story to people's living rooms forcing global attention on girls' education."

However, Dhar pointed out: "There may be many more inspiring stories like hers that have gone unnoticed and could be brought into the limelight to act as role models particularly in the regions where conditions are difficult for girls."

"It would have been good to hear more stories about other girls - and the difference education is making in their lives," agreed Rina Jimenez David, a senior columnist from the Philippines endorsing Dhar's view.

David said that before she attended the launch, she was sceptical about all the adulation being "heaped" upon Malala who she had earlier thought was a mere "product of media hype", but she had since had a change of heart.

"I like how the family is trying to broaden the issues beyond Malala the girl, to the cause of families and girls caught in situations of conflict and violence and the need to support and encourage girls to get an education."

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