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Malala Yousafzai: A 'Normal,' Yet Powerful Girl

Oct 15, 2013
Originally published on October 17, 2013 10:49 am

"I think Malala is an average girl," Ziauddin Yousafzai says about the 16-year-old Pakistani girl who captured the world's attention after being shot by the Taliban, "but there's something extraordinary about her."

A teacher himself, Yousafzai inspired his daughter's fight to be educated. At a special event with Malala in Washington, D.C., he tells NPR's Michel Martin that he is often asked what training he gave to his daughter. "I usually tell people, 'You should not ask me what I have done. Rather you ask me, what I did not do,' " he says. "I did not clip her wings to fly. I did not stop her from flying."

Yousafzai has this advice for parents of girls around the world: "Trust your daughters, they are faithful. Honor your daughters, they are honorable. And educate your daughters, they are amazing."

A year after being shot, Malala is clear about her goal. "I speak for education of every child, in every corner of the world," Malala says. "There has been a discrimination in our society," which she believes must be defeated. "We women are going to bring change. We are speaking up for girls' rights, but we must not behave like men, like they have done in the past."

Perhaps she has learned from her father's experience. When asked what gave him a passion for girls' education, Yousafzai points out that he was "born in a society where girls are ignored." Living with five sisters, he was sensitive to discrimination from an early age. "In the morning, I was used to milk and cream, and my sisters were given only tea," he says.

Yousafzai felt the injustice even more when Malala was born. He later opened a school that Malala attended in the Swat Valley. At the time, the Taliban's influence was gaining power and both Yousafzais were firmly on their radar. "But we thought that even terrorists might have some ethics," Yousafzai says. "Because they destroyed some 1,500 schools but they never injured a child. And she was a child."

Malala says that the shooting has taken away her fear. "I have already seen death and I know that death is supporting me in my cause of education. Death does not want to kill me," she says. "Before this attack, I might have been a little bit afraid how death would be. Now I'm not, because I have experienced it."

When asked if she is having any fun now with all her campaigning, Malala laughs, "It's a very nice question. I miss those days." But she also says that there is another side to her than what is shown in the media. "Outside of my home, I look like a very obedient, very serious, very good kind of girl, but nobody knows what happens inside the house." There, she says, she's not naughty, but she has to stand up to her brothers. "It's good to fight with your brothers and it's good to tease them to give them advice."

She says her little brother doesn't really understand why his sister has so much attention. "He said, 'Malala ... I can't understand why people are giving you prizes, and everywhere you go people say, 'This is Malala' and they give you awards, what have you done?' " she says.

Malala knows the Taliban would still like to kill her, but she says she hopes to return to Pakistan one day. "First, I need to empower myself with knowledge, with education. I need to work hard," she says. "And when I [am] powerful, then I will go back to Pakistan, inshallah [God willing]."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit



I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now we'd like to bring you a conversation with an extraordinary young woman. By now, you've probably heard the story of Malala Yousafzai. Just a year ago, she was the subject of international headlines when she was shot in the face at point-blank range on her school bus by a Taliban extremist. All that in retaliation for blog posts she wrote and interviews she'd given about her desire for an education despite the Taliban takeover of her home in Pakistan's Swat Valley.

But a year later, she has made an extraordinary recovery and has had an extraordinary year. She's spoken at the United Nations and The World Bank, met President and Mrs. Obama, and been a finalist for a Nobel Prize and written a book. Just last week, Malala, accompanied by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, were in Washington, D.C. and they sat down with me for a special conversation at a Washington, D.C. school about her new book. It's called "I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban." And I started out by asking Malala how she's doing a year after those terrible events.

MALALA YOUSAFZAI: I don't feel, really, that something has happened to me. When I think of Malala, I just - in my mind, there's some pictures in which a girl is lying on a stretcher and her forehead is bleeding, her ear is bleeding. I don't think that's me because I'm feeling that I'm just a normal girl. And I'm feeling now really powerful and courageous because the prayers of people and the good wishes of people and the cards and the teddy bears that people have sent me made me more powerful. So I'm really happy now. And I don't feel like - as if I was shot once.

MARTIN: One of the things that I learned from your book, which is - this is really a family story. This is a story and a sacrifice that was made by all of you in the family. So, Malala, I'm going to start by asking you, what do you most admire about your father?


MALALA YOUSAFZAI: He's a great father. And I am inspired by him because the work he was doing at that time, when terrorism was spreading in Swat - it was really hard to speak at that time. And my father did. And I got inspired by him. And that's why I said that I would also speak up for my rights and I'll also speak up for the rights for every girl to get education and to go to school.

MARTIN: Ziauddin, what do you most admire about Malala?

ZIAUDDIN YOUSAFZAI: It's a difficult question. Thank you...

MARTIN: That's my job.

ZIAUDDIN YOUSAFZAI: I think Malala is an average girl, but there are something which is extraordinary about her. She never agrees with me and one special quality, which she has that she doesn't commit a mistake again. So she doesn't repeat her mistakes. And she's very respectful to her teachers, to her elders, and she is a good girl. I love her.

MARTIN: So glad to hear.


MARTIN: I do want to ask you, Ziauddin, what - it does start with you. You ran a girl's school that, Malala, you attended. And I have to ask what gave you this passion for girls' education. Because I think it's one thing when you are the person who is on the bottom to want to rise, but it's another when you are on the top and to want to share the privileges that you had as a man and as the head of a household. So where did you get your passion for girls education?

ZIAUDDIN YOUSAFZAI: Basically, I was born in a society where girls are ignored. Right from the very beginning, I was very sensitive to this kind of discrimination. And I was born in the house of a cleric. My father used to lead prayers in the mosque. He was a great speaker, but he was broad-minded. And he was very progressive as well. And I learned from him so many things. But in the same home, I had five sisters and none of them got education. And until my high school, I could not see any girl in my classroom. So in such a society and in such a situation, I was very sensitive to all this discrimination, especially towards girls. For example, in the morning time, when I was used to (unintelligible) with milk and cream and my sisters were given only tea, so I used to take that, but I felt that this is kind of discrimination. Later on, when I got mature, and when she was born and I wrote poems about them - that boys and girls, women and men, they are equal.

And I think that this simple biological difference between the men and women should not be the best of the political and social discrimination. I'm asked often that what special training have you given to your daughter? So I usually tell people, you should not ask me what I have done, rather you ask me what I did not do, which is usually done by parents. I did not clip her wings to fly. I did not stop her from flying. And I always give a message to the parents all around the world, when girls are suffering, that trust your daughters, they are faithful. Honor your daughters, they are honorable. And educate your daughters, they are amazing.


MARTIN: Malala, one of the things that I have heard you say, which has not gotten a lot of attention - in fact, you said this at the United Nations when you spoke there earlier this year - is that you are not just fighting for the rights of the girls to get education. You are also fighting for the rights of boys to get education. Including the children of the terrorists. And I'd like to ask you to tell us more about that. Why do you feel that way?

MALALA YOUSAFZAI: There has been a discrimination in our society, and men have been doing this for centuries. But this time, we women are going to bring change. We are speaking up for girls' rights, but we must not behave like men. We must not behave like they have done in the past. We must believe in equality and we must take each decision with justice. But we also speak about boys' rights because in many countries, they cannot go to school because of child labor. Their only job is to earn. So I think we also need to speak up for them.


MARTIN: Ziauddin, one of the other things that I'm not sure everyone fully understands is that your family was under threat for a very long time. This is not something that happened in a day or a week. It was really years that you feared for your safety and for your family's safety. That you were being threatened for a very, very long time. And I think a lot of people would be interested to know how you sustained yourself through that period? How did you keep going?

ZIAUDDIN YOUSAFZAI: Yes, of course. I was in Taliban's radar for the last three - four years, I can say. This was not only me, because hundreds of opinion leaders, hundreds of elders - they were being assassinated. And I was one of them. And I took care in my own way, but I didn't have any security. But one has to live. I mean, there is no option. When she was targeted just 10 months before, when she got fame that very year in 2012, they issued a warning that, as she is speaking against us, and we will not tolerate it. But we thought that even terrorists might have some ethics, because they destroyed some 1,500 schools, but they never injured a child and she was a child.

MARTIN: Malala, do you mind if I ask, do you think you're making a difference?

MALALA YOUSAFZAI: When I look at the response of people, when I look at the love and the support of people, then, I think, a day will come that we will see every child to go to school. Most of the time, I'm related to the Taliban, but I want education. And when I talk about education, there are many issues as well. Children are suffering from child labor, they have to earn for their family. They're being used for earning money by some robbers. So there are many difficulties for children to go to school. Not only terrorism.

MARTIN: Forgive me for making a joke, but speaking of child labor, you're working very hard these days. I mean, I understand they have you going from, like, pillar to post and from place to place. You've been on quite a tour. Are you having any fun at all?

MALALA YOUSAFZAI: It's a very nice question.


MALALA YOUSAFZAI: Well, I miss those days, but...


MALALA YOUSAFZAI: Dad is fine. Dad is quite good. First thing is that outside of my home, I look like a very obedient, a very serious, a very good kind of girl. But nobody knows what happens inside the house. So inside the house, I was quite, well - it does not mean that I was naughty. My brothers used to fight with me and then I had to give them a response.

MARTIN: Well, of course. I mean, of course.

MALALA YOUSAFZAI: But that's why it's good to fight with your brothers and it's good to tease them to give them advices. And my little brother, he's nine years old, and I fight because I'm thinking about his future.



MALALA YOUSAFZAI: He wants - I bet he wants iPod. He wants to play games and I think that is not good for his future. And in response, he cries and he shouts to me and he says, you can forgive the Taliban but you are not forgiving me. So that's what is happening in our house.

MARTIN: So he's not sorry you're on a book tour now? He's got your iPad? That's when he knows...

MALALA YOUSAFZAI: They don't even ask about me. Not at all. I think it's the fifth or sixth day that I am here in America, and they didn't ask about me.

ZIAUDDIN YOUSAFZAI: What he did say to you? Why are you so famous, he said?

MALALA YOUSAFZAI: They also don't know what I do. We both were sitting on a table and we were having breakfast, and he said, Malala, I said yes, I can't understand why people are giving you prizes. And everywhere you go people say, like, this is Malala and they give you award. What have you done? So he still needs to understand.

MARTIN: You're just my annoying sister. Do you want to go back home?

MALALA YOUSAFZAI: Yes, of course, because how can one forget his home? And I love Pakistan, and I miss Pakistan, and I'm hopeful that I will go back to Pakistan as soon as possible, but first I need to empower myself with knowledge. With education. I need to work hard. And when I am powerful, then I'll go back to Pakistan, Inshallah.

MARTIN: Ziauddin...


MARTIN: Do you think that might be possible? Do you want to go home, too? Do you think you will be able to?

ZIAUDDIN YOUSAFZAI: It's a difficult question. These days are, I think, quite dangerous for me as well as for her. So we will go back. I'm needed in Pakistan. I am needed in Afghanistan. I am needed in Swat. I should contribute to girls' education. To boys' education. And I believe that one should live for a cause which is greater than him. Even if I die, I will continue my campaign, but I will not put her life at stake. That's clear.

MARTIN: The Taliban say they would still like to kill her. They would still like to target her.

ZIAUDDIN YOUSAFZAI: She'll answer it.

MALALA YOUSAFZAI: I have already seen death, and I know that death is supporting me in my cause of education. Death does not want to kill me. Before this attack, I might have been a little bit afraid how death would be. Now I'm not because I have experienced it. So they cannot make me stop to continue my campaign.


MARTIN: Ziauddin, do you have hope that groups like the Taliban can be brought into dialogue with people? That their reign of terror will end?

ZIAUDDIN YOUSAFZAI: Yes. I have hope. And to speak honestly, it needs a political will. And I requested this forum, these are very bright people here, teacher, students, opinion leaders - we must put pressure on all governments. I should put pressure on my government and my state. You should put pressure on your state - that why a huge amount of the tax pay is spent on arms and ammunitions? Why? And that was what she said, I will quote my daughter - she should quote me by the way, but I will quote her - that send pens, not guns. Send books, not tanks. And the most beautiful thing - send teachers, not soldiers. Thank you.


MARTIN: Well, that is where we had hoped to end. I was going to ask, Malala, do you have a final thought for us? And thank you again - let me say on behalf of all of us here, thank you so much for coming. Do you have a final thought for us?

MALALA YOUSAFZAI: Thanks to all of you, because you are sitting here. You are listening to me, and you are also listening to the cause of education. And that is really important for me. Because I speak for education of every child, in every corner of the world. And the thing that I noticed here when I came to U.K. for the second time I think two to three weeks ago...

ZIAUDDIN YOUSAFZAI: To America. To America.

MALALA YOUSAFZAI: To America. What did I say?


MALALA YOUSAFZAI: Sorry. Sorry. When I came here to America, we had, in our schedule, we had written that Malala would go to a school. And that school is just a few kilometers away from those tall buildings of New York, and when I went there and when girls told me their stories and how hard it is for them to get education, even in New York, even in America, because of poverty, because of the concepts of the family, because of the hardship they face, we also need to work here, as well.


MALALA YOUSAFZAI: But good thing about this country is that they have provided schools to every student. Now we need to motivate children. It feels very easy when I say it - let's work, let's work, let's work. But I think let's do it. Let's really do it.


MARTIN: Malala, you both had a very long day. We want to thank you very much, so very much for what you've done - for what you will do. Thank you both so much, Ziauddin, Malala Yousafzai.



MARTIN: You've been listening to just a portion of the conversation I had last week with Malala Yousafzai and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai. We're talking about her new book, "I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban." It's out now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.