THE BLOG

A Tribute to Malala's Father, Ziauddin, Our Favorite Male Feminist, on International Women's Day

03/08/2014 11:27 am ET | Updated May 08, 2014

I first met Malala's father when I was 19 years old. I was at Stanford University as a sophomore. I had seen a video about Malala and her father, who were speaking out against the attack on girls' education in the Swat Valley, their voices loud and echoing, whilst others remained silent. I found his number and called him and offered our help. He immediately pulled me in with his warmth and passion. "We must all unite to protect women's rights in Swat Valley. You must join our cause," he said in the spirit of a true fearless revolutionary.

Malala's father was always the inspiration behind Malala. He encouraged her to speak out when girls' education was being banned. He supported her as a friend, and as a teacher. And even now, as Malala's cause has taken the global stage, it is he who is always by her side, frequently joking. "She used to be my daughter, but now I am Malala's father." As for Malala, immediately whenever someone asks, "who inspires you Malala" She replies, "My father."

When asked what he did to nurture his daughter into such a fierce advocate for Women's rights, Ziauddin says, "ask me what I did not do, I did not cut her wings." He references in these words, true to the poet that he is, the innate beauty, power, strength and inspiration inside his daughter, and so many other girls, who we never get to see fly, as their wings are cut by the men in their lives.

In Malala's message to the world she has always acknowledged the incredibly important role that men have to play. She will say "we want education for all girls" and then add in "and all boys" remembering her father, and knowing that men have to learn to be feminists to help women's rights progress. However at a broader level, the debate around women's issues does not yet do enough to bring men into the fold.

Programs working with men -- fathers, brothers, community leaders and religious elders -- are an effective way to move women's issues forward in communities where they are currently deeply oppressed. At a national level, working with policy-makers and national leaders to change laws, policy, inclusion in government has had wide-reaching impact. Media campaigns that encourage men to acknowledge women's rights can have immense ripple effects -- recently a commercial in India where a woman was shown getting married for the second time, with her new groom affectionately holding her daughter, was a powerful thought-provoker in a culture where divorce and remarriage for women is deeply taboo.

When we started the Malala Fund Malala's father was the first person to agree to the idea, going on to become its cofounder and the chair of its board. However, he encouraged me to take the lead, himself taking the back seat. He had no qualms about his organization being run by a 24-year-old girl, an openness to gender and age which is unheard of where he comes from. For me, he has not only become family, but a teacher, a mentor and inspirer, and a source of strength.

Ziauddin, or as I call him, Ziauddin Uncle, is a case-study for creating male values that help rather than oppress women. The question remains, how do we encourage more men to be advocates for the women in their lives? To be gentle, kind and supportive. To refuse to conform to stereotypes and to liberate themselves and their women from the shackles of patriarchy? While we have a long way to go, creating powerful spokespersons for the cause, like Ziauddin, is certainly the start.