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Father of girls’ rights activist captivates TED audience

Ziauddin Yousafzai. the father of girls’ rights activist Malala Yousafzai, wowed a rapt audience at the TED conference in Vancouver Monday night.

James Duncan Davidson

The father of girls' rights activist Malala Yousafzai wowed a rapt audience at the TED conference in Vancouver Monday night with the story of how he came to be an advocate for equal rights for girls and women.

"In many patriarchal societies, in tribal societies, fathers are usually known by their sons," Ziauddin Yousafzai told the packed theatre. "But I am one of the few fathers who is known by his daughter and I'm proud of it."

Malala became a powerful voice in support of girls' rights to education with her blog that brought her worldwide attention. In 2012, she was shot point-blank on a school bus in Pakistan.

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"It was a doomsday for my family, for me," Mr. Yousafzai said. "The world turned into a big black hole while my daughter was on the verge of life and death."

He blamed himself – after all he was an educator who had encouraged his daughter, and supported her decision to blog about it.

But his wife told him: "Please don't blame yourself. You stood for the right cause."

Mr. Yousafzai explained to the well-heeled, largely Western audience the reaction that normally accompanies the birth of a girl in his society: sadness, shock, guilt.

But when he looked into the eyes of his newborn daughter, he felt something different: honour.

When she was 4 1/2, she was enrolled in his school. He appreciated her intelligence, encouraged her to be by his side when people visited and took her to meetings. Mr. Yousafzai was going to ensure Malala received the education to which he knew she was entitled.

"People ask me what special is in my mentorship which has made Malala so bold and so courageous and so vocal and poised," said Mr. Yousafzai. "I tell them don't ask me what I did, ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings."

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After the shooting – which drew worldwide attention – Malala, then 15, was brave, he said. She never complained in the hospital, despite being in severe pain.

Malala studying at an all girls' school in Birmingham, England, said in a videotaped address she enjoys physics and learning about scientists such as Newton and Einstein. She says she feels better every day, and will continue her campaign for education.

"I would like to give a message to every girl who is listening to me now: that you should believe in your talent, in your potential that you have and you should never lose hope," said Malala, now 16. "Just trust yourself because you can do anything – you can be a leader, you can be a doctor, an engineer, whatever you like."

Said TED Curator Chris Anderson: "It would take a remarkable man to raise a daughter like that."

TED 2014 continues through Friday at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

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About the Author
Western Arts Correspondent

Marsha Lederman is the Western Arts Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver. She covers the film and television industry, visual art, literature, music, theatre, dance, cultural policy, and other related areas. More

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