I’m 16 years old and from Dara’a in Syria. I fled to Jordan with my family two years ago.
Spending time with Malala Yousafzai made me stronger. I didn’t know her before meeting her in Za’atari camp last year, but I understand she suffered, and yet she continues to fight for what she believes in—for the rights of children and for their education. She is an inspiration for me.
When it comes to continuing our education as refugees, I am on the front lines with my friends, speaking to other girls throughout the camp on the importance of going to school. My mother and father are always encouraging me. I saw this in Malala too, and her close relationship with her mother and father.
I’ve always loved learning and education, but since I fled with my family, these views have grown stronger. I have seen too much wrong to not use my voice. Malala has shown that education is crucial for laying a foundation for girls and boys to have secure lives.
I know no matter what I go through today, it will make me a stronger person for tomorrow. Rather than giving up, my friends and I will continue to think positively and try to make our community better. Girls need to learn to take care of themselves, because if they don’t, nobody will. Our lives are completely different now—we’ve gone from living in homes to surviving in tents in refugee camps. Education is the only way to regain our spirit and control over our lives.
I was so honored to be in Oslo to watch Malala be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. To see a young woman recognized with such an award made me realize that yes, I can make a difference, and I have to continue to fight for what I believe in—that all girls and boys can bring change to our world.
Almellehan is an education activist and student
“Don’t ask me what I did. Ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings, and that’s all.” This is Ziauddin Yousafzai’s answer when people ask why his daughter Malala is so courageous, passionate and poised.
From the very beginning, her father wanted to give his daughter a sense of security, strength and love. “When Malala was born and for the first time… I went and looked into her eyes,” he says, “I [felt] extremely honored.”
In Pakistan, the birth of a girl isn’t something to rejoice in. According to Ziauddin in his TED conference talk in 2014, “When a girl is born… she is not welcomed, neither by father nor by mother.
At the age of five, when she should be going to school, she stays at home… When she turns 13, she is forbidden to leave her home without a male escort… She becomes the so-called honour of her father, brothers and her family. If she transgresses the code of that so-called honour, she could be killed.
This plight of millions of women could be changed if women and men think differently,” he goes on to say, “if they can break a few norms of family and society, if they can abolish the discriminatory laws of the systems in their states that go against basic human rights of the women.”
Many men in these male-dominated cultures support and love their daughters but their stories are rarely told. But, like fathers all over the world, these men do extraordinary things to protect them: one man refused to give his eight-year-old daughter away, despite being ordered to by a local tribal council as compensation for a relative’s crime.
Many Afghan families want their daughters to go to school, but poverty and tradition, along with the Taliban, make this a practical impossibility. Children often need to work to support their families, and this on top of the lack of law and order, basic human rights or schools.
There is also the fear, in an honour-based culture, that educated girls will make their own choices. This is why the message of education that Ziauddin encouraged in his own daughter is crucial. The love and understanding between this particular father and daughter has spawned new hope for girls and women everywhere.
Far from the stereotyped daddy’s girl, the bond between a father and daughter is incredibly important for both. In Dr Meg Meeker’s book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters (2007), she says: “Fathers, more than anyone else, set the course for a daughter’s life.”
Meeker insists that daughters often follow their father’s behaviours and that fathers, whether they are aware of this or not, lead by example. They have a more nurturing relationship with daughters, unlike the competitive relationship that may exist with sons.
In short, a father is a daughter’s hero in a world that is often not a safe or healthy place for female offspring. A recent study found that a father has a huge influence on his daughter’s development: research shows that a high quality father/daughter relationship can be correlated with more positive academic achievements for the child.
Another study done in 2014 points out that fathers have a direct impact on a daughter’s sense of self-esteem, life satisfaction, career choices, mental health, body image, mate selection and social confidence, as well as their ability to handle psychological distress.
Crucially, studies reflect how a daughter remembers how her father was in her childhood – and that memories that are carried long into her life will continue to guide her well into womanhood. American poet Anne Sexton knew this when she wrote: “It doesn’t matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.”
Seeing father and daughter celebrities together never fails to warm our hearts, whether it is Will and Willow Smith or David and Harper Beckham. But it is good to remember that a strong father-daughter relationship is not only adorable, it can also be a powerful combination, as in the case of Sigmund and Anna Freud or Ziauddin and Malala Yousafzai.
If fathers are crucial to the wellbeing of their daughters, their daughter’s happiness and success is also pivotal to their own satisfaction. After all, being a parent is the most important job that rarely feels completely successful. One thing’s for certain: Ziauddin sees his daughter as a hero. “I am one of the few fathers who is known by his daughter, and I’m proud of it.”
He Named Me Malala, directed by Davis Guggenheim, is released on November 6 at cinemas across the UK