Like mother, like daughter

Toor Pekai Yousafzai spoke about her role as mother to daughter Malala at a recent Gates Cambridge event.

How does becoming a mother influence a woman's sense of her own abilities? How does seeing yourself reflected in the image of your own daughter empower mothers, turning them into active agents in their own and their children's lives?

Toor Pekai Yousafzai, the brave mother of Malala Yousafzai, has been a source of strength for her family in the most unsettling situations. She spoke recently about her experiences at a Mother's Day event organised by the Gates Cambridge Scholarship.

The conversation revolved around her struggles before and during the period she assumed the role of mother. Recounting her life before the Taliban regime came to power she recalls: “It was as if we lived like emperors, ready to rule our lives.” Fondly recalling Malala’s childhood, she said: “Even as a toddler Malala would sit at the door and listen to the teachers delivering their lessons at the neighbouring school.”

Toor Pekai Yousafzai remembered that even when militant groups swept over Swat, her hometown, she never lost hope. “I never feared anything would happen to my daughter. After all all she did was raise her voice for enlightenment and learning," she said. “I would look at what extremism was doing to my city and I would say to Ziauddin (Malala's father), why doesn’t anyone do anything about the situation? Why are others not protesting?”

When asked what aspects of her personality she saw mirrored in her daughter, she said: “I think the part of me that is strongly reflected in Malala is her desire to help others and to speak up for her beliefs without fearing the consequences.” She added: “We have always made sure that we communicate with our children and they know however big a problem they are facing we are here to trust them and listen to them.”

Toor Pekai Yousafzai reminded us that education is not always about having the opportunity to attend school. More importantly it is an attitude towards enlightenment and knowledge that a parent can provide and which has the potential to shape the lives of their children. Her resilience, strength and kindness resonated with those who listened to her speak. She was incredibly proud of the fact that she now is learning English and is able to read and write.

She recounted small achievements, such as signing herself up for a GP appointment by herself and reading the signs in grocery store aisles. When asked about her relationship with Malala she laughed and said that: “While in normal households when children come back from school, mothers ask them how their day was, in our house, when I come back from school Malala asks about my day and about the homework I have received.”

Listening to her the audience learned so many things from her life and experience. Her story  made us aware of the universality of human experiences and the power of solidarity and empathy beyond socio-economic, cultural and national boundaries.

*Aliya Khalid [2015] is doing a PhD in Education and Noor Shahzad [2017] is doing a PhD in History.