Like mother, like daughter

  • May 8, 2017
Like mother, like daughter

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.

Aliya Khalid

Aliya Khalid

  • Alumni
  • Pakistan
  • 2015 PhD Education
  • Newnham College

I am a Teaching and Research Associate at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. Through my teaching role, I am pursuing work on epistemic justice and the promotion of Southern knowledges (plural) and epistemologies. In this regard, I have co-initiated an international seminar series entitled: 'The politics of knowledge building in education and international development', at the Faculty of Education through which I aim to generate conversations around the politics and hegemonies of global knowledge production in my field.
I completed my Ph.D. on gender, education, and development from the Faculty of Education, the University of Cambridge in 2020. My Ph.D. research focused on women's agency in highly constrained circumstances. I have drawn extensively on the Human Development and Capability Approach in this work.
More recently, my research has focused on social justice and equity in education within the UK context. Acknowledging that children from ethnic minority backgrounds are worst affected by Covid-19, I am engaged in research on the learning experiences of children from ethnic minority families in England. In this regard, I am involved in a project funded through the Cambridge Humanities Research Grants Scheme on the learning experiences of secondary school children from ethnic minority families in England during Covid-19.
I am also a lead researcher with colleagues from the universities of Durham and Newcastle on a British Academy-funded project, 'Bridging the Local and Global: Women’s Spaces and Collectives' with women from ethnic minority families in the UK. This project aims to understand how women from ethnic minority families in England create collective spaces for action and reflection, for themselves and their families. Through this research, we seek to argue that any global understanding of women's efforts needs to seek knowledge from women themselves in their local contexts.

Previous Education

Institute of Management Sciences Peshawar
University of Peshawar


Noor Shahzad

Noor Shahzad

  • Alumni
  • Pakistan
  • 2016 MPhil Modern South Asian Studies
  • Christ's College

I am broadly interested in literary cultures, reading practices and the conditions in which texts are consumed and circulated. My undergraduate research at Lahore University of Management Sciences has focused on the affective space that Urdu women's digests provide to women. Through an MPhil in Modern South Asian Studies I look forward to further investigating these digests. My research aims to examine the continuities and discontinuities in discourses on women's reform in Urdu literature. I am deeply honored to be joining the Gates Cambridge community and look forward to learning from and contributing to such a diverse group of scholars.

Previous Education

Lahore University of Management Sciences
University of Cambridge

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