The men behind schoolgirl Malala
It’s important to remember Pakistani men who support their daughters as Malala’s father does. Zia Yousafzai is a champion of his daughter's education and activism. My father moved our family from Pakistan to England to help support my schooling. It's the Muslim thing to do.
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Pakistan’s own Constitution follows these same ideals, mandating education for every child. The Taliban’s bans on education in regions under its control directly defy Pakistani law – and nearly 1,500 years of Islam. Their denial is nothing short of heresy.Skip to next paragraph
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Even Saudi Arabia – origin of Islam, spiritual epicenter of Sunni Islam, and now following orthodox Wahabiism – subscribes to the value of educating girls and women.
I was hired in Saudi Arabia as a senior physician to teach Saudi men and women medicine while I treated Saudi patients. The kingdom mandates education for every Saudi child through age 18, with many girls pursuing higher education.
Saudi women made history this summer as two female athletes competed in the Olympics. It was the Saudi father of judo athlete Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani who trained her and fueled her ambition to compete. Himself a judo referee, he aggressively defended his daughter’s right to compete. Such are the Muslim fathers that Islam inspires.
Documentary filmmaker and women’s health advocate Taraneh Salke has known for a long time that men are essential to finding solutions to extremism and misogyny. Her film “Where are the Men?” shows how her work in rural Afghanistan directly engaged Afghan men to advance women’s health and development.
Many Afghan women require men’s permission for the most basic activities: to leave the house, seek healthcare, or use contraceptives. Afghanistan has some of the highest maternal mortality and fertility rates in the world.
Ms. Salke identified the most critical and deeply-rooted obstacles to family planning to be uninformed Afghan men. Through her foundation, Family Health Alliance, she trained male health providers, doctors, and nurses. The program’s success has led to policy changes in Afghanistan that include men in family planning and reproductive health training.
Men could be invited to advocate for girls’ education in a similar structure, and so can boys, as they get schooling.
Malala is now being treated in England’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, the first medical school my father took me to see when selecting my university some 25 years ago. She is in good hands. Let us give her – and the supportive men in her life – the hand they deserve, and let Pakistani men and women work together for the rights of all girls and women.
Qanta A. Ahmed is the author of “In the Land of Invisible Women,” detailing her life in Saudi Arabia. She is associate professor of medicine at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Follow Dr. Ahmed on Facebook, Twitter (@MissDiagnosis), and her Huffington Post blog.