When I told my dad that I was dropping everything to move to North Africa and teach for no salary, his response was, “Okay, good. I’m not surprised.”
He knew me. He knew that I’d always had big dreams that involved travel and adventure and risky paths. He knew that I was determined to turn those dreams into reality. And he knew that I could do it—because after all, he was the one who taught me to be ambitious and bold. My father, an immigrant who never finished high school, always fought for my future. Most importantly, he taught me to always fight for myself.
The Let Girls Learn initiative knows that good fathers can make all the difference for girls. Mine did for me. And as an educator and advocate in my Moroccan community, I see many amazing fathers paving the way for their amazing daughters.
Extraordinary girls like my student Hayat. Extraordinary fathers like her baba, Mohammed.
Hayat, who is starting 9th grade this year, is about to fly off on her first solo adventure. Her first time on an airplane. Her first time out of Morocco. And it’s to the White House, at the personal invitation of First Lady Michelle Obama! Hayat and 45 other incredible Moroccan and Liberian girls will attend the world premiere of We Will Rise, in conjunction with International Day of the Girl.
In October, Mrs. Obama and the Let Girls Learn program are starting a global conversation about dads, daughters, and gender inequality. This week, I joined that conversation with Hayat and Mohammed. They want to share their story with the world.
To all the fathers in the world, I would say: take care of your daughters, but don’t take care of them too much. Give them freedom and independence.
My father never told me that boys and girls are equal, he and my mother showed me by giving my brother and I the same chances and the same encouragement. Both boys and girls should go to school. Both boys and girls should be able to make something of themselves. Both boys and girls should be able to make something for their countries.
Sometimes I feel scared, like I feel about going to the White House in America, but my father always encourages me. He told me that when special opportunities come up in our lives, we must do it. He said I should not be scared and I should focus on the positives. I should turn scary things into nice things.
My father influenced me a lot. He taught me many important lessons, like not to be too fast in making decisions or to go on the right path or to be honest. My father signs me up for school and takes me to the youth center and helps me with my homework, but he is always reminding me that in the end, my success is up to me.
“When you’re the father of two daughters, you become even more aware of how gender stereotypes pervade our society. You see the subtle and not-so-subtle social cues transmitted through culture. You feel the enormous pressure girls are under to look and behave and even think a certain way.” —President Barack Obama
When Hayat was born, I immediately had a special connection with her. She was smiling at me when she was only fifteen days old, and she’s never stopped smiling since.
The most important lesson that she’s taught me is that when she wants to do something, she can. The first time she tried swimming, I was scared and doubtful. I thought she would fall in the water and drown. My instinct was to help her, but she wanted to do it by herself. Despite my fears, I let her and she did it! I learned how brave and resolute she is. And I learned never to doubt her abilities. When she wants to do something, she can.
For me, gender equality is a basic principle. It is essential. All my kids’ education was based on that. For someone to have an open road, they must have basic equality.
I don’t have a moment of being most proud of my daughter, because I am always so proud of her. She is so smart and courageous and compassionate. She doesn’t even need me, but I’m happy we have her.
Parents focus so much on teaching and telling and controlling. But to fathers of daughters, I have advice. Be patient. Learn from them. Listen to them. Work with them. And they will rise.
“People ask me what is special about my mentorship that has made Malala so bold and courageous, vocal and poised. I tell them, ‘Don’t ask me what I did. Ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings, and that’s all.” —Ziauddin Yousafzai
When I first arrived in my community and started teaching at the youth center, I met a little girl who insisted on attending my adult advanced classes. Not only did Hayat keep up, but she dominated the classroom. And her presence was like pure sunshine. When I asked around about this brilliant young lady, I was told that she attended the most prestigious private school in town. Immediately, I assumed that her opportunities were the result of a wealthy family. Throughout the year, I learned that was not true. Hayat is from the same disadvantaged neighborhood as my other students. The difference was investment and independence. My other students have wonderful and loving parents too, but they also have society and culture pulling them back. Many girls in my community drop out of middle school or high school. A few miles away in the countryside, the number is even higher. My other girls tell me that their fathers won’t allow them to go to university unless they’re able to live at home while they do it. Meanwhile, Hayat has always had her dreams of university in Rabat or Casablanca or Marrakech or Ifrane nourished by her parents. “Even if you get the chance to go to university abroad,” Mohammed said to her, “You must take it. Don’t let anything hold you back from opportunities you deserve.”
Every child deserves a quality education. Yet 62 million girls around the world are denied this right. Community-led programs to address this must begin with community-led conversations. In at least one town in Morocco, this conversation has begun. Join Hayat and Mohammed and all the #DadsAndDaughters of the world to say: #LetGirlsLearn!