I found best friend and companion in my Husband, Malala Yousaf Zai


Birmingham: 13 November 2021: “I do not want to get married... or at least not until I’m 35.” I heard myself blurt out those words – reactionary, half-consciously – many times over the last few years when asked about relationships. I wasn’t against marriage, but I was cautious about its practice. I questioned the patriarchal roots of the institution, the compromises women are expected to make after the wedding, and how laws regarding relationships are influenced by cultural norms and misogyny in many corners of the world. I feared losing my humanity, my independence, my womanhood – my solution was to avoid getting married at all.
I couldn’t call myself a feminist if I didn’t have reservations. According to Girls Not Brides, 12 million girls aged under 18 get married every year. For most of these girls, marriage is not a fulfilling partnership – it is servitude. Growing up in the north of Pakistan, girls were taught that marriage was a substitute for an independent life. If you don’t study, get a job and build a place for yourself, you must get married soon. You failed your exams? You can’t find work? Get married!
Many girls I grew up with were married even before they had the opportunity to decide on a career for themselves. One friend had a child when she was just 14-years-old. Some girls dropped out of education because their families could not afford to send them to school; some started school but didn’t do well enough to meet their families’ expectations. Their parents decided their education was not worth the cost. For these girls, marriage means their lives are deemed a failure. They’re still school-age, but they already know they’ll never get the chance to achieve their dreams.
And so, when Sirin Kale asked me about relationships in my British Vogue cover story last July, I responded like I had so many times before. Knowing the dark reality many of my sisters face, I found it hard to think of the concept of marriage. I said what I had so often said before – that maybe it was possible that marriage was not for me.
But what if there was another way? With education, awareness and empowerment, we can start to redefine the concept of marriage and the structure of relationships, along with many other social norms and practices. Culture is made by people – and people can change it too. My conversations with my friends, mentors and my now partner Asser helped me consider how I could have a relationship – a marriage – and remain true to my values of equality, fairness and integrity.
In the summer of 2018, Asser was visiting friends at Oxford and we crossed paths. He worked in cricket, so I immediately had a lot to discuss with him. He liked my sense of humour. We became best friends. We found we had common values and enjoyed each other’s company. We stood by each other in moments of happiness and disappointment. Through our individual ups and downs, we talked and listened to each other. And when words failed, I sent him a link to our horoscope compatibility, hoping the stars could help reinforce our connection.
In Asser, I found a best friend and companion. I still don’t have all the answers for the challenges facing women – but I believe that I can enjoy friendship, love and equality in marriage. So, on Tuesday, 9 November, we celebrated our nikkah at home with our families and closest friends in Birmingham.
It was a small affair and group effort. My mother and her friend got my wedding clothes from Lahore, Pakistan. Asser’s mother and sister gave me the jewellery I wore. My father booked the food and decorations. My assistants organised photographers and a make-up artist. My three best girlfriends from school and Oxford took off work and travelled to be there. I put henna on my hands myself, after discovering I was the only one of my family and friends who had the talent! Asser spent several hours in the mall with me the day before the ceremony, buying his pink tie and pocket square and my sandals. My little brothers even wore suits.
We were thrilled to share this joyful surprise with everyone who cares for us – and we are excited for the journey ahead.

  • Share

You can share this post!