Bringing Malala's message to Australia

Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai.

Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai. Photo: Christopher Furlong

Imagine if your daughter was told she could not go to school.

She was just not allowed to go to school.

Only your son could go to school.

UNESCO's Vincent Defourny.

UNESCO's Vincent Defourny. Photo: Supplied

Now imagine your daughter being shot by political assassins for wanting to go to school.


In Australia it is unimaginable.

We are still very much the lucky country and rarely think of problems outside of our shores.

We are probably unaware there are 57 million children - mostly girls - in the world who cannot go to school.

Or that two-thirds of the 774 million adults in the world who cannot read, are women.

Let alone that a recent UNESCO report finds that poor education is robbing future generations of $129 billion in lost productivity.

We might think of the plight of indigenous children in Northern Territory or western Queensland.

But we are more likely to remember the story of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the head by a Taliban assassin on her school bus in October 2012.

Malala, then 15, was simply going to school.

The Taliban in Pakistan banned girls from going to school in 2009 and Malala - using a carefully protected identity  - had opposed this decision as a teenage girl wanting to learn.

Before being shot, she blogged unidentified for the BBC, and after being identified continued to speak out, asking that all Pakistani girls be allowed to go to school.

In December 2011, she received Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Price, two months after being nominated by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the International Children’s Peace Prize.

Since her recovery, the international media storm around Malala resulted in her speaking to the United Nations and being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

And that is why UNESCO director Vincent Defourny was in Brisbane and Sydney in the past week. It was his first time to Australia.

In December 2013 UNESCO set up the Malala Fund, to find ways to raise money to insist young girls get to school throughout the world.

In three months it has raised $3 million on top of the $10 million promised by the Pakistani Government to start the Malala fund. UNESCO has new schools in seven provinces in Pakistan. He was in Australia to speak to the CEO’s Institute in New South Wales and Queensland to build business ties to raise money and future networks for girls and women in the future.

To do so, he is building on Malala’s story.

‘‘She was a young girl who was speaking out and she was defending her rights to an education and she was shot by an obscure Taliban fundamentalist,’’ Mr Defourny said.

Her recovery and high profile since her horrific assassination attempt raises the ability for international agencies to use her personal fight on an international scale, he said.

‘‘From a communication perspective it is the perfect story,’’ he said.

‘‘The great danger of such a story is that you transform her as a symbol for so many girls in the world, as if there was only one case in the world.’’

‘‘There are many Malalas in the world - many, many Malalas in the world - and their rights have to be defended as well.’’

UNESCO has a standing commitment over 50 years to boost education worldwide.

The trip to Australia was to entice a long-term commitment from Australia’s business leaders, through its CEO Institute.

In Queensland, Evan Davies is the chief executive of the CEO Institute.

Davies says the CEO Institute was the first Australian organisation to join UNESCO’s Malala Fund campaign and represented 1000 businesses in Australia.

That stretches from small and medium enterprises to multi-national companies.

“It fits in with our philosophy,’’ Mr Davies said.

‘‘Our whole being is about continuing professional development,’’ he said.

He said the CEO Institute wanted to be involved in boosting education amongst girls and women because they understood the importance of addressing the gender imbalance.

‘‘In 2009 of the top 200 ASX-listed companies, just five per cent of the directors were female,’’ he said.

‘‘In 2013, that has now moved to 25 per cent and I admit it is from a very small base.

‘‘But that sort of says to us that the business fraternity is understanding that diversity in gender is good for business, it’s good for corporate governance, it’s good for sustainability and it’s good for developing competencies in business.’’

With organisations like the CEO Institute in Australia, UNESCO is building a strategy to target cultural and economic blockages stopping girls getting to school.

Defourny argues there is an economic imperative - as well as the overwhelming social sadness - that goes with the story that children cannot get a good education.

‘‘We are losing a generation. We are losing a category of the world’s population,’’ he said.

‘‘And if we do not find a solution we will continue losing every year almost $130 billion in productivity.’’


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