In 2009, 11-year old Malala Yousafzai began writing for a BBC blog that chronicled fighting between the Taliban and the military in her home of Swat in Pakistan. In these and later writings, she would advocate girls’ education and speak out against the Taliban for quelling this basic right.
On Oct. 9, 2012, a member of the Taliban boarded the bus taking her home and shot her in the head.
Malala’s plight could only bring to the fore the luckiness of women in advanced nations like Australia, where gender equity permeates most aspects of society, including education.
According to The Australian, females are well represented in the continent’s universities not only as students but also as leaders. The governing councils of these institutions are composed of 43 percent women on average.
Four universities notably have 50 percent or more in female trustees: the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) has 66 percent; Deakin University, 58 per cent; and Bond University and the University of South Australia, 50 percent.
RMIT chancellor Ziggy Switkowski claimed that female representation in his university is so overwhelming that he finds himself the only man during council meetings.
“I’ll complain about the lack of gender diversity and they’ll say, ‘Now you know how we feel. Get over it,'” Switkowski joked.
Nine Australian universities have female chancellors, The Australian further reported. There are also seven female university vice-chancellors in the continent.
Of the University of Sydney’s four chancellors since 1991, three are female.
For perspective, a 2010-2011 survey by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges revealed that private collage boards in the US were composed of 69.8 percent men and 30.2 percent women. Public boards were no better off, with men comprising 71.6 percent, women 28.4 percent.
Such gender imbalance stretches to the corporate setting. In Australia, only 16.6 percent of the ASX 200’s governing bodies are made up of women. Moreover, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that 45 companies in the ASX 200 have no female trustees.
To its credit, Australia evinces some activeness in pushing for gender parity. In its November 2013 report, the Business Council of Australia exhorted chief executives to open up more to recruiting, promoting and retaining women.
Titled the “Increasing the Number of Women in Senior Executive Positions,” the report suggests that women are at a disadvantage, career-wise, “from day one of the job.”
“To take 90 per cent of company leadership from just 50 per cent of the talent pool—the males—simply does not make sense,” the report said.
That Australian universities are characteristically open to females does not make them any less tough than corporations, however.
Switkowski emphasised that RMIT’s revenues top $600 million annually; the university also holds about a $1 billion in assets. These make RMIT as powerful as any company in the ASX 100.
“Universities are extremely complex in the way they bridge public and private sectors. They have to interpret public policy and they are also involved in private operations,” he pointed out.
Accepting more women into the workplace is not an end in itself. There are many literatures highlighting the fact that delegating seniority to women bodes well for business. According to a 2012 report by McKinsey & Co, the ROIs of companies whose boards have the greatest female representation were 53 percent higher than the rest.
Ideally, women would want to be given plum roles at work, not out of patronisation, but because they are judged on their own merits. Human-power poolers, oft-dominated by males, need to loosen and outright do away with prejudices they ascribe to women.
Malala is well and alive now, thanks to intervention by doctors in Germany and the UK. She almost clinched the Nobel Peace Prize this year as its youngest winner ever and has sat beside numerous heads of state and government.
There is no doubt girls like her, repressed by fascist regimes and geopolitical instability, would love to continue their studies in countries where equality and diversity are practically celebrated.
Deborah Jones is a freelance blogger and author. She loves learning, travelling, reviewing international education sites and latest education trends across the world.