In company with hundreds of thousands of others around the world, I found Malala Yousafzai's speech at the United Nations very moving. Malala is the young woman from Pakistan who was shot in the head by the Taliban for blogging that girls, too, have a right to a good education. What a brave and articulate person she is!
On the same day, I was saddened, and angered, when I read how an Islamist group in northern Nigeria bombs schools and kills the teachers and pupils because it regards education as a threat to their religion.
What happened in Pakistan and Nigeria are reminders of the forces that still challenge the right of young people to an education, especially in the emerging countries.
But the cultural attitudes that seek to deny girls the right to an education are not always violent and overt. According to a UNICEF report on girls' education in South Asia, "even in countries where gender parity has been achieved, their improved access to basic education has not contributed to their social and political empowerment….and they are discouraged from pursuing an education that leads to better-paying careers."
A recently published World Bank study on Gender Equity in Secondary Education in Sub-Saharan Africa, says that among the factors that reduce opportunities for girls in school are that their parents, and even their teachers, often have lower expectations of their academic performance compared to boys. Other far more serious obstacles in the way of a proper education for girls, the study says, are HIV/AIDS, poverty, early pregnancy and sexual abuse.
True, governments in the emerging world have already done a lot to get more of their boys and girls into school. But they need do a lot more, and I believe my company should support this effort.
I know that Swiss Re already does an enormous amount through its Foundation and involvement in initiatives such as the Grow Africa project to help communities in emerging countries. But can't we refocus our efforts a little, towards education and schools?
The emerging markets (aka high-growth markets) are becoming increasingly important for us as a company. But achieving our long-term business goals in these regions will be made more difficult if we fail to address the risk of educational under-achievement in many of these regions, especially with respect to girls. Michel Liès has said that one of the reasons why Swiss Re supports microfinance and microinsurance in emerging countries is to encourage the entrepreneurs of the future. Makes sense. But how are we going to do this while millions of girls in the emerging world are still denied their right to a proper education?