The Gender Wars in Brunei

In one of the official dinners with a mission from IDB of Jeddah helping to develop the human capacity on the financial services sector, we talked about the gender differences in Brunei.

The mission was surprised to find that despite the Brunei population which has a slightly more male population and even from birth rates, slightly more male births - the male numerical dominance is not seen in the current make up of the financial services sector. This point was brought home to me the other day when I was going down the elevator at almost 6 pm and it stopped at 2 of our investment agency's floors when more than a dozen lady officers and staff came in to join me. I was the only thorn among the roses. In Treasury Department, out of the almost 300 complement, only about 80 are males. Similar happenings are in UBD and other top tertiary institutions.

Are the observations correct and reflective of the current make up of the working population? Or are we seeing isolated incidences or unusual trends and this is not relective of the overall situation? Policy decisions have to be based on what the actual problems are. We have been talking about general unemployment problem, about the youths - maybe we should be talking about the male unemployment problem or male youths, and that there is nothing wrong with female employment. Similar cases can be raised for other social problems. I raised this in one of my earlier blogs on spaces.msn.com a few months ago when I talked about the difficulties of finding suitable partners especially when the gender make up is skewered to one particular gender.

Another potential issue is career development. Despite the female outnumbering the male at university level and hence at graduate officer entry level, the makeup at the top of the government echelon is male dominated. At our ministry, senior officers meeting will be mostly male with the odd one or two females as roses among the thorns. Yesterday, during the Hari Belia at the Indoor Stadium, I noted that the quadrant where I was seated, among the Deputy Ministers, Constitutional Appointments, Judges, PS, DPS and Senior Directors, there were only about 7 ladies among the 60 odd people among us in that quadrant. Is there a glass ceiling? How has morale been affected? Will it affect future morale? How do we bring up the females? Will it have any effect on population growth in Brunei - less marriages etc as female concentrate on career? Can they do both? Are we over-stereotyping? There are many questions.

Perhaps human capacity building programs have to take into account male and female makeup in the population. In a bigger population, this may even out - any gender imbalances taken over a much bigger number will smoothen any kinks. But in a small population like Brunei, gender imbalances may not be ironed out as easily. Our country is too small for us to lose out any potential people regardless of gender who can in the future be leaders and bring us into the right direction for Brunei. People moved on. In 13 years, I would be retired - I want to make sure that whoever it is in position then can lead Brunei in the right direction. We have to worry for our children. We can't afford to lose out any potential people, be it male or female, who may be able to bring about a brigher future for us.

Having said that, I have to admit that currently I have not thought of any specific solution and probably individually any of us will not be in in any direct position to bring out any change. We should all work together and readers who are in the right place may want to consider this matter in their policy decision making.

Comments

SiRTaMBaK said…
Morning Mr BR Sir... I feel your concern. I've realised this gender imbalance since I was in UBD. Being one of three males in my course with 2o young women.
I remember doing some research on this matter and even now at my work place it is very apparent that female teachers out number males.
Where have 'most' of the men gone? Are they really unemployed? Or perhaps they have chosen a different career path?
Males some how are less motivated to further their studies. Not really sure why, but I assume it would be a good case study for MoE to identify the cause of this.
Anonymous said…
In Maktab Sains, female out numbers the male as well. If not mistaken, the majority of scholarship students are female. This trend is quite recent such that we have yet to see this front wave reaching its way towards the front most layer in the government sector.

SirTambak is probably right when he wrote that males are less motivated and aim for an easy way out. It seems most males are incline to this way of taking shortcuts. Its unbelievable that students do not seem to have a vision of what they would expect out of their country and how they can contibute to their country. Something that seriously need to be looked into.
Anonymous said…
I wasn't surprised to hear that females outnumber males in the workforce because when I first started working (in one of the highly coveted places to work in Brunei) there were only 4 men accepted opposed to 9/10 women.

Similarly with everyone else's stories, I have been seeing this all my life (in M.S. there were only 4/5 boys in my class and about 10/15 girls.)

I used to think that this was because we are nearing 'qiamat' (and one of the reasons men are allowed four wives is because at the end of time women will outnumber men 4 to 1) so I was quite surprised to read that statistically there is a larger male population in Brunei. Is this an accurate/current statistic?
Anonymous said…
my college have more male than female but they're not motivated to study further or think about the future of our country .. perhaps something has to be done. oh, most male, are computer students.
Anonymous said…
I am only one of the three female officers in my department.

So I can relate to the 'thorns' among the roses.

In my department, there are more male than female, so I am not sure if there are more female than male in the working sector.

Or perhaps, it relates to 'where' you work. Like for JKR, there seems to be more male than female.
Anonymous said…
I think the rest of the men are engaged in the Armed Forces, Police, and Fire & Rescue sectors. Perhaps guys are less motivated to study and work in office??
MedLeo said…
Dear BR,
Congratulations on an excellent blog.
I do think there is an ‘unofficial’ glass ceiling for female officers. The whole upper echelon of Brunei society is dominated by males. Could it be that since it is these same people who determine who gets the top jobs, the disparity exists?
Males do seem to get promoted faster than their female counterparts in most sectors of government. Maybe bosses see males as the ‘better choice’ as they can be relied on not to get maternity leave, sick leave at regular periods each month, emergency leave as child gets sick, problems with maid etc. If so, the whole system needs to be looked at?
Career flexibility e.g. part time working, job sharing are just some methods different countries have resorted to to solve the problem. Remember, good family dynamics start with a good mother while good families are building blocks of a good society. Are we then expecting too much of our wives and mothers?
There is a widespread perception that in order to achieve the same promotion, females need to be a lot better than their male colleagues.
Unfortunately, there are some injustices (relics of a system where a woman's ‘place’ is at home) in the way government treats its male compared to female officers. For instance, for a female officer with a husband working in the private sector, she is entitled to less privileges compare to a male officer with a wife working in the private sector especially in terms of 'tambang'. Of course this affects morale.
With regard to looking for partners, even HM has commented during a visit to my workplace where there are a lot more females than males, and wondered aloud whether they are married (majority were not even attached).
Brunei is not unique when it comes to gender inequality in higher education. However it would be affected more because of its small population size.UK has recognized this problem and have started looking into ways to engage its male students more. Perhaps more innovative teaching and training can go some way to alleviate the situation.
Padian said…
Medloe *wink* Ideas... ideas... ideas... I was thinking the same thing. Gender inequality and de-moralisation secondary to the system.

Should something be done? YES. Will something be done? Dunno.

Its really sad how women are usually passed on or not considered for a job promotion, EVEN if she deserves it more than the male counter part.

As for taking leave, maternity leave and sorts... it should not be the basis of inequality at work. If you peform, you should get what you deserve! If a mother do not take time for maternity leave... or not take the time for her family... asas keluarga inda kukuh... and the foundation and building blocks in Brunei are fragile or may be broken in several areas.

BUT if and when they do... they are penelised.. and jumpped over for the next promotion! Where is the fairness in this? DEMORALISATION quickly sets in...

I only had to work for a few months to realise this major frustration!!!

Why are men not working? or less working in MOST government offices? Pepatah melayu: "Tepuk dada, tanya selera"...

I had this chat with a few other people similar time last year... many views and ideas were given... yet an answer to it was difficult... but one thing is certain... change the laws and regulations... and things will be better for the 'ladies' to care for their families!
FlyBoy said…
Salam BR and fellow bloggers.

Stats:
RBA has over 60 local pilots of which only 4 are women. The rest are men.

What does that say about men?
Are women less motivated to become pilots? Or would they rather stick to the occupational norm and work behind the desk?

Through the ages, men have always been the hunters and women food-gatherers. Can you imagine a whole army of which the majority are women? Or a whole fire brigade full of women? Or maybe a whole army of bakers who are men? There are some jobs where men are accustomed to and have a natural knack for due to their genes and physical build. And some of which women are no doubt born to do. Like breast feeding.
I need not go any further, my wife reminds me all the time about it. In my view as a Muslim, she has the honour of feeding our child and insyallah she will be rewarded by Allah in this world or in the afterlife. I am envious but this wouldn't make me want to pray to Allah for a pair of breasts.

Jokes aside, it is written in the Holy Quran that when writing an agreement, they must have 2 men as witnesses. And if there is only one man, then the witnesses will be one man and two women.(Refer the Holy Quran 2:282)
Now why have two women replaced one man? I listened to a sermon once and the Ustaz explained that a woman is generally more emotional than a man and thus it's why 2 women have replcaed one man as witnesses.
I am digressing and though i am not undermining a woman's ability to control her emotions but it makes perfect sense to me. Allah has knowledge of all things. But of course i am a man and this is probably a biased opinion.

Men and women are different. For most of the 20th century, these differences were explained by social conditioning; that is, we are who we are because of our parents and teachers attitudes. Girls are dressed in pink and given dolls to play and boys dressed in blue and given toy soldiers and footballs.

If women and men were meant to be equal, how could men have achieved such total dominance over the world? In truth, we are not identical. Men and women should be equal in terms of opportunities to exercise their full potential, but they are definitely not identical in their innate abilities.

The argument of equality between men and women is a political or moral issue; the essential difference is a scientific one.

So back to the question: Is Brunei facing a gender crisis in the workplace? My honest answer is i don't know.

Until a full and thorough study is done on gender differences in Bruneian workplaces, then the answer will be left blank.

For women who have been mislooked when it comes to promotion, my best advice to them is to be patient and have the satisfaction that you have given 100% to the job you've done although you might feel unjustly done by your superiors.

Brunei have moved forward with women progressing further upwards in the job hierarchy than ever before and will continue to do so in the future. This is a challenge for some men who may have been left behind but it's all about one's attitude isn't it. Be it a man or a woman.

When i worked in the UK years ago, i flew with a female training Captain named Susan Boxshall. She was six feet tall, very switched on and could fly circles around men. I was highly impressed with her and under her tutelage, i learned a lot about flying. I told her that i would tell my friends back home that i had the pleasure of flying with a highly competent professional who was a woman.
Anonymous said…
I totally agree with you flyboy and well said! No matter what male always dominant and look at the world today - how many female leads the world? I think I can relate this fact from my old ugama teacher who taught me that "Hawa diciptakan Tuhan daripada tulang rusuk Adam" which means that female cannot deny male's dominance.
Maurina said…
It is the males that cannot deny female's intelligence.

My comments are here -> http://maurina.wordpress.com/2006/08/03/upchuck-reflex/
Anonymous said…
First of all, let me say that the following comments are not intended to offend anyone, but are part of the eternal quest of a woman at odds with SOME aspects of her religion.

There is NO DOUBT about it, women are opressed/discriminated against in society, whether it be Brunei or the UK. The only difference is the varying degress of opression/discrimination.

Eg 1, women (in the previous system) that are not degree holders, lose their pension and baksis (a substantial amount of money) once they MARRY and become month-month workers.

Eg 2, the nomber of men in the senior positions of government FAR outweigh the women, but thankfully this is slowly changing.

Now, I LOVE my religion (Islam) and have been taught not to question it. But sometimes I can't help but question some aspects which I can't justify reasonably. Like how husbands can force their wives to have sex with them, and how women are left less inheritance money compared to men (Faraid).

BUT I don't know whether this is the word of God, or the interpretation of the dominant gender (at the time), men. And this isn't a problem which is unique to Islam; most of the main religions purport male dominance.

On the other hand, Islam demands better treatment of women (compared to those other religions). For eg how husbands are required to share their earnings with their wives, but are forbidden from touching their wive's money, and the whole "syurga ditapak kaki ibu".

Makes me fall in love with my religion all over again..

And before this gets too dull, let me just add my two cents worth on this issue: Through the ages men are more prone to work that entails elements of 'danger' (hunter, soldier etc), maybe this is because they are more dispensable. Women were protected to ensure the continuation of the species (procreation).

Oh, and some wise person told me that the significane of Hawa being made from Adam's tulang rusak was that without Hawa, Adam would be incomplete, ie two halves of a whole. How's that for a compromise? haha
Anonymous said…
Women are also not allowed to be Administration Officers - the so-called fast track scheme, which is also controversial in itself.

Some of the people who have been accepted are less qualified than those who weren't (and before you ask, no these "fictional people" were similarly qualified co-curricularly but differed academically)
Exploration Geologist lost in a man's world said…
I am not sure if I fully agree with comment on men being less motivated to further their studies nor do I agree that men tend to dominate the high flying jobs in any industry.

Its probably a different situation here in UK but its worth to point out. To answer sirtambak's question, where have all the men gone? Well, they are at Imperial College where the population of men outnumbers women. I guess its where u look really. For an enginnering college like Imperial of course there is a tendency for men to dominate. Whereas if you go to a university which specialises in arts/humanities subject as SOAS or UBD then yes, women would dominate.

Even at my workplace, I see men corner to corner (which is good for me so I can cuci mata once in a while). But maybe because I work in an engineering/technical industry that I see men a lot. I'm not saying that women are not good at engineering/technical stuff its just not in their nature to do that kinda jobs. But occasionally where you get women in this industry you do get women as leaders and managers - our exploration team leader is an emancipated young not yet married woman. I must admit though this is rare. Even recently Imperial College has won the silver award for promoting women in science, engineering and technology(SET). Maybe, Brunei might want to have promotion to expose more women in SET or maybe women should open their eyes to more oppurtunities?

So I guess, its not gender inequality then? Gender imbalance...i think so. Its more to how men finds it easier to penetrate into the science, engineering and technological world that we are now. While women are more inclined to do the more laid back(?) administrative work. As long as they give their 101% thats the way to go isn't it?

There you go...my 2 cents(or should I say, 2 pennies) worth
Nagasyari said…
To anonymous who said "Now, I LOVE my religion (Islam) and have been taught not to question it. But sometimes I can't help but question some aspects which I can't justify reasonably. Like how husbands can force their wives to have sex with them, and how women are left less inheritance money compared to men (Faraid)"

If you want to ask questions about Islam then Islam encourages you to ask these questions. You have to actively search for the answers though and not leave it hanging and become ignorant for the rest of your life. (A sad fact for a lot of people these days).

So I'll help you(and possibly other readers) get started by pointing out the right direction to one of your questions. Particular with regard to why women inherit less.
In fact, according to this article , Islamic law as a whole, favours women financially more than men.
As with your other question, I leave it to you to answer it. Cos I have to go back to work.
>_<
Anonymous said…
I agree with Exploration Geologist's remark, it really does depend where you look. In terms of work promotion, perhaps there is some gender inequality or could it be something as sensible as religious reasons or merely a matter of competence?

Gender imbalance is also a more appropriate term in most circumstances as men and women can geatly differ in their interests and priorities. Just to add as well, in my time (well only a few years ago) our intake at Imperial College School of Medicine was roughly 58% Women to 42% Men.
Anonymous said…
One senior woman officer said that its difficult to get promoted to a higher post (i.e. directors and above) basically because in Islam men and women cant see each others' eye directly, hence, less women in the senior post so that they dont have to see and met the other men, not sinned?...

Crazy argument? well, i'm sure this is one of the argument MEN used to discredit women....

:P
Aaron John said…
I apologize for this late comment. I only managed to read the readers' comments yesterday. The majority of the readers’ arguments and comments were very interesting. But I couldn't help but notice that none of the readers saw this issue of so-called gender wars as biological. Men and women are biologically different. One gender is not better than the other but it's just that - DIFFERENT.

A man's organs, senses and brain can handle certain tasks better. That's why some men are more dominant in some areas. The same also applies to women. For example, a man's vision is more focus while a woman's vision is more peripheral. On average, a man is better at navigating through a city but can’t find his own socks inside the closet.

Sociologists and psychologists used to have the upper hand in the 'Nature vs Nurture' argument - that men and women behave like they do due to social programming. However, recent findings in studies in the fields of biology and genetics show that this is not the case. Men and women are controlled by their hormones and genes. Their brains do not work in the same way. They don't think and approach problems in the same manner.

Now it is important for both genders to understand this simple but important fact. If we look at our education system (or most countries' education systems), it can be said that the system suits young girls better than young boys. Girls mature at an earlier age, can multitask better and also have a better verbal ability. It is perhaps not surprising to see them performing better overall than the boys at school. In the UK, girls have been outperforming boys in A Levels for years. However, boys still performed better in certain subjects such as mathematics. Furthermore, although there are more female first graduates than male, there are still more men with Master's degrees and PhDs. Many people conveniently points out that this is due to gender discrimination. But this clearly cannot be the case because after all the efforts made to level the playing field; men are still dominant in some fields and women in other. There are still more female teachers than male. On the other hand, there are still more male scientists than female. Some women become teachers not because they have to or due to discrimination but simply because they choose the teaching profession.

That said, I'm not saying that there is a total abscence of sexual discrimination. It does exist in our society. However, I don't believe that this is a major factor causing the disparity.

Now back to my point. Since men and women have different abilities, we cannot expect them to perform equal roles. I believe that women should have the exact same opportunities as men. But if men can perform better as pilots, why should we put more women to fly our airplanes? Similarly, if women can teach better than men, why should we give more teaching positions to male graduates? Lawrence Summers of Harvard University was in trouble when he suggested that one of the reasons why the number of women making it to the top in science & engineering is small was genetics. He is not an uneducated misogynist. He is the President of perhaps the best university in the world (not sure whether he still holds that position, maybe Mr BR can verify this).

I believe a man and a woman should have equal rights and opportunities but different roles and responsibilities. This is very much the case in Islam. It is true that male relatives will get a larger share of inheritance but they also have greater responsibilities. Sure, a husband is the head of the family but he must not see this as a privilege. He is responsible to provide for his wife and children no matter what. It is not an excuse not to provide the wife with nafkah just because she is earning more than him.

If we can acknowledge that a man and a woman is inherently different, then we can understand gender issues better. It will also help us in our daily interactions at the office as well as our personal relationships. Men and women should complement each other. It is not necessary for women to do everything that men do. Of course, if a woman can be a better pilot or scientist than all her male counterparts, then she should get the job. But on average, this might not be the case.

For more on gender differences, please read Brain Sex by Anne Moir & David Jessel and Why Men Don't Listen & Women Can't Read Maps by Allan & Barbara Pease.

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