Closing the Gender Gap in Brunei

Quratul-Ain Bandial
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

WOMEN all over the world continue to contribute to economic, social, cultural and political growth.

But based on the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2015, today’s observance of International Women’s Day is dimmed by the fact that progress towards gender parity has slowed in so many places.

While Brunei has made remarkable strides in achieving gender equity, it has only managed to close the gender gap by 4.5 per cent in the past eight years, according to the WEF’s latest report.

In the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report 2015 – which measures the level of disparity between men and women – the sultanate ranks 88 out of 145 countries, moving up 10 places due to more female legislators, senior officials and managers, as well as professional and technical workers.

Brunei has a near perfect score for gender parity in education and health, and also ranks highly in women’s participation in the economy, but has a score of zero for political empowerment, owing to the absence of female ministers in the Cabinet.

Women in decision-making

While women make up the majority of university graduates and government scholarship recipients in Brunei, this has not translated into more women in leadership positions across the public and private sector, said Datin Paduka Hjh Adina Othman, the former deputy minister of culture, youth and sports.

Sixty-one per cent of tertiary graduates are female, while 62 per cent of government scholarships (including in-service) are awarded to women, she told The Brunei Times in an interview last year, yet only 36 per cent of senior managerial positions are held by women. The highest posts attained by women in government include deputy minister, attorney general and ambassador-at-large (which are both equivalent to a ministerial rank).

Three of four local universities are headed by women, while there are only two women out of the 32 members of the Legislative Council.

Datin Hjh Adina added that more than half or 57 per cent of female workers are professionals, but hardly any female CEOs in the country. “Although women in Brunei have the same access to education and opportunities– and we have been giving equal opportunity in scholarships and training for quite some time now – gender issues and addressing gender imbalance is really something that has only come to the fore in the past decade,” she explained.

The path forward

So while remarkable progress has been made towards gender equality and women’s empowerment in Brunei still the question of how to address the gaps and challenges remains.

In a 2014 report reviewing women’s rights in Brunei, the United Nations suggested a system of quotas should be adopted aimed at accelerating equality between men and women.

Quotas should be directed towards “women and men in all areas where women are underrepresented or disadvantaged, including in political and public life and decision-making”, said the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

The committee also highlighted Brunei’s “lack of updated statistical data, disaggregated by sex, age, ethnicity, geographical location, socioeconomic background, which is necessary for accurately assessing the situation of women”.

Accurate and detailed data is needed for targeted policy-making and monitoring the progress made towards the realisation of women’s substantive equality. The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports did acknowledge these concerns, saying there needs to be more capacity building for policy-makers, gender-responsive budgeting, and research assessing the different implications for women and men with regards to public policy.

Datin Hjh Adina said that many ASEAN countries are now highlighting the gender gap and pushing women’s empowerment into the spotlight.

“Half of the population in Brunei is women, you can make them produce for the economy, or depend on the economy for help. It’s up to us; do we want half of the population to depend on handouts? If you don’t take us on board, you will get left behind.”

The Brunei Times


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