Minister hails women’s role as frontliner

Izah Azahari

Brunei Darussalam’s commitment to highlighting women’s issues which includes the role it plays in the ASEAN region. As the recent Chair of the ASEAN Committee on Women, Brunei Darussalam led some significant achievements, such as producing the inaugural ‘ASEAN Gender Outlook’ publication with United Nations (UN) Women launched on March 1, as well as the ASEAN Gender Mainstreaming Framework, an initiative with ASEAN Commission on Women and Children, targetted for completion this year.

This was highlighted by Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Haji Aminuddin Ihsan bin Pehin Orang Kaya Saiful Mulok Dato Seri Paduka Haji Abidin in a message to mark International Women’s Day 2021.

The minister as Chairman of ASEAN 2021 said Brunei Darussalam will highlight women’s development as one of the deliverables under the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Pillar.

March 8, said the minister, is a significant date for women all over the world as it is the date celebrating International Women’s Day, which began to be recognised by the UN since 1975, celebrated to appreciate the roles and recognise the achievements of women “as we work collectively to drive national progress in various fields that include social, economic, cultural and political spheres.

“While the world is still faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, the successes of women continue to be celebrated globally through various events planned in accordance with new norms.

“The theme for this year is ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World’, chosen mainly to celebrate the extraordinary efforts of women and girls all over the world in forging a future and aiding recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic in a more equitable manner.”

The minister added that the important role of women is clearly seen in the fight against COVID-19, and according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), over 70 per cent of health and social workers globally are women.

“In Brunei Darussalam, based on the 2019 Labour Force Survey by the Department of Economic Planning and Statistics, women in Brunei Darussalam make up more than 67 per cent of the workforce in the health and social sectors. For that reason, as a majority of frontliners and first responders, social workers, health workers and not to forget as volunteers, we highly value the key role of our women in working shoulder-to-shoulder, sacrificing time and contributing their resources to the nation and the community,” said the minister.

However, the minister said, the pandemic has also impacted women more because they have a variety of other roles and responsibilities that need to be balanced, from taking care of children, family members who are ill and the elderly.

In April 2020, a study by UN Women found that women spend three times as many hours as men in unpaid care and domestic work. This definitely has the potential to limit access to work and can impact career progression for women, as well as affect their physical and mental health. Therefore, continued support and commitment towards women is crucial in the post-COVID-19 era, to help ensure the well-being of families and communities, achieve economic progress, and promote greater social development toward national prosperity. The role of women remains relevant, for which women’s contributions and leadership have been proven, and have the potential to be fully utilised in, together advancing the post-COVID-19 recovery agenda.

The pandemic has shown to the world that the unity of women is always intact, not only in the family but also their participation in society.

Alhamdulillah, to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the socio-economic livelihoods of the people in the country, the Government of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam introduced measures focussed on preserving the welfare and well-being of the public.

“An example is ‘work from home’ advice and more flexible time arrangements has contributed to sustaining work-life balance, not only for women but for all who needed it, in the COVID-19 situation.

“For women who have multiple responsibilities in caring for the family, in employment or business in this new norm, it is hoped that such measures have contributed towards sustaining their motivation and encouraged them to continue working shoulder-to-shoulder in the community, he said.

At the national level, the minister said that events planned in conjunction with the celebration of International Women’s Day are intended to provide a platform for women to share ideas and discuss important issues with other women in the country.

“All this will be channelled towards the production of a study on women in Brunei Darussalam, as part of the efforts to strengthen the plan of action for women, under the National Council on Social Issues (MKIS) Insya’Allah,” he said. “It is without a doubt, in line with the position of women as the heart of a family and in supporting the development of the country, the role and contribution of women is very important for socio-economic development and the maintenance of peace and security.

“Let us together celebrate and appreciate the sacrifices and contributions of women in the country, who have together worked collectively to achieve economic progress, family well-being, and social harmony in achieving Brunei Vision 2035.”