Raising awareness on women’s rights

Rizal Faisal

Project Women Brunei recently conducted their fourth and fifth webinar series discussing women’s rights to land and properties as well as against violence in the workplace.

The fourth webinar of the series featured Executive Director of the Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau in Manila, Philippines Jelen C Paclarin and President of the Law Society Brunei Darussalam and Partner at Messrs Pengiran Izad and Lee Pengiran Izad-Ryan bin Pehin Laila Kanun Diraja Pengiran Haji Bahrin.

Acting Deputy Chief of Mission at the United States (US) Embassy in Brunei Darussalam Jeffrey M Austin welcomed participants joined by Development Associate for Legal Project Women and Girls Development Syarifah Safinatul Najah binti Malai Haji Abdul Hamid.

The Zoom session held last February 28 put the spotlight on various international instruments that guarantee the rights of women to land and properties essential for their survival along with their families and communities.

Participants were given an overview on the inheritance and succession rights of women to land and properties in Brunei Darussalam.

Project Women Brunei cited an articulation by the High Commissioner of Human Rights, which says: “Women’s rights to land, property and housing are essential for realising their rights to equality and to an adequate standard of living, among many other rights.

“Women’s secure access to land, property and housing supports their independence and autonomy, provides for their day-to-day needs and those of their families and allows them to weather some of the life’s most difficult challenges.

“Realising women’s land, property and housing rights is an integral part of the gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

Paclarin presented the topic on ‘Importance of Rights to Land and Property for the Survival of Women, Families and Communities’. She cited Article 14 (1) of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) that emphasises the responsibility of state parties to take into account the problems faced by rural women and the significant roles which rural women play in the economic survival of their families.

In addition, she said that in Article 15, state parties shall accord to women equality with men before the law and in particular, they shall give women equal rights to conclude contracts and to administer property and shall treat them equally in all stages of procedure in court and tribunals. Brunei Darussalam has acceded to the CEDAW in 2006.

She then shared the Philippines context citing the Republic Act (RA) 7192: Women in Nation Building Act where Section 19 highlighted that the state shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations and shall ensure the same rights to properties and resources, whether titled or not and inheritance whether formal or customary.

Meanwhile, Pengiran Izad-Ryan presented the topic on ‘Inheritance and Succession Rights of Women to Land and Properties in Brunei Darussalam’. He emphasised that women in general have all rights to acquire, hold and dispose of landed and other property freely.

He also reiterated that there may be issues with the ability to pass on or receive property in the case of intestacy (no will) “but what is important is that people are given access to the correct information and advice and are provided the opportunity to make informed decisions in respect of their property rights”.

A fifth webinar series was held last March 28 titled ‘Sexual Harassment: Violence against Women in the Workplaces’ with an aim to raise awareness on violence and harassment in the world of work and understanding the adoption of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No 190 and Recommendation No 206 that recognise the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence and harassment.

It featured Chief Technical Advisor at the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand Deepa Bharathi; Programme and Operations Manager at the All Women’s Action Society (AWAM), Selangor, Malaysia Nisha Sabanayagam; Senior Legal Counsel at the Petroleum Authority of Brunei Darussalam Norhayati binti Dato Paduka Haji Omar; and Head of Organisational Effectiveness at the Human Resources Department of Brunei Shell Petroleum Company Sdn Bhd Elizabeth Santanakumar.

Consular Chief at the US Embassy in Brunei Darussalam Paul R Estrada welcomed participants, joined by Syarifah Safinatul Najah.

The webinar also discussed women’s rights against sexual harassment and relevant legislation to sexual harassment in the workplace.

The session also highlighted that sexual harassment has been a fixture of the workplace since women first began to work outside the home.

“Stories of working women experiencing sexual harassment is a potent reminder of the pervasiveness of workplace sexual harassment,” they shared.

Sexual harassment, according to the discussion, is defined as unwanted comments, requests or actions of a sexual nature that are made a term or condition of employment, used to interfere a workers’ work performance or severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile working environment.

The panel also underlined that sexual harassment in the workplace is considered a violation of women’s rights to equality, life and liberty.

“It creates an insecure and hostile work environment, which discourage women’s participation at work, thereby adversely affecting their social and economic empowerment and the goal of inclusive growth,” participants of the webinar observed.

The webinar ended on a high note with the sharing of good practices in engaging employees to stop harassment in the business setting.

Bharathi shared the global call for action through the adoption of the convention concerning the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work (No 190) and its accompanying recommendation (No 206). These are the first International Labour Standards that uphold the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence and harassment. She explained the core principles of the convention that adopt an inclusive, integrated and gender-responsive approach.

She also touched on the issue of domestic violence that has an impact in the world of work. She highlighted the types of workplace violence and harassment and its dynamics as well as psychosocial factors associated with it.

Bharathi ended her presentation on ways to prevent and address sexual harassment through change in attitude, procedures and mechanisms and access to justice.

Meanwhile, Sabanayagam shared AWAM’s advocacy for policy change where they lobby ministers, politicians and the public to enact, amend or repeal laws and policies to end gender violence.

“At the moment they are lobbying for the passing of the Sexual Harassment Bill that has been delayed due to the pandemic,” Sabanayagam said, citing that the new anti-Sexual Harassment Act improves the definition and scope of sexual harassment to include all spaces.

“It does away the high burden of proof as required in the Penal Code Act and in this new proposed act the level of evidence will be based on balanced probability. There will be a proposed establishment of a tribunal and no legal representation will be required. The investigation will be private and it will enhance ease of protection and the right to justice.”

Sabanayagam also shared how they conduct their stakeholder engagement and partnerships with key sectors to keep the conversation going about putting the Sexual Harassment Bill on the table once Parliament convenes this year. She said that the Sexual Harassment Bill will raise awareness of women’s rights against gender-based violence. She cited increasing cases of online sexual harassment when the pandemic forced most engagement process to move online. AWAM continues to conduct public education and training on sexual harassment.