Brunei's rising woman power
By Amie PDH Ishak

Women's participation in the workforce has risen sharply, from only 20 per cent in 1971 to over 59 per cent today.

Bruneian women now constitute over 40 per cent of the labour force serving in a wide variety of capacities ranging from entrepreneurs, lawyers, pilots and firefighters to notable ranks in the Civil Service.

Pg Hjh Mariana bte PDNLDR Pg Hj Abdul Momin, Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources, said this at the 2008 Women in Business Forum held at The Empire Hotel.

Her Royal Highness Princess Hjh Masna, the Ambassador-At-Large graced the event and presented awards to Brunei's "First Woman Achievers" in various fields that are dominated by men such as in the judiciary, government, medicine, military, as well as in industries such as oil and gas and aviation.

During the first session of the forum, panelists touched on the challenges that women face in the workplace, the (positive) discrimination they face, how some women delay having children because of work as well as the slow promotion process in Brunei where women get promoted only up to permanent secretary in the government sector and up to director in Shell.

Meanwhile, Pg Hj Mariana said, "Today, women entrepreneurs own or run almost 50 per cent of all the micro, small and medium enterprises in Brunei Darussalam.

"In recognition of the need to have a national body to serve the interest of the country's businesswomen, the Brunei Darussalam Women's Business Council was established in 1999 and aims to support business women of diverse occupations and to provide opportunities for them to help themselves grow personally and professionally through leadership, networking education and national recognition," Pg Hjh Mariana added.

"The participation of Bruneian women entrepreneurs in business is not restricted to trading. Many venture into various other fields including consultancy, architecture, legal practice, manufacturing, fishery, agriculture and general construction.

"Bruneian women have been active on both the domestic and international front, Brunei Darussalam has played host to a number of important meetings including the APEC Women Leaders Network in 2000 and more recently the 12th Asean Confederation on Women's Organisations in 2006," she said.

Over 200 participants registered and took part in yesterday's forum, which was the first ever gathering of Brunei's working women in the government and private sector as well as top local women entrepreneurs.

The line-up of prominent foreign speakers was headed by Dato' Dr Jannie Tay from The Hour Glass Singapore who delivered an inspirational keynote luncheon address, which was attended by HRH Princess Hjh Masna.

The First Women Achiever Awards were presented by the HRH to The Honourable Justice Datin Paduka Hjh Hayati bte Pehin Orang Kaya Shahbandar Dato Seri Paduka Hj Mohd Salleh, the First Woman Brunei Judge; Datin Paduka Hjh Misli bte Hj Awang and Datin Paduka Hjh Azizah bte Panglima Asgar Dato Paduka Hj Abdullah, the First Women Permanent Secretaries; Datin Paduka Dr Hjh Intan, the First Brunei Female Doctor; Lieutenant Colonel Hjh Hasimah bte Hj Abu Bakar, the First Female High Ranking Officer in the Military; Hjh Rosmawatty bte Hj Abdul Mumin, the First Female to Hold Director Position at Brunei Shell Petroleum; Sariana bte Nordin, the First Brunei Female Pilot and Norhayati bte Abu Bakar, the First Woman Explorer.

The first session of the forum entitled 'Women in Charge: Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling' saw Dyg Haslina Taib, CEO of BAG Networks Sdn Bhd; Dyg Hjh Fa'aizah bte POKSMDSP Hj Abidin, Managing Director of Brunei Investment and Commercial Bank; Dyg Hjh Rosmawatty bte Hj Abd Mumin, Asset Director of Brunei Shell Petroleum; and Ms Paula Malai Ali, ESPN Anchorwoman as panelists.

The Moderator for the session was Mr Allen Lai, the CEO of Asia Inc Forum.

This session featured Brunei's leading women professionals discussing issues affecting women in the professional world and their experiences on how they navigate the corporate jungle, overcome cultural and gender stereotypes and how they manage the life-work balance.

The second session entitled 'What Women Entrepreneurs Have Learned: Stories from the Frontline' featured foreign and local women entrepreneurs discussing the lessons they had learned, challenges faced and the best practices adopted in growing their businesses. Also, whether Brunei can create a culture of enterprising women.

The first speaker for this session was Ms Michelle Dula Asence, Founder of Zen Zest Lifestyle Products who is also one of the top 70 Admired Entrepreneurs in the Philippines.

Ms Asence spoke of her journey towards establishing her business and encouraged the ladies to not give up and go for their dreams.

The panelists for the second session were Ms Gwendolyn Lee, the CEO of Rico Agencies; Ms Norhayati Abu Bakar, the Proprietor of DDL Tours Operators Sdn Bhd; and Ms Selma Djukic, the President of White Owl Global Services Ltd, Canada.

Ms Fauziah DSP Hj Talib, Managing Partner at IQ-Quest Company was the moderator for the second session.

Among the issues the ladies spoke during the session included their experiences in their ventures through the business world, how to learn from other people and not be afraid to ask questions, how to strive in your profession and to have a positive outlook.

The 2008 Women in Business Forum brought together businesswomen, women leaders, professionals and entrepreneurs to learn, network and share best practices that can make a huge difference to women's involvement in today's competitive world of work.

The Women in Business Forum was organised by Asia Inc Forum and partnered by Baiduri Bank and the Brunei Economic Development Board and was supported by the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources and the Young Entrepreneur Association of Brunei. - Borneo Bulletin (20th August 2008)