Education key to women's empowerment, says Princess
By Sonia K in Nanning

Although globally there has been steady progress in the advancement of women, many are still facing challenges ranging from unbalanced development, feminisation of poverty, lack of resources to violence against women, natural disasters and digital divide.

These are now exacerbated by the current financial crisis, said Her Royal Highness Princess Hajah Masna, the Ambassador-At-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, yesterday as she attended the 2nd China-Asean High-Level Women's Forum in Nanning, China as the guest-of-honour.

"To improve the status of women in labour markets worldwide, the education of girls and women as a valuable strategic investment in human resources is imperative," HRH said in a sabda while adding that life-long learning and constant training of women in order to keep abreast with up-to-date knowledge and skills will provide an enabling environment and tool for women's empowerment and self-reliance.

During the opening of the forum, Her Royal Highness said since the first meeting, cooperative relations between Asean and China have broadened and deepened.

"Asean continues to value its relations with China, which is based on mutual trust, respect and peaceful co-existence. The continued commitment of our leaders to work together as strategic partners is conducive to peace, harmony and prosperity in the region," HRH said.

With that she added that women in the China-Asean region should take advantage of this harmonious environment to attain their full potential and development, which augurs well with the theme of the forum, "A Harmonious environment for women's development".

HRH said China's active role in advancing women's development is greatly valued. The 1995 World Conference on Women was instrumental in the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. This document has been the template for progress on gender equality and inspired many nations to develop innovative policies for gender equality, as well as women's empowerment, she added.

Asean has also been implementing its 1988 declaration on the Advancement of Women in the region. This is further strengthened by the Asean Charter, which stipulates the need to protect human rights and fundamental freedom.

"Furthermore, our leaders have agreed to set up an Asean Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children by 2010.

"This would contribute to Asean's social cohesion and integration, which is in line with Asean's goal to establish an Asean community by 2015," said the Ambassador-At-Large.

HRH also said in the economic sphere, Asean and China are progressing well in their efforts to realise a Free Trade Area and finalise the MoU on the Asean-China Centre.

"These would further improve the region's existing impressive trade and investment records as well as promote greater interaction and linkages between our people and businesses. Such efforts will also open up more opportunities for our women's participation in the economic development of the region," she added.

With this in mind, HRH Princess Hajah Masna regards tomorrow's annual China-Asean Expo as well as the Business and Investment Summit as useful venues for women entrepreneurs and business leaders to develop networks and explore business opportunities with local and international companies.

Princess Masna hoped the forum would enable everyone, together with the representatives from the United Nations agencies, to exchange views and experience, share best practices and set future directions for cooperation on these issues.

She said with the high level representation here, the forum is gaining more support. "I therefore believe that it can add value and visibility to the efforts of our region and those of other international organisations like UNIFEM in advancing the development of women," HRH stressed.

"As we are half way to reaching the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, the role of UNIFEM towards achieving the goals could be regarded as central to other women advocates," the Princess said.

Its Strategic Plan for 2008-2011 is a positive development as it aims to deepen its work in all of its focus areas. Hence, continued networking and cooperation with UNIFEM will be beneficial to our efforts to advance women's empowerment, promote gender equality and achieve the goals.

Yesterday's opening of the 2nd China-Asean High-Level Women's Forum was also attended by other delegates from Brunei like the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports Pehin Orang Kaya Setia Pahlawan Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Ahmad bin Haji Jumat, Datin Hajah Maimunah ELIAS and Datin Lim Bee Yong.

This year also marks a significant event in terms of the historic relations between Brunei Darussalam and China. It marks the 600th Anniversary of the visit to China by Brunei's forefather who was known as Boni Maharaja Karna. - Borneo Bulletin (22nd Oct 2008)