Princess Masna graces International Women's Day celebration
By James Kon

The abuse of girls and women cannot be tolerated in any way; violence to women or girls is against basic human rights.

This was the strong message sent out by Datin Paduka Hjh Adina binti Othman, the Deputy Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports in her speech at the residence of the British High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam to celebrate 101 years of the International Women's Day.

Her Royal Highness Princess Hajah Masna, the Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade graced the event. Also in attendance was Datin Paduka Tan Bee Yong, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

"The theme for this year's International Women's Day is 'Connecting girls: Inspiring Futures'. In relation to the theme, we felt that the concern is violence and abuse against women," said Datin Hjh Adina in her speech. "Although we have done numerous workshops on violence against women, I still feel that we need to drive the message home.

"I just like to share that one in every three women in the world have been subjected to domestic or sexual violence. In most cases the perpetrator is a member of the family. Fifty per cent of sexual assault worldwide is committed against girls below 16 years old," she added.

"In total, 200 million girls and women worldwide are subjected to sexual and domestic abuse. In terms of trafficking girls and women, about 80 per cent are girls or women. We cannot accept these figures."

Earlier on, Datin Hjh Adina said, "Brunei Darussalam also celebrates International Women's Day and also the Asean Women's Day. We are celebrating Women's Day twice now."

In Brunei, in line with Islamic principles, girls and all children have access to free necessities such as education and health, she said, adding that there is absolutely no reason why women cannot excel in Brunei.

Datin Hjh Adina also felt that gender equality is important, moving together to achieve the good of the nation, the region and the world.

Meanwhile Mrs Julia Fenn, the wife of the British High Commissioner in Brunei Darussalam quoted British Minister for Equalities Lynne Featherstone as saying, "Across the developing world, girls and women continue to bear a disproportionate burden of poverty. Yet we know it is possible to take effective practical action that enables girls and women to fulfill their potentials. We know that the benefits of investing in girls and women are transformational - for their own lives and for their families, communities, societies and economies. Empowering girls and women have multiplier effects for economic growth and ensuring safer, more stable societies."

Mrs Fenn further said, "The event's website stated that, if every International Women's Day held in 2012 included girls in some ways then thousands of minds will be inspired globally. This is the idea behind this reception.

"We have all been inspired in some ways in our lives whether it be parents, relatives, friends, teachers or someone met in a chance encounter," she added.

"They can, of course, be male or female. But it is particularly important for girls to see that women can function in positions of power and be respected in their own and other societies. We have the excellent example before us today of Her Royal Highness Princess Hajah Masna who is Ambassador-at-Large for her country, working hard as a modern day princess to represent Brunei Darussalam. In Britain, our own Queen is this year celebrating her Diamond Jubilee, 60 years on behalf of her own country as its respected monarch and the Commonwealth as its head."

Before concluding, she said, "As you all know, 2012 is the year that London hosts the Olympic Games, and I was interested to see that the Olympic and Paralympic committees have adopted seven words which they felt summed up all the values they wished the games to be promoting. Those are Respect, Excellence, Friendship, Courage, Determination, Inspiration and Equality. This year we could do a lot worse than to use them in the context of International Women's Day as well: Respect for our individual differences; striving for excellence; supporting each other with our friendship; working with courage and determination to promote equality in the workplace and at home; and inspiring the next generation." - Borneo Bulletin (9 March 2012)