This year, the State Legislative Council appointed two youth representatives to bring to the floor the voices and perspectives of the nation’s youth. The Scoop spoke to Yang Berhormat Khairunnisa Ash’ari the youngest appointed member at LegCo, who shares her views on youth development, unemployment and what she intends to achieve during her tenure.
The 29-year-old is co-founder and community engagement director for Green Brunei, a social enterprise social that aims to promote environmental sustainability through youth-led initiatives in the fields of education, conservation and advocacy. She is also the director of the Green Exchange for Society for Community Outreach and Training (SCOT) and the head of the international relations at the Brunei Youth Council.
Q: What does it mean to you to be the female youth representative at the Legislative Council and be one of the two champion voices for Bruneian youth at the annual State Legislative Council meetings?
YB Khairunnisa: It was definitely overwhelming initially. Mostly because being the first meant not having anyone who you can relate to. But it also means I am able to do things differently, to be more open and innovative in my approach and of course to learn from others.
As youth represents more than half of the population in Brunei, it is quite a challenge when there are only two of us representing the youth but it is also an opportunity that will lead to bigger things in the future.
Q: As you are currently pursuing further studies in the United Kingdom, how do you keep abreast with youth issues in Brunei and continue to serve the youth back home as a Legislative Council member?
YB Khairunnisa: Since my appointment in January this year, I have conducted several youth dialogues both in the UK and in Brunei when I went home temporarily to serve my duty. I also have an online forum which is still currently active where people can contribute (their concerns) any time.
As I am active on social media, I continue to receive messages from the public about issues they are concerned with, and it keeps me connected with the youth community even though I am physically away from the country. Here in London there is also a strong Bruneian student body, which I am actively involved with. I have also taken part in dialogues outside London, offering opportunities for youth to directly raise their concerns in person.
Q: What are the current issues or challenges Bruneian youth are facing, and how can these be brought to the fore and be addressed for the benefit of the nation’s growth?
YB Khairunnisa: Unemployment and mental health (issues) have been repeatedly raised by the youth when I conducted dialogues both in Brunei and in the UK. These have been raised in previous Legislative Council sessions.The government as well as other stakeholders have been looking at different ways to address these issues and they need support from all angles to succeed.
Q: The government is continuing to make efforts in scaling down unemployment among school leavers and graduates through various programmes, initiatives and schemes. In your opinion, what areas can be explored to further reduce unemployment figures in Brunei?
YB Khairunnisa: There is no one formula that works in all cases as reasons for unemployment vary. Small and Medium Enterprise development programmes and foreign direct investment projects are currently being focused on and these are areas that need a lot of support as they help create jobs.
At the same time, youth should also be equipped with more skill-based trainings to be able to take up jobs that are not necessarily within their scope of academic qualifications. There are also opportunities outside, including online commission-based or contract jobs (such as web-design or editorial work), as well as positions in the United Nations and The Commonwealth that targets the youth.
Q: What other areas of national interests among the youth are you anticipating to bring to the floor at the next 14th Legislative Council session, and why?
YB Khairunnisa: Participation and engagement amongst the youth is something that is still quite lacking – the dialogues exposed the lack of knowledge and awareness on matters relating to the nation’s development.
These are things that need to be developed at a young age, and it can have significant results when they become adults. I also hope to focus on climate change next year, as the nation needs to work together to achieve our Intended Nationally Determined Contributions goals, as well as to create demand for green products. Knowledge on reproductive health is also a concern as this can affect the individual’s future.
Q: What are your goals as a youth Legislative Council representative during your tenure, and how do you intend to fulfil them?
YB Khairunnisa: I see this as an opportunity to push forward eco-friendly initiatives, including recycling and public transportation development in the country. It would involve more engagement with relevant stakeholders outside the sessions.