BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei has made strides towards gender equality but still has the lowest representation of women in politics among Southeast Asian countries, data from an ASEAN and UN Women report showed.

Bruneian women held only nine percent of parliament seats last year, according to the ASEAN Gender Outlook: Achieving SDGs for All and Leaving No Woman and Girl Behind publication, which was released ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8.

In contrast, Philippines has the highest rate of women in politics among ASEAN member states with 28 percent.

The sultanate’s proportion of women in parliament is also well below the global average of 25 percent despite women outnumbering men in higher education over the past few years.

“Women’s representation in government, both at the national and local levels, is important to ensure women have a say about policies in their communities,” the report stated.

Brunei’s civil service employed more women (54%) than men, according to the Brunei Darussalam Statistical Yearbook 2019.

Jointly produced by the ASEAN Committee on Women, ASEAN Secretariat, and UN Women, the report suggested that a glass ceiling still exists but more women are occupying leadership roles.

Brunei recorded a rate of 37 percent in women holding middle and senior management positions in the private sector — the highest in the region.

The majority of women in ASEAN were also paid less than their partners.

Infographic: ASEAN Gender Outlook: Achieving the SDGs for All and Leaving No Women or Girl Behind

‘No Bruneian women involved in information services work’

New technologies and the growing digital economy in ASEAN member states may help women find more job opportunities and balance their childcare responsibilities, the report said.

ASEAN is the fastest growing Internet market in the world, with 125,000 new users joining the market every day.

Analysis found that men are more likely to be involved in web search portals, data processing and hosting activities, and other work that primarily supply information.

Citing 2019 figures from the International Labour Organization, the report indicated that no women were engaged in information services activities in Brunei, despite the sultanate having one of the highest internet penetration rates in the world.

“Promoting women’s involvement in the information and communications fields could have transformative effects given the rapid growth of these sectors.

“It could also help enhance female labour force participation and promote the development of innovation and infrastructure that better fits women’s needs,” the report read.

Infographic: ASEAN Gender Outlook: Achieving the SDGs for All and Leaving No Women or Girl Behind

Brunei urged to do more in improving availability of gender data

The sultanate remains in the bottom position of producing gender data in the region.

Brunei only provided data for 27 percent of gender-specific SDG indicators, as opposed to top-ranked Cambodia with 55 percent, according to UN Women calculations.

Gender equality is one of the 17 SDGs, or Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.

In the report, no Brunei data was available on the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, the share of women who were married before 18 years of age, and the percentage of women age 15-49 who have experienced violence by former husband or partner.

“It is important that countries such as Brunei Darussalam and Singapore intensify their data production and reporting efforts to monitor the SDGs from a gender perspective and according to national priorities,” the report stated.

ASEAN countries were recommended to prioritise data availability as part of their national development strategies.

It added that the production and use of gender data is of critical importance to ensure national policies are informed by evidence, and to monitor progress towards the success of such policies.

“When gender data production is aligned with national priorities, its use naturally increases to monitor the effectiveness of the policies in place.”