Brunei Darussalam



Women leaders
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From the 14th to the 16th centuries Brunei Darussalam was the seat of a powerful sultanate extending over Sabah, Sarawak and the lower Philippines. Thus, the current Sultan represents one of the oldest continuously ruling dynasties in the world. By the 19th century, the Brunei Darussalam Empire had been whittled away by wars, piracy and the colonial expansion of European powers.

In 1847, the sultan concluded a treaty with Great Britain and in 1888 Brunei Darussalam officially became a British protectorate. On January 1, 1984 Brunei Darussalam resumed full independence and the Sultan took office as Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Home Affairs Minister, presiding over a cabinet of six.

The population of Brunei Darussalam in mid-year 1999, is estimated at 330,700 persons, an increase of  7,600 persons or growing at 2.4% over the mid year population estimate 1998. Of the said total, 175,200 (53.0%) are males and 155,500 (47.0%) females.

This estimate includes all people residing in Brunei Darussalam. Malay, which also included Brunei Indigenous communities of Malay, Kedayan, Tutong, Belait, Bisaya, Dusun and Murut, constitutes the major population group numbering at 223,500 (67.6%). Other Indigenous group namely Iban, Dayak and Kelabit accounts for 19,600 persons (5.9%), Chinese at 49,300 persons (14.9%) and Other races not specified at 38,300 persons (11.6%).

Brunei Darussalam is still very much dependent on revenues from crude oil and natural gas to finance its development programmes. Aside from this, Brunei Darussalam also receives income from rents, royalties, corporate tax and dividends. Due to the non-renewable nature of oil and gas, economic diversification has been in Brunei Darussalam's national development agenda. In the current Seventh national Development Plan, 1996-2000, the government has allocated more than $7.2 billion for the implementation of various projects and programmes.

Brunei Darussalam is the third largest oil producer in Southeast Asia and it produced 163,000 barrels per day. It is also the fourth largest producer of liquefied natural gas in the world.

The country's official name is Negara Brunei Darussalam. The reigning monarch is Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah.


Women in Brunei
In accordance with Koranic precepts, women are denied equal status with men in a number of important areas such as divorce, inheritance, and custody of children.  Under the Brunei Nationality Act, citizenship is transmitted through males only.  Female citizens who are married to foreigners or bear children by foreign fathers cannot transmit citizenship to their children, even when such children are born in the country.  This has resulted in the creation of a sizable population of stateless children, estimated at more than 5,000 residents, who are entitled to live in the country and to be documented for travel by the Government, but who cannot enjoy the full privileges of citizenship, including the right to own land.

Although men are eligible for permanent positions in government service whether or not they hold university degrees, women who do not have university degrees are eligible to hold government positions only on a month-to-month basis.  While recent changes eliminated some previous inequities, women in month-to-month positions continue to receive slightly less annual leave and fewer allowances than their male and female counterparts in permanent positions.

There are no separate pay scales for men and women, and in recent years there has been a major influx of women into the work force.  Women serve in a wide variety of capacities in the armed forces, although they are not permitted to serve in combat.  The number of female university graduates is increasing, and nearly two-thirds of Brunei University's entering class is female.

Religious authorities strongly encourage Muslim women to wear the tudong, a traditional head covering, and many women do so.  However, some Muslim women do not, and there is no official pressure on non-Muslim women to do so.  All female students in government-operated schools are required to wear the tudong; students in non-government schools are encouraged to wear it. 

In July 1999, a new Married Women's Law came into effect, improving significantly the rights of non-Muslim married women with respect to maintenance, property, and domestic violence.  In November 1999, changes to the Islamic Family Law (in the section on Women's Position in Marriage and Divorce) came into effect and are expected to improve the marital rights of Muslim women.

Read more about the women in Brunei from this report by the US State Department.


Links to Brunei Darussalam

Important political facts

Government type: Islamic Absolute Monarchy

Head of state: The Sultan. Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah,
who ascended to the throne in 1967,  is the incumbent.

Legislature: The Legislative Council has 20 appointed members with only consultative tasks. No parties are allowed.

Executive: The head of the government is the Sultan, who presides over and is advised by the Council of Cabinet Ministers. Several Councils also advise and assist His Majesty. These are the Privy Council, which advise His Majesty on matters relating to prerogatives of the royal pardon, and on constitutional matters; The Council of Succession; and the Religious Council.

Elections: There are no elections in Brunei.

Political parties: No parties are allowed

Women in power: There is not a single woman appointed in the Council of Cabinet Ministers. In business, almost 50% of the small and medium enterprises in Brunei are owned and/or run by women.


Political resources


Women's situation
Links to Brunei
Important political facts
Political resources