Honourable Datin Hajah Edah Mohd Nor, President of Council of Women of Brunei Darussalam,
Datin Paduka Hajah Hayati Pehin Salleh, Chair person
Distinguished Ladies and Guests
It is an honour to be invited to this Women Leaders Network Meeting and to share with you an overview of women and business in APEC. Before going into details, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Datin Hajah Edah Mohd Noor, President of Council of Women of Brunei Darussalam and Co-Adviser of the WLN meeting, for her kind invitation and congratulate her and those involved in making this gathering a successful one.
This Meeting is important and timely for two reasons. First, it brings together Women business leaders of APEC, encouraging them to foster and strengthen their existing networks and exchanging experiences on how best to further promote women's involvement in the economic development of the Asia-Pacific region. Second, youth and women are two important elements of this year's APEC theme, under the Chairmanship of Brunei Darussalam. The outcomes of this meeting are therefore significant to the Ministerial Meeting of Small and Medium Enterprise, held immediately after this, as well as Leaders Meeting later this year.
Vision for a community
Back in 1993, when APEC Leaders first met in Seattle, they declared their vision for a community of higher living and education standards and on sustainable growth for all people in the region. Though the vision was not explicit on how to further promote women's participation do this, it nevertheless provided a good platform for more concrete agenda on the later years.
The leaders Meeting in Manila in 1996 had put special emphasis on encouraging the full participation of women in APEC activities.
These and subsequent calls by them endorsed the fact that women hold critical role in economic development and barriers to the achievement of long-term sustainable growth and equitable development in the region.
Getting into some specifics, the Second Ministerial Conference on Regional Science and Technology Cooperation in Seoul in 1996 recognized that gender was a cross cutting issue and had implications in all APEC fora. Removing barriers and promoting full participation of women in science and technology was identified as essential elements in meeting those APEC goals.
The fact that this Meeting is held prior to the Meeting of Ministers for Small and Medium Enterprises holds some significance. Small and Medium Enterprises are very important to APEC and to women businesses. Small and Medium Enterprises make up 95 percent of all enterprises in Asia-Pacific, employing 80 percent of work force and contributing 30-60 percent of GNP of each APEC economy. Small and Medium Enterprise is one of the priorities of APEC this year, under the chairmanship of Brunei Darussalam.
At official level, the Policy Group for SMEs had long realized the important of women's contribution to SMEs.
In 1997, the Group recognized the need to promote gender sensitive policies and measures related to the development of SMEs to empower women in technical, managerial and entrepreneurial fields.
Within the Human Resources Development Working Group, gender and equity issues were included at the policy level. By 1998, gender considerations were made in their project Management Guide to ensure full participation of women in APEC HRD projects.
With the Asian economic crisis behind us, and while APEC remains committed to on-going reforms and strengthen markets, members are now entering the new millennium with renewed confidence and vigour to create and sustain favourable business environment. APEC has also recognized the importance of promoting investment in human capital and committed to ensure that member economies are in the forefront of building and sharing expertise in the effective development and application of knowledge that will be a key driver of economic success.
Leaders have called for a special attention to be given to improving effective and coordinated delivery of APEC economic and technical cooperation and capacity building programs.
They further recognized that cooperation in e-education, science and technology and life-long skills development should be strengthened.
Delivering to the community
What does this entail for the WLN? WLN can contribute in realising the APEC vision through upgrading of skills and learning best practices. Upgrading of skills involved learning and adopting new information technology and communication.
APEC is also concerned with a very new but nonetheless real phenomenon - the digital divide, an area where women and youth are most affected. Our capacity has not been in tandem with those information technology developments. It is ironic to see a creation designed to bring the world closer together, the internet, instead ends up leaving some of us even further behind. Internet, however, does bring benefits too. The Challenge for APEC in its economic and technical cooperation and capacity building work will be to realize this potential in such a way that everyone benefits.
The HRD Ministerial Meeting in Washington last year welcomed the recommendations of the SME Ministers to promote effective human resources development through education-business linkages to support knowledge-based economies; develop the capabilities of the current pool of SME managers; facilitate the transfer of skills between economies; and develop skills for entrepreneurs and consumers to enhance consumer protection and confidence.
APEC continues its efforts to create a favourable business environment in the new economy. APEC Blueprint for Action on Electronic Commerce guides economies to develop the legal, regulatory, technical, operating and trading environment by business to adopt paperless trading and to take full advantage of the expanded market opportunities offered by e-commerce. An area with huge potential for APEC business.
As I mentioned earlier APEC recognizes the important role of women's participation in promoting business in APEC. Women business is traditionally very strong in Tourism. Next month, Seoul will host the (Slide 8) APEC Meeting of Ministers for Tourism and they are expected to endorse APEC Tourism Charter. The Charter reflects a collective commitment to improve the economic, cultural, social and environment of APEC economies through tourism.
To provide greater coherence and relevance to the community, Brunei Darussalam this year would like to ensure that APEC matter more to its community. I strongly believe that APEC already matter to the community - our challenge is to publicize why that is so in a way, which those living in economies can best, understand.
In Darwin just while ago, APEC Ministers for Trade has launched a new and improved business window for business - BizApec dot com is a web portal to facilitate business information of APEC businesses. This window will facilitate access to information on business by APEC entrepreneurs in their planning.
In conclusion, Chairperson, Ladies, to fully realize those visions for a community of openness and partnership, on sustainable growth and equitable development through trade and economic cooperation, APEC needs to be innovative and creative. APEC needs to equip its community with the necessary capacity not only to meet changes and challenges but also to be able to tap and gain from the huge potentials associated with the new economy.
I wish you all the best and success.