Women Leaders’ Network Meeting BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, BRUNEI DARUSSALAM JUNE 17-20, 2000

The WLN 2000 Declaration and Recommendations, recalls the "1996 Manila WLN Call to Action; WLN Declarations of 1997 Ottawa-Hull; 1998 Kuala Lumpur and 1999 Wellington; and Recommendations from the Ministerial Meeting on Women in Economic Development and Cooperation in Manila in 1998.

The documents builds upon the themes for APEC 2000, which are 'delivering to the community', 'building stronger foundations', 'creating opportunities in the millennium', 'making APEC matter more to the people', and 'recognizing Apache’s commitment to continue to engage the business community, women and youth' (WLN 2000b).

The WLN 2000 recommendations to APEC Economic Leaders were:

+ To draw upon the Expert Database developed by the WLN to ensure the full participation of women in the APEC process;

+ To implement training programs, in particular distance learning, to assist women to access the most advanced training and skills development available;

+ To ensure that all women and in particular, young women, indigenous women, rural women and women most at risk have equal access to education and opportunities for skills development;

+ To formulate policies that encourage employers to develop more favourable working terms and conditions for women;

+ To establish appropriate mechanisms and incentives to facilitate the development of women-owned SMEs and E-businesses;

+ To develop incentives for private sector investment in women-owned SMEs;

+ To improve access to finance for women-owned SMEs and remove barriers to investment and finance which continue to exist; and

+ To identify best practice models with respect to access to technology, finance and training for women, and encourage implementation throughout the APEC economies (WLN 2000b).

Once again, the WLN recommended that APEC Leaders "review the membership of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) so that women's participation is increased and that each economy ensures that of its three ABAC members, at least o­ne is a woman" (WLN 2000b).

Achievements and Outcomes

The WLN 2000 Meeting, as in the previous meetings, accomplished a lot. The WLN was again invited to present recommendations directly to the APEC SME Ministers at the SME Ministerial Meeting that followed the WLN meeting. This invitation came in recognition of the fact that women-owned SMEs now make up over 35% of the SMEs in the entire region and create more employment than the Fortune 500 companies combined. This invitation also further established the WLN’s credibility as a non-governmental body that APEC needs to call upon for regular input. The WLN Chairpersons also joined forces with the APEC E-commerce Workshop and SME Business Forum to make additional recommendations to the SME Ministers o­n issues common to each group (APEC 2000 SME Business Forum Organizing Committee, 2000). This joint statement gave extra weight to some areas of mutual concern and served to present a united front to the SME Ministers. The WLN 2000 Declaration and Recommendations were actually incorporated in full into the 2000 APEC SME Ministerial Statement as an appendix. Another significant achievement is that o­ne hundred percent of the funding for the WLN 2000 Meeting and its advocacy efforts o­n the part of women-owned SMES came from private sources, primarily Shell Oil Brunei and the Standard Chartered Bank.

Despite these successes, in the process of issuing a joint statement to SME Ministers from the three non-governmental fora, the gender focus of the WLN's concerns and recommendations were almost entirely lost. The SME Ministerial Statement issued following the SME Ministerial Meeting also made almost no mention of gender or women. The inclusion of the WLN 2000 Declaration and Recommendations in the appendix of the SME Ministerial Statement was an information piece o­nly, and nowhere in the text portion of this document did Ministers recommend that Leaders act o­n any of the WLN recommendations. Nevertheless, the inclusion of the WLN in the joint session was an achievement in itself as it shows that the WLN has been recognized by APEC and by others, as a legitimate quasi-official network.

The concept and proposed structure for establishing an informal WLN Management Committee initiated at the 1998 WLN Meeting evolved into a more formal structure at the WLN 2000 Meeting. The WLN 2000 Meeting resulted in the formation and institutionalization of a Coordinating Team and business participants recognized that there is a need for continuity and follow-up between the annual WLN meetings. Therefore, it was agreed that the outgoing host economy would establish a Coordinating Team. The structure agreed upon was that the Coordinating Team be chaired by the outgoing host, and would be comprised by "a minimum of seven economies represented including four previous WLN host economies, the outgoing host economy and the next two future APEC host economies " (WLN 2000a). The Coordinating Team also would have the authority to create task forces and may draw from the wider WLN community as required (WLN 2000a).

The WLN Coordinating Team will undertake three main roles, advocacy/liaison, monitoring, and advisory roles. These are described below:


+ Liaise with the Chair of the SOM Ad Hoc Advisory Group for Gender Integration (AGGI) and provide inputs to the recommendations made to the Senior Officials (SOMS);

+ Liaise with the APEC Secretariat Program Officer responsible for gender issues and assist in the integration of gender perspectives within all APEC bodies as desired; and

+ Assist the WLN Coordinating Team of each economy to encourage their governments and leaders to increase representation of women from their economies o­n all APEC bodies. To provide best practices and advice o­n how to lobby as requested.


+ To maintain the vision, mission and objectives of the WLN since 1996 until the next meeting;

+ Monitor the implementation of recommendations made to the APEC Ministers/leaders from all previous WLN meetings as well as internal recommendations made to the WLN itself; and

+ Encourage each economy's WLN Coordinating Team to monitor progress of gender integration in the Working Groups and Committees chaired by their economy for a given year.


+ Maintain and expand the database of gender experts and market it within the APEC region to appropriate bodies (i.e. APEC Secretariat, PECC Secretariat, etc.); and

+ Upon request, advise the incoming WLN Organizing Committee regarding issues such as fundraising experience and ideas, history and background of previous WLN Organizing Committees, policy inputs, content and structure for the upcoming WLN meetings, and help with drafting of resolutions for each WLN (WLN 2000a).

By the end of the WLN 2000 meeting, the WLN had come to a turning point. The project through which CIDA had funded the WLN, the Gender in APEC Project, is slated to end by March 2001. Therefore, the time has come to see whether or not the WLN will disband as a result of the reduced funding or survive by becoming self-sufficient. The need to secure funding for the WLN'S survival is crucial, particularly as the numbers of women who are involved has grown substantially. To be able to raise sufficient funds successfully, there is also a possibility that the WLN may have to change its structure and focus. The goal of the WLN 2000 Meeting was to figure out a plan and direction for future and sustainability of the WLN. By the end of the meeting, the WLN had taken the first step towards generating a plan of action with the agreement to establish a Coordinating Team, o­ne of whose responsibilities would be to develop this action plan. The institutionalization of the Coordinating Team is a first step towards better internal management of the WLN, but it will take a considerable amount of work and coordination for the group to develop an effective action plan in a consultative fashion, and it is unclear at this time whether the collective will to do this exists. A great deal will depend upon Brunei taking a lead role as part of the agreement to chair the Coordinating Team. It is however, encouraging to note that China has agreed to host the WLN 2001 Meeting and has already started negotiations with the CWBC and with the Hong Kong-china WLN to ask for their assistance in organizing the conference aspect of the WLN 2001 Meeting. What remains to be seen is how they propose to handle the workshop and consultative component of the meeting and if they will encourage and facilitate civil society participation.

Issues and Concerns

Many issues and concerns came out of the 2000 WLN Meeting. An air of cynicism or resolve about the WLN's ability to make significant impacts o­n APEC or its ability to move beyond the rhetoric towards ensuring implementation of WLN recommendations and real change has begun to develop among some participants. Over the five year period of its existence, each set of WLN recommendations have been roughly along the same lines, but to date significant real change has not yet occurred at the micro-level. This is in part because the implementation of the Framework for the Integration of Women in APEC has just begun and it will take several more years for the impact of this type of sweeping policy change to be felt. However, for the Framework to Integrate Women into APEC, which is essentially a set of guidelines for Working Groups and other APEC bodies to make APEC a more gender aware and responsive institution, there will have to be o­n-going political and financial commitment to its implementation at all levels by Leaders, Ministers and the SOM.

Another trend observed at this meeting was that the personal interests of some key private sector representatives to develop increased business contacts began to predominate over the WLN's original mandate of the promotion of gender issues within APEC. To regain the social and developmental focus in future WLN meetings, the host economies will need to make a concerted effort to adopt an interactive workshop format and to ensure that there are equal numbers of WLN representatives from the public sector, civil society, and academe as there are private sector members. There may also be a need to focus the development of recommendations and action plans o­n other APEC fora such as the Education and HRD Ministerial Meetings. Future CIDA support (if any) would also need to focus o­n the support of a development-oriented agenda and would likely need to concentrate o­n providing support to civil society and academic participation from developing economies.

The loss of influence by the civil society, public, and academe sectors at this meeting was key to the growing domination of the WLN'S business interests. The WLN began to move away from its original purpose as a policy development organization and advocacy group of women leaders from the region o­n behalf of all sectors of women business owners and workers.

The other reason for this domination was because the WLN was invited to present its recommendations to the SME Ministerial and had to focus its recommendations back o­n business-related themes. The WLN 2000 Meeting was also organized by a private sector organization with a strong business development focus. Furthermore, Brunei was initially also relatively unfamiliar with the WLN'S policy development process and with the multi-sectoral approach that has been the key to the WLN'S success with past meetings. The Brunei Organizing Committee was also restricted to operating within a fairly conservative political agenda that made it more acceptable to put a greater emphasis o­n business development than o­n the related gender issues. Many would argue that the fad that Brunei agreed to host the WLN meeting at all was a major achievement and an indication of the WLN's growing credibility.

Another issue was the political sensitivity of the word 'gender' during this conference. This was the first international women's conference held in Brunei. The emphasis o­n gender may have been weakened by the fact that the use of the word 'gender' during the course of the conference was excluded from workshop titles and official documents. This contributed to a consequent loss of the gender perspective during this meeting and led to a greater focus o­n business issues. Many first time participants to the WLN Meetings do not really understand the concept of gender, its implications, and impacts o­n all aspects of human life. Although the gender focus of the WLN 2000 Meeting was somewhat diluted, this was counterbalanced by the fact that over 350 local Bruneian women were brought into the APEC process, became engaged with the WLN, and were exposed to basic gender concepts.

The WLN 2000 Meeting took the format of a lecture-style presentation. Many of the same key individuals repeatedly spoke up and gave their opinions, arguments, and comments. The problem with this type of format is that it allows o­nly those individuals who have the confidence to speak out in an auditorium of hundreds of people. Many participants do not speak English as a first language and there may be cultural barriers to interacting in this manner. The meeting did not lend itself to being participatory in nature, which made it difficult to engage in a dialogue, and to come to a consensus in an inclusive and equitable manner. Many of these process issues could have been overcome by the use of a mixed conference and workshop style format.

Finally, the APEC Secretariat sent a couple of representatives to attend the WLN 2000 Meeting information sessions. o­ne of these representatives commented o­n the fact that although the APEC Secretariat was officially invited to attend the WLN 2000 Meeting, her participation was not facilitated by the Secretariat. This is discouraging because it represents a potential lack of interest o­n the part of APEC officials to participate actively in the WLN and may also be a form of bureaucratic resistance to the gender mainstreaming process that they have been directed to oversee by the APEC Leaders.