I was at the 7th Women’s Summit held at the Sime Darby Convention Centre on Tuesday 18 August – an annual gathering of more than 1000 women entrepreneurs.  The 2009 theme is a rhetorical question Can Women Turn Adversity Into Opportunity? whose rhetorical answer must surely be Yes, otherwise the gathering would have been futile.

The two official speeches, the first by the Minister for Women and Family Development and the second by the guest of honour the Deputy Prime Minister stressed the fact that these are hard times and that women need to be more aware, creative and innovative to face the challenges and use them to their advantage. The Minister stressed on pushing for quotas and getting allocations. The DPM’s message was to  rebuild strength and integrity.

An innovation in the proceedings this year saw the DPM taking questions from the floor in an unprecedented public dialogue between the women and the DPM. The questions came in fast and focused as was the DPM’s replies. It was a very effective method of getting direct commitments from both sides.

As usual I had a question and didn’t resist too hard the urgings of my friends to represent them. I dutifully lined up in the aisle and waited for my turn. But it was not my day to impress the DPM and to challenge him to start (with the Women’s Ministry) a full-blown and sustained anti-corruption blitz. His paper alluded to “integrity” but as usual this concept is never fully developed. A public campaign in the media and public places throughout the country will create the much-needed awareness and education on integrity and its antithesis corruption.     

I was not to be deterred! Facilitating one of 10 Round Table discussions, I weaved my way into the 8  articulate and well -exposed women in my group and tapped their knowledge and experience. I was particularly impressed with two young women, Cindy and Alicia, both secure in their respective careers but contributing their knowledge and skills to voluntarily conduct evening workshops for budding entrepreneurs. Their special interest in ICT and e business took shape on Facebook and attracted many followers. From there they met the public Face2Face!

Bobbi Dangerfield, the MD of DELL Global Business Centre contributed her experience in Dell’s successful establishment of a micro-credit scheme in El Salvador, and Dell’s interpretation of corporate social responsibility (CSR) where staff are given four hours off from office work to do community service.   

We submitted our recommendations for successful enterprise, chief of which are financial support and training. There must be more opportunities for women to do part-time work, flexi-hours and work from the home in order to have the work-life balance. Work places and organisations must provide physical (e.g. day-care centre) and emotional (e.g. counselling) infrastructure for their staff to work in a conducive environment. For this government support if not legislation would be helpful! 

Opportunities for enterprise exist everywhere for women – franchising food and recipes, household products, craft and clothing, technical writing and translation – all operable from the home. The marketing and sales network must eliminate the unscrupulous middleman. For rural women, more markets and centres must be established in both the rural and  urban areas to exhibit and sell their products. Training is essential.

I had my say! When the Women’s Minister came back for the Closing Session, I asked my question about corruption and integrity. I asked that Dato’ Seri Shahrizat take up the idea of the Anti-Corruption Blitz with the Cabinet and the top leadership. She gave her assurance that she would try to do so!

All in all it was a good Women’s Summit. The important thing now is for the recommendations to be translated into policies and effective programmes, implemented efficiently at all levels for the country’s women!


When there’s a will there’s a way Insya Allah!


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August 2009
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