Brunei Darussalam

The SIGI 2023 profile for Brunei Darussalam provides a comprehensive overview of the state of gender equality in the country, as measured by the OECD’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI).1 The fifth edition of the SIGI, released in 2023, assesses 140 countries based on the level of gender-based discrimination in their social institutions. These discriminatory social institutions encompass both formal and informal laws, as well as social norms and practices that restrict women’s and girls’ access to rights, justice, empowerment opportunities and resources, thereby undermining their agency and authority.

In 2023, Brunei Darussalam did not obtain a SIGI score due to missing data in the “Restricted physical integrity”, “Restricted access to productive and financial resources” and “Restricted civil liberties” dimensions.2 The country is missing data on nearly all attitude and practice variables necessary to compute the SIGI, from violence against women to women’s reproductive autonomy, access to financial services, freedom of movement and access to justice. The country obtained a score of 92 in the “Discrimination in the family” dimension, denoting very high levels of discrimination in this dimension.

Brunei Darussalam’s legal system is a dual system characterised by a civil system based on British common law cohabitating with a parallel religious system for Muslims based on Islamic Sharia, which supersedes the common law system in areas such as family and property law (Greenwalt, 2020[2]) (University of Melbourne, n.d.[3]). There are also other legislations enforced in Brunei Darussalam to govern the conduct of Muslims in the country, such as the Islamic Family Law Act, which make different provisions related to Islamic family law in areas such as marriage, divorce, maintenance, guardianship and other matters connected with family life (ASEAN Law Association, 2019[4]). Between 2013 and 2019, Brunei Darussalam underwent a series of reforms to amend the Penal Code. The Syariah Penal Code Order 2013, which went into effect in 2019, expands upon the existing religious legal systems and applies to all persons who live in Brunei Darussalam. Offences in the Penal Code follow a specific Islamic interpretation and justification, and include punitive measures such as corporal punishments, amputation and even capital punishment (Greenwalt, 2020[2]). As part of the Malay cultural area, Brunei Darussalam is strongly associated with Malay adat.3 These customs, although unwritten and sometimes conflicting with Islamic principles, remain a core element of Brunei’s social and cultural life and continue to be practiced, for example in the context of marriage (Samad, 2023[5]). The Constitution only refers to customs in Article 3(A) to establish that the Adat Istiadat Council (or Council of Customs and Traditions) is the responsible authority for advising on matters of customs (Brunei Darussalam, 1959[6]).

Brunei Darussalam’s Constitution does not recognise or prohibit multiple and intersectional discrimination – an essential provision to enhance gender equality from a legal perspective. Nevertheless, Brunei Darussalam ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2006 but holds reservations on Article 9(2) and Article 29(1) (United Nations, 1979[7]; United Nations, 2023[8]). Article 9(2) refers to men’s and women’s equal rights with respect to the nationality of their children, and Article 29(1) is on the inter-State dispute procedure. Brunei Darussalam also expresses a general reservation regarding provisions that may be contrary to its Constitution and to the principles of Islam.

Gender-disaggregated, gender-relevant and intersectional data and indicators are essential to better identify policy areas that have strong linkages with gender. In Brunei Darussalam, there are no applicable legal provisions regulating the production and dissemination of gender statistics.

The law in Brunei Darussalam grants women and men equal rights to own and use land and non-land assets, including business properties, regardless of their marriage status.

The limited availability of data on practices and social norms restricts the analysis and prevents from having a clear understanding of the state of gender equality in the country. Brunei Darussalam lacks data that are comparable to other countries in nearly all areas covered by the SIGI, from the division of domestic responsibilities to violence against women, access to productive and financial assets, feeling of security and trust in the judicial system.

Discriminatory social institutions undermine women’s rights and opportunities in many spheres of their lives. Marriage is regulated according to the laws and customs of different religious and ethnic groups in the country, which allows the marriage of women below the age of 18 years. In addition, Brunei Darussalam’s Islamic Family Law Act, which regulates family matters for Muslims, contains many discriminatory provisions that restrict women’s rights to be legal guardians of their children, to seek divorce and to inherit on an equal basis with men. Moreover, the legal framework on violence against women does not comprehensively protect women and girls from all forms of violence. For instance, domestic violence is not criminalised and there is no law specifically addressing violence against women. Discriminatory legal provisions also limit women’s freedom of movement, citizenship rights, and access to justice. For instance, the Sharia Courts Evidence Order introduce differences regarding the value of women’s and men’s testimonies in Sharia Courts.


[4] ASEAN Law Association (2019), Chapter 2: Sources of Law, ASEAN Law Association,

[6] Brunei Darussalam (1959), Constitution of Brunei Darussalam (Const. I),

[2] Greenwalt, P. (2020), Factsheet: Brunei, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, USCIRF,

[1] OECD (2023), “Social Institutions and Gender Index (Edition 2023)”, OECD International Development Statistics (database), (accessed on 12 January 2024).

[9] OECD Development Centre/OECD (2023), “Gender, Institutions and Development (Edition 2023)”, OECD International Development Statistics (database), (accessed on 12 January 2024).

[5] Samad, N. (2023), “Traditional Malay Marriage Ceremonies in Brunei Darussalam: Between Adat and Syariah”, in (Re)presenting Brunei Darussalam, Asia in Transition, Springer Nature Singapore, Singapore,

[8] United Nations (2023), Status of Treaties: Chapter IV- 8. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women”, Treaty Collection, United Nations, New York,

[7] United Nations (1979), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, New York,

[3] University of Melbourne (n.d.), Southeast Asian Region Countries Law: Brunei Darussalam,


← 1. The full SIGI Country Profile for Brunei Darussalam is available at: OECD Development Centre (2023), “Brunei Darussalam SIGI Country Profile”, SIGI 2023 Country Profiles, OECD,

← 2. SIGI scores range from 0 to 100, with 0 indicating no discrimination and 100 indicating absolute discrimination. Levels of discrimination in the SIGI and its dimensions are assessed based on scores as follow: very low [0-20]; low [20-30]; medium [30-40]; high [40-50]; and very high [50-100].

← 3. Adat refers to customary law in Malay.

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