Friday, December 16, 2011

AWL X'mas Networking Session (15.12.2011)

AWL celebrates the end of a good year at "Chef & Brew", Damansara Heights.

  It's been an interesting year, a baptism of fire for me in terms of being exposed to legal activism from the feminist perspective.

After joining AWL, I frankly say that it has enriched my life. I have met many women lawyers including those who are no longer members of the Bar having ventured into other professions. These women are willing to support the association and its members with many stories and experiences to share.

AWL can be a rich source of female mentors for young aspiring lawyers and if all of us play a part in increasing the membership numbers, we can indeed become a formidable organisation, to serve as a support group for one another and also, to increase our talent base for legal activism.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the party:

Posted by Picasa
Good company, good food followed by a game of charades.

  Here is Kiran trying to act out her first word, the game had many of us in stitches with some outlandish acting coupled by bizzare guesses. Those who were there know what I am talking about!

The evening ended with a Secret Santa present exchange with a twist. All subsequent allottees of presents are given the option of "stealing" away a previous allottee's present if they fancied it.

On this high note, I would like on behalf of the AWL Exco, to wish all our members "Merry Christmas" and a "Happy New Year!"

May 2012 be even better!

Goh Siu Lin

Monday, December 12, 2011

Taylors' Law Awareness Week: 6th - 8th December, 2011

On 6th December, 2011, the Secretary of AWL, Ms Goh Siu Lin, delivered a speech to the students of Taylor's University on "Women's Rights" in her capacity as Secretary of AWL.

Mr. Christopher Leong (Vice-President of the Bar Council) officiated the Opening Ceremony of the Law Awareness Week and spoke on "The Right to a Fair Trial".

The other speaker was Emeritus Prof. Datuk Dr. Shad Saleem Faruqi (Senior Professor of Law & Legal Advisor, University Teknologi MARA) who spoke on "The Right to Counsel in Malaysia".

Following this, AWL had set up booth on the 7th of December and successfully recruited 12 new associate members from the Law students.

Cocktails at German Embassy - Networking with E.U embassies and NGOs on 9th December, 2011

From left to right:
Ms Foo Yet Ngo (Vice President), EU Representative, Ms Meera Samanther (President), Ms Kiran Dhaliwal (Committee member), Ms Goh Siu Lin (Secretary)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

AWL Networking event (15th December, 2011)

This is a message from Kathlyn Lee (Committee member):

"Hello all!

Yes, it's Christmas time :) (or soon enough, anyway).
In conjunction with the Christmas festive holiday spirit, the AWL networking committee will be holding it's first event!

Date: 15 December, 2011
Time: 7 pm
Place: Chef and Brew, Plaza Damansara ( you can google it for directions)

We will also be having gift exchange in line with the Christmas spirit, so bring a gift! For convenience purposes, we have capped the gift price at RM15 :)

Please RSVP to Kathlyn if you are coming by 9.12.2011.

Her details: / 012-580 1566

Taylors' Law Awareness Week (6-8 December, 2011)

Our AWL volunteers on duty for our recruitment exercise at Taylors' College, Lakeside campus today. This is the second day of their Law Awareness Week which was launched yesterday afternoon by Mr. Christopher Leong, Vice-President of the Bar Council.

Ms. Daniella with a potential recruit. She was responsible for bringing all our AWL paraphernalia and made it to the venue despite suffering a set-back in the form of a punctured tyre!

Kathlyn and myself with another two new recruits.

Appreciation also goes to Ms Sheena Gurbakhash who was on the second shift, from around noon ending at 4pm today. Missed her as I had to rush off for a meeting.

Well done and thank you all!

Goh Siu Lin

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pregnant, so no placement as relief teacher

Extracted from:

Aidila Razak
Jun 20, 11

The Shah Alam High Court will decide on July 5 if the government committed gender-based discrimination by revoking the placement of a relief teacher upon learning that she was pregnant.

Justice Zaleha Yusof fixed the date after a hearing in chambers today, on the civil suit against the government - the first of its kind in the country.

According to Honey Tan, lawyer for plaintiff Norfadilla Ahmad Saikin(left), the suit was filed on the basis that Malaysia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw).

"One of our main issues is to seek a definition of 'gender discrimination' because there is no such definition adopted by Malaysian judges yet, and we are trying to use Cedaw for this purpose," she said when met.

The Cedaw expressly states that governments must “take appropriate measure…to prohibit the imposition of sanctions and dismissals on the grounds of pregnancy or of maternity leave”.

Noorfadilla, 29, also cited Article 5 (the right to liberty) of the federal constitution and Article 8(2) which pertains to discrimination on the grounds of 'religion, race, descent, gender or place of birth…in the appointment to any office or employment under a public authority'.

She is seeking a declaration that pregnancy cannot be used as an excuse to not employ a person as a untrained relief teacher (GSTT) and the revocation of the memo on her placement to be declared illegal and unconstitutional.

The memo for the month-to-month contract was revoked at a Hulu Langat District education briefing session for newly recruited GSTT, when the ministry found out she was pregnant.

According to her husband, Mohd Izwan Zakaria - who represented his wife today as she has just delivered their third child - Noorfadilla was called out during the briefing and “humiliated” for being pregnant.

“The (Hulu Langat district education officer) asked those who were pregnant to come forward. My wife and two others did. He then took away their placement memos,” he said.

Mohd Izwan said the officers had claimed that they were acting according to a 2007 circular which states that pregnant women cannot be hired as GSTT.

However, the circular sighted by Malaysiakini only states that GSTT are not entitled to maternity leave.

“One of the women who was called to the front with my wife was eight months pregnant and the job interview had been conducted within the previous month.

“Surely (the interviewer) would have seen that she was pregnant, so why was she offered a job?” he asked.

When he pursued the matter further, the Education Ministry informed him that it could not hire pregnant women because teachers need to be involved in co-curricular activities, which involve sports.

Named as respondents are Hulu Langat District education ministry officers Chayed Basirun and Ismail Musa, their department head Zahri Aziz, the director-general of the Education Ministry, the education minister and the government.

The suit is a test case assisted and led by the Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights, in which co-counsel Edmund Bon is a campaigner. Also representing Noorfadilla is Shahredzan Johan.

Federal counsels Wan Roslan Wan Ismail and Aida Adha Abu Bakar are appearing for the respondents.

'Rights are not conditional'

Also present today was lawyer Andrew Khoo and human rights commissioner Detta Samen who held a watching brief for the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, which deems the case to be "of public interest".

Khoo (right) said that, while there are no specific laws on gender discrimination, the amendment to the constitution in 2001 to include gender in Article 8, based on Cedaw, shows the intention.

"We would prefer a specific law, but the rights of Malaysians should not be ignored just because the government has not been proactive on this," he said.

Commenting on the case, Association of Women Lawyers Meera Samanther said Noorfadilla was denied her equal right to work and earn a living, which should not be conditional.

"(She) was denied her right solely because she was pregnant and this is discrimination," she said when met today.

In a joint statement, the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality called on the government and society to acknowledge maternity "as a vital social function".

"(We) call on employers to recognise that they are duty-bound to accommodate pregnant women and not dismiss employees or prospective employees on the basis of pregnancy," the group said.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Protesting the Peaceful Assembly Bill

29th November, 2011

Strong AWL presence to oppose the Peaceful Assembly Bill.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Press Release - Peaceful Assembly Bill

23rd November, 2011

This Bill goes against the very grain of our Constitution, which provides for a basic right of freedom of assembly . We recognize that there can never be absolute freedom and for those reasons we have the Penal Code for disorderly behavior.

However this Peaceful Assembly Bill restricts our rights even further:

1. The very nature of street protests are that it is spontaneous and as such people need to voice out when their rights have been violated but that right has been taken away.

2. First we had the University & Colleges Act that restricted students in participating in demonstrations and voicing their concerns. Now to further restrict them, children who are themselves the best advocates in voicing what they want for their future, are added to the list of restrictions. This is also a violation under the Children's Rights Convention, an international treaty that Malaysia ratified and promised to adhere to.

Obviously the PM's words are meaningless. We have been promised Reforms in getting rid of the ISA and what do we get, more restrictions!! The Police is the only group whose powers are being increased by this Bill and the Police Act but the peoples power keeps getting diminished. Najib has been insincere in his stand for a better Malaysia and voters at the next General Election will make their stand known.

Meera Samanther
Association of Women Lawyers

Message from the President (Survey Project)

Dear Members,

I wish to brief all of you on a project that AWL and the BAR will be undertaking next year. It is a project to conduct a survey to determine the professional standing of women at the BAR.

In recent discussions with some of the younger female lawyers, some of them have shared with us that they have experienced sexual harassment and intimidation. However it came to light that many of the lawyers, I believe are also unaware of the Sexual Harrassment Complaints mechanism that the BAR had implemented, which was drafted by a member of AWL also, Simrin Gill.

In view of the lack of awareness of the existence of this mechanism and that there have not been any reported cases , the Executive Committee considered conducting a survey initially in order to get empirical evidence of sexual harassment cases rather them just having anecdotal evidence. However after much thought, it was finally decided that a survey of such a nature would not probably get many people coming forth to be part of this survey .

I was in discussion with a member of AWL, Sheena Gurbakash and we discussed this at length. We finally decided that a survey should be conducted to determine the professional development of women lawyers only in KL and Selangor. The aim of this survey will help us understand the working conditions, the professional challenges and personal challenges women lawyers face vis a vis male lawyers. Women lawyers make up nearly 48% of the BAR and we all have a stake in it. We all know that the level playing field is not equal between male and female lawyers and as such the BAR needs to look into the professional development of women lawyers.

Around September, Sheena and I met up with a survey company, Merdeka Survey. We have had several meetings with them and they have in their proposal indicated that that it will cost around RM50,000.00 Sheena Gurbakash, Goh Siu Lin (Secretary) and I had a meeting with the President, Vice President and Treasurerof the BAR last Thursday (17th November, 2011) and had conveyed our proposal . All three (3) of them are very keen to work with us on this project and have given their commitment knowing the difficulties and challenges many women lawyers face. The BAR and AWL will be writing together to the various Funders on this project and we will also seek monies from the BAR on this. In view of the fact that the year is coming to an end, we realistically are of the view that this survey can only take off the ground next year in March, April or May after the CNY and after the new line up for the BAR Council members .

A brief outline of the survey:

Aims of the survey:

a) Baseline to ascertain working conditions of women lawyers

While it is a fundamental basis of the profession, that all lawyers are equal before the courts, it is also a reality of life that “some are more equal than others” by virtue of exposure, experience, mentoring, ability and opportunity to network. To date, no in-depth or reliable data has been collected about working conditions in the profession. We believe that a survey of this nature will produce valuable data for the profession as a whole about fundamental issues like remuneration, working hours, leave and holidays, and specialisation.

b) Discriminatory conditions

It is a matter of some concern that AWL and its members have in the course of networking with women lawyers received anecdotal evidence of professional discrimination on the basis of gender as well as actual accounts of sexual intimidation and harassment. We believe that this survey will collect verifiable data about the extent of such discrimination and or harassment and intimidation and highlight areas for both AWL and the Bar to work together to redress and/or create channels for complaint about such discriminatory conditions.

c) Basis for development of programmes for the benefit of women lawyers

We believe that the data collected in this survey will be invaluable in the creation of programmes and projects that will address issues faced by women lawyers as well as provide the basis for professional development for both women coming into the profession as well as those currently in practise.


Based on discussion with the research company we are advised that the methodology for the survey will be as follows:

a) By phone interview to be conducted on not less than 300 lawyers (OF BOTH GENDERS) within the designated area of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. Face to face interviews, online and email self-completion questionnaires will also be implemented.

b) Best efforts to ensure that the resulting sample of lawyers in the survey would be representative of the members of the Bar within the two jurisdictions along the basis of gender, location, type of legal profession and years called to the Bar.

c) Not more than 25 mostly close-ended questions in the survey instrument. In addition, questions of the respondent profile would be asked (e.g. gender, ethnicity, age, religion, type of legal work and marital status)

Survey Timeline:

Implementation of the project will be carried out in phases. Total duration will be 16-18 weeks (4½ months) depending on the approach taken as follows:

Activities Survey Duration
•Preparation of questionnaire,
translations, training of interviewers
•Pre-testing of questionnaire 3 weeks

•Implementation of survey
• Data processing and statistical analysis 10-12 weeks

•Preparation of technical report and summary statistics report
•Delivery of final results 3 weeks

Total time required 16-18 weeks

Role of the Bar Council in this Survey:

This is a pioneer study that will have ground-breaking implications not just for the Malaysian Bar but for professional organisations in Malaysia as a whole, and as such we believe that the involvement of the Bar Council in the undertaking of this survey is essential.

We believe that it is in the interests of the Bar Council to be aware and informed of the working conditions and issues facing lawyers and be aware of gender issues within the Bar.

We believe the an opportunity to study the databases and information collated about the profession will be revealing in terms of the development and growth of the profession as a whole.


AWL (Nov 2011)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

SHouting against harassment

Extracted from:

Sunday September 11, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR: The call for laws against sexual harassment is set to grow louder with the formation of Sexual Harassment Out (SHout).
Consisting of 11 non-governmental organisations, the joint committee is also fighting for gender equality.

SHout secretary Betty Yeoh said the Act was needed to protect men and women in the workplace and public areas.

“We need to eliminate all forms of discrimination,” she said yesterday during a press conference to launch SHout.

Yeoh added that Malaysia did not have specific laws against sexual harassment and gender inequality and there was an urgent need to initiate such laws.

SHout is revisiting a campaign that was started 10 years go by the Joint Action Women's Group (JAG).
JAG had then submitted a draft of the sexual harassment bill to the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry.

Yeoh claimed that since 2001, there had been no significant move by the Federal Government to initiate a specific law against sexual harassment.
She said a move for specific laws was included in the Economic Transformation Plan in 2011 to leverage on working women.

Among the groups that are part of the committee are All Women's Action Society, Association of Women Lawyers, the Bar Council Human Rights committee, Malaysian Women Tourist Guides Association and PT Foundation.

Association of Women Lawyers member S. Prema said that currently, sexual harassment was not a crime under the Penal Code.

SHout chairman Ho Yock Lin said it was firm on the stand that a specific law was needed against sexual harassment either at federal or state level.
SHout has also launched an open contest to the public to create a logo to reflect the campaign.

Entries must be submitted before Sept 30.

The winner would receive cash vouchers worth RM250.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Advocating for SRHR: The Malaysian Experience

The members of the Association of Women Lawyers (“AWL”) were invited to attend the panel presentation "Advocating for SRHR: The Malaysian Experience", organised by the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR). I attended in my capacity as secretary of AWL.

The event was held on Wednesday, 20th July, 2011 from 4-6pm at the Cyberview Lodge, Persiaran Multimedia, Cyberjaya.

The event was chaired by Meera Samanther, President of AWL.

The following panellists spoke on their respective topics as listed below:

1) Julian Lee, "Moral Policing in Malaysia"
2) Rashidah Abdullah, "Abortion Rights and Challenges"
3) Pang Khee Teik, "Seksualiti Merdeka: Reaching Out Without Over-reaching"
4) Abigail de Vries, "Project Sentuh: Connecting The Dots Between Violence Against Women& Sexual Rights Through Art and Activism"

Unfortunately, I was delayed due to prior work commitments and missed Mr. Julian Lee’s session, so this report is a summary of the content presented by the other three speakers.

Ms Rashidah Abdullah, Co-Chair of the Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia (RRAAM), presented a talk on “Abortion Rights and Challenges”.

In Malaysia, abortion is legal for very liberal reasons since 1989 when the Penal Code was amended. The only pre-requisite for an abortion is that the doctor needs to hold the opinion that the continued pregnancy would be injurious to the women’s physical and mental health.

Statistics have revealed that rape cases in the country have tripled in the past 10 years. One baby is abandoned every ten days and that there are 2,500 illegitimate births each month on average. Majority of these are Muslim babies.

However, although abortion is legal in Malaysia, 41% of the women are unaware of the legal conditions for an abortion as this is considered taboo. Unsurprisingly, many women seeking an abortion have resorted to an abortion at sea, popularly termed “Women on Waves” which involves a sea voyage on abortion boats on international waters. A few have even attempted to conduct abortions alone at home via a webcam under the instruction of a doctor. Few are aware that clinic abortions are simple procedures which may be completed in just a few hours.
There are many reasons for such ignorance.

Lack of media coverage is one reason; lack of properly trained medical professionals is another. Misconceptions and ignorance on the legalities of abortion and the judgmental attitude of health professionals for women whose rights have already been violated have also resulted in the creation of barriers for women trying to access legal abortions in the country.

Apart from this, Muslim women’s reproductive rights are further curtailed by the increasing Islamisation of the public healthcare system. We were told of a true story where a doctor in private practice had referred a young Muslim women to a government hospital for further treatment, following an abortion. However, she was prevented from being discharged from the hospital until she had been “counseled” by a religious officer who in turn, informed her parents without her consent. These are some of the reasons many young Muslim women are driven to illegal and unsafe abortions.

Furthermore, the lack of quality education on reproductive health, sexuality and sexual violence prevention is an issue which needs to be resolved. The root of the problem is that the government has failed to acknowledge the need to provide sexual education to our youth.

The Malaysia Federation of Reproductive Health Associations (formerly known as Federation of Family Planning Associations) aims at educating Malaysians in family planning and supporting effective sexual and reproductive health services. RRAAM is set up to accurately inform the public about women’s contraception and the abortion law, to empower them on their reproductive rights.

The current challenge faced by RRAM is that these issues of reproductive and sexual rights are not on the priority list of the various women NGOs whose main focus areas on eradicating violence against women.

Pang Khee Teik, Co-Founder of Seksualiti Merdeka, presented a talk on “Seksualiti Merdeka: Reaching Out Without Over-reaching”

Seksualiti Merdeka is an annual sexuality rights festival which celebrates “Freedom to Love”, featuring a programme of talks, workshops, art, theatre, music performances and film screenings. It uses a non-confrontational method via the Arts to apprise the public that “it is our right to be responsible for our own bodies” and also to educate the LGBT (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals) community of their rights.

The media is generally reticent in publishing news on LGBT but theatre performances staged by Seksualiti Merdeka allows the media to indirectly write about LGBT issues as such articles would appear in the Lifestyle section of local newspapers covering the arts and theatre.

Seksuality Merdeka enjoys the support of the Bar Council Human Rights Committee, United Nations, Pink Triangle Foundation and the Ministry of Women & Children and various NGOs.

Pang says that the Malaysian government has successfully demonised the concept of rights. For example, “special rights” of the Bumiputras (which translates to property and monetary rights) cannot be discussed or negotiated. The idea of rights has become inferior and what he means by that is that it the public is made to think that if one party has rights, then it necessarily means that someone else would have inferior rights.

Another story that Pang shared was that most gays have two facebook profiles: the “straight” profile and the “gay” profile. The reason behind this is due to the stigma and fear of the repercussions that may arise from “coming out” to friends and colleagues and society at large.
Seksualiti Merdeka’s aim is to affirm sexuality rights as human rights and to provide LGBT with a platform for advocacy of their rights.

For more about Pang, check out this website:

Abigail de Vries presented a talk on “Project Sentuh: Connecting The Dots Between violence”

Project Sentuh (coined from two words, “Sexuality” and “Tubuh”) is an art and activism event to highlight discrimination against sexuality. This project, held in 2009 was joint project with JAG (Joint Action Group for Gender Equality, comprising of WAO, AWAM, SIS, Empower and WCC) and the artists groups.

Installation art and theatre performances and was used to engage new audiences, in particular the Muslim youth. Project Sentuh was held during the“16 Days of Activism” campaign. The 16 days campaign is held yearly to raise awareness to end violence against women. During Project Sentuh, 5 real cases were used as content. For example, khalwat raids which have resulted in deaths, violent beatings against transgendered women in Melaka, the story of a local actress who shaved her hair for a role and was attacked for her “lack of Islamic morals”. The scenes would be acted out in different rooms in a “House of Horrors” and the audience would be invited to walk through each room and watch each sketch as it is being acted out.

This campaign provided an avenue to showcase through the medium of theatre performances, issues which touch on sexuality, gender norms and body autonomy to educate and sensitise the public to the same.

Abigail went through a bit of history and shared that in 1999, Women’s Agenda for Change (a coalition of many women NGOs) had put forward a lobby document to articulate on the position of women’s rights and it included a chapter on non-sexual discrimination.

In year 2009, a Statement was issued by JAG for the abolishment of Section 498 of the Penal Code which was deemed to be discriminatory against women and to bring the law on “enticement” to an end. It was asserted that every person has a right to control over his or her body and sexuality. In 2005, Malaysians against moral policing also fought for the end of violence against transgenders.

The afternoon soon ended and the participants who came from various countries such as Indonesia, Africa, Iran, Turkey, Palestine, Phillipines , Cambodia adjourned for a celebratory buffet dinner nearby.

After dinner, there were speeches and toasts and some singing. But what really stayed in my mind was the round song that we were asked to sing in little groups of 4 or 5. I found the lyrics interesting and these are reproduced below:


Goh Siu Lin

Sunday, August 14, 2011

AWL Brainstorming Session 13th August, 2011

A short report on the outcome of our recent brainstorming session from our President:

"Brainstorming Session Report:

A) Our Agenda for the day was:

1. Expectations check by each member
2.Revisiting reasons why we joined
3.Brief introduction of current projects

4.The change we want to see:

a) what can we do
b) what needs to be done
c) who are the actors we need to influence
d) preconditions that need to bring about the change (short term , medium etc)

5. Wrap up & Next steps

B) Angela took us through the process of making us reflect on how we would like AWL to be remembered in the next 3 - 5 years . We were asked to imagine that AWL is no longer in existence i.e. dead and gone and what would be it's epitaph . For example , Herein lies AWL and it is remembered for the great work it did on raising awareness on Sexual Harassment within the BAR .

It was quite an interesting session and many had hilarious imagination but all in all very realistic too.

The list is as follows:

1. AWL will be remembered as a credible voice and a Consultant to the BAR
2. AWL will be remembered for its change of name to Malaysian Association of Women Lawyers ( MAWL ) instead of just representing Selangor and KL only
3. AWL will be remembered for bringing about change and enabling women lawyers to enter any fields of law. ( We know that many women now enter the profession and end up with very gendered fields of law. )
4.AWL will be remembered for bringing about change in the law to better protect women in Malaysia.( specifically Sexual Harassment, gender bias in legislation etc)
5. AWL will be remembered because Women law students are more knowledgeable about the legal profession to make informed decisions before entering the profession .
6.AWL will be remembered for bridging the link between NGOs and women lawyers
7. AWL will be remembered as activists and credible voices in their own right
8.AWL will be remembered for raising issues of discrimination and inequality, especially in the BAR
9. Awl will be remembered because No women would be left without legal representation. Women lawyers are committed to contributing to address social and legal issues .
10. AWL will be remembered for raising the minimum 30% representation of women in the Judiciary , Syariah and Bar Council
11. AWL will be remembered for changing the culture in sharing knowledge, skills and experiences among lawyers and other actors
12. AWL will
be remembered because now Transgenders are treated as equal persons before the law
13. AWL will be remembered for incorporating social justice (eg. paternity law/ provision for men)
14. AWL will be remembered for raising awareness about " rape in custody irrespective of where it happens (in prison) and to whom (transgenders)"
15 . AWL will be remembered for sensitizing legal processes to ensure women's rights are protected (eg rape, sexual offences)

C) Various Committees were formed :

1. Research - looking at Baseline survey on the professional development of women lawyers (ongoing project )

2. Membership Drive

3. Communication & Media - looking at Facebook , website etc and specifically looking at Section 95 of the Law Reform (Marriage & Divorce) Act.

4. Fundraising for AWL - projects

5. Networking

6. Professional & Personal Development

I will forward a write up in the next few days on the existing research
project that AWL has undertaken i.e. Baseline Report on the Professional Development of Women lawyers .

At this morning's meeting, various members had shown interest in being the various committees . We will also send invites out to other members to be part of the various committees listed above . Looking forward to working with all of you.

Meera Samanther

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Voice Of The Rakyat

Written by our Treasurer, Chai Har Khoo on Tuesday, August 2, 2011 at 10:46pm

Whenever I write an article or an account of an event, I try to write from a place within me which is true and honest. I always believe that people are able to spot insincerity from miles away. And through the candlelight vigils held in protest of the detention of the EO6, I had the privilege of hearing the voice of the Rakyat whose message was pure and true. Like all things which are pure and true, they leave a mark in our hearts and a profound impression in our minds for many years to come.

"Hidup Rakyat!", the crowd chanted while I quietly lit my candle. I was standing towards the back of the crowd at Brickfields fountain last Thursday (28 July 2011), completely amazed at the spectrum of people who came in support of the release of the EO6. I saw people of all ages and colours, people from all walks of life turning up for the vigil. I met an old friend of mine, who in turn introduced me to several other people. I was especially impressed to see foreigners, a catholic monk and nuns taking part in the vigil. It struck me that those who were there at the vigil were certainly people who valued their freedom of expression, above and beyond the average Malaysian.

Unfortunately for us that night, the Brickfields OCPD ordered those present at the vigil to disperse at about 8:40pm (which was originally scheduled to end at 9pm). The police officers then came marching to Brickfields fountain with their shields and batons. The crowd quickly dispersed within 10 minutes but decided to continue with the vigil in front of the Bukit Aman police headquarters.

To my surprise, the police officers at Bukit Aman were very calm when they saw us holding our candlelight vigil there. A representative from the Socialist Party Of Malaysia enquired for an update on the status of the detention of the EO6, we were informed that one of the detainees had gone on a hunger strike. At that time, all of us hoped that the EO6 would be released as soon as possible. As we were leaving Bukit Aman that night, little did we know that the EO6 were to be released the following Monday (1 August 2011).

Had it not for the Association Of Women Lawyers, I would not have attended the vigil in Brickfields. I would have missed the opportunity to interact with those people who had gone the distance to have their voices heard. I may not always agree with all that was said, but I champion the right for the Rakyat to speak up when the circumstances call for it. And as a lawyer, I would never condone detention without trial.

When I was in Myanmar many years ago, I remember staring at the home of Aung San Suu Kyi across the lake, asking myself what it would be like to be under house arrest for so many years. I shuddered at that thought, and I am grateful that the EO6 have since been released.

"What makes you attend tonight's vigil?", I asked one of the Catholic nuns.

She smiled and replied peacefully: "We stand for solidarity".

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Details of Brainstorming Session: Saturday, 13th August, 2011

Calling all lawyers, law degree holders and law students - please
spread the word to your female friends in law and encourage them to
take up membership with the Association of Women Lawyers.

In case you missed it, our President's message on the purpose of the
brainstorming session is reproduced below.

The venue, address and location map for our AWL's Brainstorming

The Club,
Terrace Cafe, Poolside Function Room
1 Club Drive, Bukit Utama,
Bandar Utama, 47800,
Petaling Jaya, Selangor.


Please email me at if you are are coming (and
encourage your friends to sign up too) as I need to finalise catering
arrangements soon.

Message from our President - Brainstorming Session, save the date
"Dear AWL Members,

We will be having a brainstorming session on 13 August 2011 with all
members.This session is to help us all plan and strategize for the
coming years, the activites or
issues that we all want AWL to be involved with. There will be an
external facilitator to help us with the session. Angela Kukuthas is
an activist who has conducted faciltiation processes for many
organisations. We are at present working with her to draw up a Terms
Of Reference for the session. She will help us asses where we are and
where we want to be.

We, as members have a stake in this organisation. If we want to make
AWL relevant to us, to all women lawyers and to the community, then
we must be willing to walk the extra mile to get involved.

Having a group of Exco members working on issues or activities is
insufficient to make AWL work and to make AWL relevant and different
from the BAR. We need active participation and for those reasons at
the AGM there was a conscious effort to co-opt more members, in
particular the younger fraternity.

Please keep the date, 13 August free.Will inform you of the time and
venue closer to the event. However, we would like to have a head count
as to how many of you are committed to attend. This will help us
source the appropriate venue.

Please respond with your name and contact number to Hope to hear from all of you positively.

Warm regards,

Meera Samanther

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I did the BERSIH thing for my babies.

by Goh Siu Lin on Wednesday, July 13, 2011 at 9:02pm

I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister and I happen to be a lawyer too.

Mine was a spontaneous decision to go to the rally.

Something struck a chord in me when I heard my senior partner tell stories of BERSIH 2007, of volunteer lawyers at remand hearings, on their feet, hours on end, tirelessly going through file after file before a Magistrate, till the wee hours of the morning. So, I decided to take the plunge, and give my support to BERSIH 2.0 by offering my legal skills.

The next hurdle was tougher, which team in the Bar Council should I sign up for? Urgent arrests? Monitoring? Both had its own risks. In the end, I signed up for both.

Monitoring needed us to be on the ground, near the people.. near the FRU.. near the POLICE... tear gas.. water cannons.. risk of racial riots, injury, arrest. Not to mention the Patriot, Perkasa and the Silat guys would be roaming free too. Didn't fancy bumping into any of them. My cha cha spins and dips would definitely not save me here!

Urgent Arrests had its own dangers as well... I worried about being thrown in jail indefinitely. Just like the 5 young legal aid lawyers. So, don't ever think that being a lawyer gives you a force-shield of immunity. Not in Malaysia! Read this if you don't know what I'm talking about:

Still gung ho, I encouraged lawyers from my firm to volunteer and bouyed by the moral support, I attended briefings for both teams.  I must commend the Legal Aid Centre team who had prepared us very well, they were great. The KL Bar Auditorium was jam-packed with young volunteer lawyers. Felt so proud of them all. When the director of the Legal Aid asked, "Why are you joining the urgent arrest team?" My answer was short, spontaneous and simple. It came from the heart. "For Malaysia!" my voice rang out and I was taken aback by the heavy applause. Wow. Everyone had the same sentiments!

The turnout for the Monitoring briefing the next day was smaller in comparison, about a third of the Urgent Arrest numbers. Many were first-timers. 75% comprised young members of the Bar. More than 50% were female! Isn't that great? Unfortunately, not many there looked like they could protect ME.

Attending the briefing didn't really give me additional comfort. The situation was still so tense and uncertain, BERSIH 2.0 had no venue, no permit, no nothing. So, it was difficult to plan our route in advance. I still remember one of the speakers saying, "If they shoot tear gas, just run for your lives." "Huh? That was it?? No safety tips?".

We were also warned, "Try not to get arrested." , psyching us mentally for a lawless kind of environment. "Great stuff." I murmured to myself.

We  were taught what to do with the rock salts and vinegar/lemon. For the uninitiated, if you ever get tear gassed, suck on the rock salts, like you would a sweet, then spit it out. Please don't swallow or gobble it down like some people I know. Not wise at all. :). After that, whip out your lemon/vinegar cloth and cover your nose and mouth and inhale.

Friday night at home, I gathered my things, note pad, cloth, cap, water bottle, rock salts,extra change of clothes. I packed sandwiches and biscuits. The hours passed, I couldn't sleep, I was on tenterhooks. In the wee hours of the morning, 1.36 am, I received an SMS "Cops knocking on hotel room doors. Just give cooperation. They just under orders. Kesian jugak dia orang. Offer them some makan minum". My nervousness escalated.

I listened to the gentle breathing of my babies. I prayed silently in the quietness of the night,  thinking of the many Malaysians here and far. I prayed to God for good governance, fair elections, an end to corruption, tyranny and oppression. I prayed for a united people. "May God keep the peoples of Malaysia safe and sane tomorrow."

I leaned down and smelt my baby's head and my daughter's hair. "I hope I will be around to put you both to bed tonight." was my immediate thought.

Saturday 5.30am. I felt so alert, ready to face the challenges ahead of me. My good friend, Wee Tee arrived at 6.30am and we set off to KL Hilton at Sentral to pick up another pal, Jane. There was no traffic. We sailed through Jalan Damansara, Jalan Semantan, passed Carcosa and ended up at Hilton Sentral all in 10 minutes. We headed towards KTM, I got down from the car and negotiated with police at the first barricade, got through. Felt exhilarated. Second barricade, also a breeze.. it was surreal driving towards Central Market. No other vehicle was in sight, it felt like a war zone. We parked at Central Market. The only civilian car there. To our right were the FRU trucks and police doing drills. "Hey, the parking attendant looked at us in admiration!" said Wee Tee, and we giggled conspiratorily, amazed that we had gotten so far. We made our way to Bar Council, and stopped by a mamak stall for nasi lemak. It was 8.35am. At the next table - plainclothes cops who seemed to be checking us out.

BC briefing at 10am. My colleagues and I began to feel fearful of what lay ahead, I think I must have gone to the ladies umpteen times. Another friend's face was white and tense as news streamed in of arrests, at that time, 238 detainees. Bail going rate was RM8,000.00 apparently.

My team set off at around noon, soon thereafter, I could hear the roar of the crowd, we turned back and there they were, a sea of people converged in a stand-off with the FRU at Leboh Pasar. "Ting! Ting!" Two warning bells. 3 rounds of tear-gas were released. My first taste of it. We ran away, choking. I could hardly open my eyes, my eyes were stinging, the skin on my face, smarting and itchy. As for my poor team-mate, he threw up by the roadside. It was then that our fear dissipated. We had a job to do.

The whole afternoon was action-packed, overhead helicoptors, cat and mouse games between the people and police. Thankfully, our team did not witness any serious incidents of police brutality. Although the FRU had moved from Central Market towards Kota Raya where the second round of tear-gas was shot into the crowd, this was neutralised by the heavy downpour. At this point, the police began to arrest people indiscriminately about 500 metres away from where we stood. We couldn't interfere. Our duties were to impartially record what was happening before our very eyes. I saw a young Indian boy, eyes wide-open in fear, a malay youth, his face wincing in pain as he was dragged to the nearby waiting Black Marias.

We moved on to Petaling Street, Wee Tee's shoes had given way in the rain, so we even managed to squeeze in a bout of shopping!! (Her favourite past-time!!) And I'll always remember this, we were there standing in an empty street, but when I turned round to look behind me, hundreds of people appeared out of nowhere, it was just like magic. Singing "Negaraku" in unison. Electrifying. Felt so emotional then. We were all united, 100% Malaysian.

This was followed by chants of "Hidup, Hidup, Hidup Rakyat". "Hancur BN" "Allah-hu-akhbar!". All peaceful and in a celebratory carnival atmosphere, people stopped to buy ice-cream from the ice-cream man who was doing roaring business.

I saw people of all colours. Chinese Ah Peks, Minahs from Kelantan, Indians, people of all walks of life. Mother's pushing their babies in strollers, a man holding up his crutch as if it was a mace. What amazed me most was the presence of the bespectacled middle class. They were here. Here with us. Here where it counts. When it counts. Wearing yellow. I cannot describe the feeling. Absolutely wonderful and positively beautiful. There and then, I had true hope. Hope for a better Malaysia for my babies.

Well, it's been 4 days since the BERSIH 2.0 rally, yet, I still get overwhelmed with emotion whenever I read BERSIH 2.0 media reports and the avalanche of first-hand heart-warming stories, videos etc etc. I grieve also on the passing of the late En. Baharuddin. My emotions turn on like a gushing tap. In fact, I was a weeping softly over lunchtime today, having just watched another BERSIH video, so I ended up being red-eyed just before having to meet some clients. :)

It was enriching personally. I learnt so much from the whole experience. I learnt how to conquer my fear. I saw Section 42 of the Legal Profession Act in action. I saw something magical happening to us all in BERSIH 2.0. We banished apathy. We took our citizenship seriously. We took our country seriously. We now take voting seriously.

Malaysia is our birthright and nobody can ever take that away from us.

I am writing this for my babies. What I did, I did for them, not as a lawyer, but as a mother.

Goh Siu Lin

Friday, July 1, 2011

Press Statement from Association of Women Lawyers

AWL supports the work of any organisation that has the aim of increasing women's
participation in decision making and in particular in women's political participation.

Attempts by the police and other various groups in discrediting Empower's work
on political participation by only highlighting one selective poster of Shamsiah
Fakeh in various media, shows the lack of understanding of all the work that
women's groups and the work of the Government of Malaysia is undertaking in
promoting women's participation.

As a lawyer myself, in my legal profession, there are 48% of lawyers are women
and 52% are male lawyers. However the number of women lawyers in decision making
positions in the legal proffession is disproportionately low. As such there is
an urgent need for organisations like Empower to continue their work on
increasing women's participation in decision making positions.

AWL applauds the work of Empower and condemns attempts to discredit their work.

Meera Samanther
Association of Women Lawyers

Press Statement from Malaysian women’s groups

1 July 2011

Today, women’s groups have come together to hold an urgent press conference to
express our deep concern and anger at the baseless allegations that the
non-governmental organisation Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
has links to communism.

Women’s groups are appalled and condemn the latest attempt to discredit an
organisation which works with grassroots women, providing training and
assistance with the aim of increasing women’s political participation.

Women’s groups have different areas of work, so as to complement and strengthen
each other’s work with a vision towards achieving gender equality. We provide
shelter or training for women, lobby for laws against violence against women and
advocate for increasing women’s participation in decision making. We have all
come together today to show our support for Empower and the importance of their
work in the area of women’s participation in decision making.

A poster of Shamsiah Fakeh was confiscated together with many other posters
depicting women in leadership positions. The selective highlighting of the
poster of Shamsiah Fakeh in all mainstream newspapers as “evidence” of Empower’s
links to communism is malicious and has been completely taken out of context.
Shamsiah Fakeh is not and should not be a taboo subject as she is a legitimate
part of Malaysia’s history as a nationalist.

This poster and others in a series on Malaysian women leaders, including BH Oon,
Che Siti Wan Kembang and images of dulang washers, rubber tappers and “black
and white” amahs, , are part of Empower’s training programme held in December
2010 on “Hidden Faces Unheard Voices”. This was used to raise awareness on
women’s political participation.. Therefore the work of Empower, particularly
the training programme is vital to increase the level of women’s participation
in Malaysia.


The Malaysian government has a national policy for increasing the political
participation of women to adhere to its obligations under the international
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
(CEDAW). In attempting to fulfil CEDAW’s obligations, the government has set
quotas stipulating that 30 per cent of decision making positions in both the
public and private sector must be made up of women. The government has in the
past invited Empower and other women’s organisations to take part in research
about increasing women’s political participation. On Monday 28 June, the Prime
Minister has even announced his full support to bring about 30% women’s
representation in the private sector

Women’s political participation in Malaysia is currently abysmal and the lowest
amongst ASEAN countries. In 2010, there were only 23 women Members of
Parliament out of a total of 222 seats in the Dewan Rakyat (this constitutes
10.4 per cent) and only 8% at State assemblies.

The presentation of the selective information by the police, i.e. highlighting
only the poster of Shamsiah Fakeh, is a direct attempt to discredit Empower and
other organisations seeking to increase women’s political participation. In
effect, the government is sabotaging its own national policy to increase women’s
participation in all fields.

As Empower is also the secretariat of Bersih 2.0 and organising Perhimpunan
Bersih 2.0, the recent police action also is another attempt to tarnish the
Clean and Fair Election campaign.

Women’s groups call upon the police and the present administration to end all
attacks against groups who are supportive of the democratic process to reform
for a clean and fair election.

Released by:
- Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (comprising Persatuan Kesedaran
Komuniti Selangor (Empower), Women’s Aid Organisation, Sisters in Islam, All
Women’s Action Society, Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group, Women’s Centre for
Change and Perak Women for Women Society)

- Tenaganita,
- Association of Women’s Lawyers, and
- Persatuan Sahabat Wanita, Selangor.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Message from our President - Brainstorming Session, save the date 13.8.2011

"Dear AWL Members,

We will be having a brainstorming session on 13 August 2011 with all members.This session is to help us all plan and strategize for the coming years, the activites or
issues that we all want AWL to be involved with. There will be an external facilitator to help us with the session. Angela Kukuthas is an activist who has conducted faciltiation processes for many organisations. We are at present working with her to draw up a Terms Of Reference for the session. She will help us asses where we are and where we want to be.

We, as members have a stake in this organisation. If we want to make
AWL relevant to us, to all women lawyers and to the community, then
we must be willing to walk the extra mile to get involved.

Having a group of Exco members working on issues or activities is
insufficient to make AWL work and to make AWL relevant and different
from the BAR. We need active participation and for those reasons at
the AGM there was a conscious effort to co-opt more members, in
particular the younger fraternity.

Please keep the date, 13 August free.Will inform you of the time and venue closer to the event. However, we would like to have a head count as to how many of you are committed to attend. This will help us source the appropriate venue.

Please respond with your name and contact number to Hope to hear from all of you positively.

Warm regards,

Meera Samanther


Supremely hard juggling act from the New Straits Times.

Supremely hard juggling act
By Chok Suat Ling

Successful leaders like (clockwise, from left) Toh Puan Uma Sambanthan, Tun Dr
Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, Tun Dr Fatimah Hashim, F.R. Bhupalan and Tan Sri P.G. Lim
have shown the way to progress and development to other women in Malaysia.
GENERATION X, Y and Z probably can't recall the times when girls did not go to
school. But, yes, in those days -- no, not during the Mesolithic Age -- girls
were not accorded that privilege.

Many other things were also off limits. If women worked at all, it was in menial
positions, to clear the sump in the bowels of an organisation.

Several formidable women broke through the barriers. In Malaysia, several names
immediately come to mind: Tun Dr Fatimah Hashim, Tan Sri P.G. Lim, Toh Puan Uma
Sambanthan, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali and F.R. Bhupalan, to name just a few.
They helped open the doors for others and brought about progress and

Among others, the National Policy on Women was formulated; a special chapter on
Women and Development was incorporated into the Sixth Malaysia Plan; and the
Women, Family and Community Development Ministry was established.

Indeed, much has been done to uplift the welfare of the daughters of Eve. On
Monday, they received another boon. A new government policy was announced --
corporate Malaysia was given five years to ensure 30 per cent of boardroom
members comprise women.

Three days later, the mood remains celebratory. Women around the country
jubilated over the recognition. After all, they have always known that they are
often far more efficient and meticulous than their male counterparts; are
natural multitaskers; and can face up to greater challenges. And pain.

They are not only capable of taking care of the roost and its demanding
occupants, but also ministries, constituencies, corporations and entire
galaxies, if that were possible.

Girls outperform boys in school and public examinations. Two-thirds of the
student population at public universities are also female. Girls also have a
thicker corpus callosum -- they are "wired" differently and are thus better in
many respects. (So, why do we need men again?)

There is no doubt, therefore, that women deserve more.

But everything that is good and all the progress that has been achieved come
with a price. Is it too high to pay?

Women now juggle careers and family. It is difficult, if not impossible, one or
the other will inevitably fall, no matter how skilled the juggler.

A high-flying chief executive officer once admitted, off-the-record, during an
interview that she hadn't been there through much of her children's growing-up
years. She would return home when they were already asleep on most days, and
left their care largely to the maid. She endeavoured to spend quality time with
them during the school holidays, but could usually only accommodate a five-day
break abroad at most.

She was grateful that they had "turned out well" despite it, and were now
pursuing their studies in prestigious universities abroad.

But not everyone is as lucky. Not many can have their cake and eat it, too.
Boorish, indisciplined children, rising numbers of adolescents seeking
psychiatric help and all manner of decadent behaviour among pre-pubescents
previously only seen in horror movies, attest to this.

Many other high-ranking career women share the same story. One related how she
is on the verge of collapse on most days, shuttling between meetings,
video-conferencing sessions and attending to clients, staff and family. On top
of that, she has to find time to "alleviate engorgement" or in other words,
express milk for her 9-month-old baby and rush home before he falls asleep.
Usually, she doesn't make it and is wracked with guilt.

It's not just those in top posts that experience this. Some also bail out of
promising careers because they simply can't cope. The thinning hair and
persistent stress-related outbreak of rashes are just not worth it.

And then, there are those who choose not to get married or have children to
focus on their careers.

"No point bringing kids into the world if I can't give them my all.

Society still expects us to play the main role in child rearing and we can't do
both without compromising one, or both. I choose career," a senior marketing
manager told me matter of factly.

Flexi-hours, telecommuting and the setting up of creches at workplaces may
alleviate the burden to a certain extent. But it remains that it is difficult to
follow in the footsteps of high-achieving women. Not impossible, but very tough.

Something always has to give in the end. The question is, which is it?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sexism and the Client

Interesting article on how to deal with unwanted advances from a client.

Sexism and the Client
by Kat on 06/23/2010 · 208 comments
in Being Girly,Business Etiquette,Careerism,CoWorker Problems,Love,Networking,Professionalism
We got a fascinating reader email from an eighth year attorney on the partnership track…
I am actively trying to build my client base, including going to lunches with local CEOs of start-up companies, etc. Today I went on a lunch with a 50ish CEO that I met at a seminar my firm hosted. During this lunch meeting at a local restaurant, he proceeded to make a comment about how attractive I was five different times during an hour long conversation. Whenever he would do it, I would just quickly move on to another topic and not acknowledge the statement. By the time I got back to the office, I was livid. I can’t imagine any of my male colleagues having to experience a situation even remotely similar to this. Here, I am trying to build a client base for myself and my firm and in doing so, I’m reminded that I’m looked at as an attractive women first and a lawyer second. Any thoughts/comments on how I can deal with this issue in the future? Thanks in advance!
Eeeeesh. We’ll say it again: eeesh. We’re curious to hear what the readers are going to have to say about this one. (Pictured: probably what your would-be client is hoping you’ll say…) First, we would say that you have two goals at these kinds of meetings. The first goal: get the guy as a client. The second goal: not ruin your relationship with whoever introduced you to this guy. And it’s okay if you decide halfway through lunch that you do not WANT to work with this guy, and just want to get out of there without dropkicking him. After all, the kind of politeness and interest you might show to a potential client will not be the same you show to “business acquaintance of a friend.” For example, after about the third time he mentioned that you were attractive, we might say something very calm such as, “let’s stick to the topic, please.” If he still persisted, we’d lean back and start to show disinterest, or use a break in the conversation to perhaps say something like, “Oh, this reminds me of the time __” and rattle off a few of your professional accomplishments. After about the fifth time, we might invent an emergency (preferably one showing how desperately you’re needed at the office by another client) to get the heck out of there. You have to know your own tolerance for these kinds of jerks, and how much aggravation you’re willing to put up with for a potential client.
That said, you should be very mindful of your body language and other triggers that might send someone the wrong idea that it’s a date. For example, be very clear with him at the start of it about why you’re at lunch. Second, there can be overlap between “I’m a professional who’s interested” body language and “I’m a woman who’s interested” body language, such as leaning forward to show interest. For women who are interested in flirting, there are a number of other things to do to convey interest — touching your hair and body, mimicking his behavior (to suggest that you’re on the same wavelength), turning your body towards his, exposing your wrists — try to gauge yourself for how many of these things you’re doing unconsciously, because you could be sending out “I’m flirting” signals without even realizing it.
Readers, what are your tips for dealing with this kind of situation?Read more:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sexual Harrassment

Dear members,

Check out this article in "Malaysia Today" on Sexual Harrasment.

A quick update: AWL had sent its committee member, Ms Tham Hui Ying to
hold a watching brief at the domestic enquiry conducted by the
Ministry of Tourism, Malaysia at their offices in Putra World Trade
Centre on 2.6.2011. This was in relation to the complaint raised by a
female tour guide that she had been sexually harassed by a male tour
bus driver.

Siu Lin

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Father, the Judge (Stories from the East)

Written by our own Chong Yuh Tyng, AWL committee member.

This article is extracted from "Loyarburok".

Siu Lin

My Father, the Judge (Stories from the East)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A role model for us nearer home, Dato' Ambiga Sreenevasan.

I would like to share with you this well written article on Dato' Ambiga Sreenevasan which I extracted from the US Department of State's Official Blog (
I was particularly inspired by her courage and her words, “Gender equality is a responsibility of all Malaysians,”.

Goh Siu Lin
Hon. Secretary 2011/2012

"Ambiga Sreenevasan: “Gender Equality Is a Responsibility for All Malaysians”
Posted by Ruth Bennett on Mar 09, 2009 - 12:54 PM

About the Author: Ruth Bennett serves as the Public Affairs Advisor for the Office of International Women’s Issues. This entry is one in a series of profiles of the 2009 International Women of Courage Award recipients.

Malaysian Bar Council President Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan is a high-powered, high-profile advocate for good governance, democracy, and human rights.

Elected in March, 2007, Dato’ Ambiga is the second female Bar Council president in that organization’s history. Six months after assuming her leadership, she organized the “March for Justice,” in Malaysia’s administrative capital, calling for judicial reform and investigation of a tape allegedly showing a key lawyer fixing judicial appointments and judges’ case assignments. Her public actions, and an intense lobbying campaign, led to a Royal Commission and a finding of need for corrective action.

Dato’ Ambiga has also consistently supported the rule of law during her tenure, condemning the politically-motivated arrests of two journalists, and the government’s banning of an ethnic Indian activist group and arrest of its members.

Dato’ Ambiga’s most controversial work is in the areas of religious freedom and women’s rights. She has assertively confronted sexism in Parliament, taking her case directly to the public when necessary. “Gender equality is a responsibility of all Malaysians,” she wrote in a press release that protested a politician’s patronizing remarks. She successfully fought to amend Malaysia’s Federal Constitution to ensure that women’s testimony would carry equal weight to men’s in Shari’a courts. She continues to fight for the religious freedom of women who convert to Islam upon marriage. Under current law, these women are not allowed to return to their original religions on dissolution of the marriage, regardless of the reason for its termination.

As a result of her attempts to find legal solutions to issues that continue to generate inter-ethnic tensions and constitutional problems, Dato’Ambiga has received hate mail, death threats, and had a Molotov cocktail thrown at her house. Hundreds of people from religious groups and conservative members of government have protested at the Bar Council building and called for her arrest.

In a country with a potentially volatile religious and ethnic mix, Dato’ Ambiga has courageously persevered in seeking answers from within the rule of law, and worked relentlessly and energetically for that legal and governing structure to be made more transparent, accessible, and equitable to all

Friday, April 8, 2011

Annual General Meeting 7.4.2011

Dear members,

The Annual General Meeting of the Association of Women Lawyers was
held on 7.4.2011 and I introduce to you your new executive committee:

President: Meera Samanther (
Vice President: Foo Yet Ngo (
Secretary: Goh Siu Lin (
Treasurer: Khoo Chai Har (
Committee members: Chong Yuh Tyng (, Kathlyn Lee (, Tham Hui Ying (

Co-opted committee members: Vicky Alahakone (, Kiran Dhaliwal (, Jane Pragasam (, Cherrien Chan Siew Chin (

We have just created a new e-group for members and look forward to
future discussions online.

Please come forward and volunteer to assist AWL in boosting its
membership and also to take part in our future projects.

Goh Siu Lin
Hon. Secretary 2011/2012

Secretary's Report

The Executive Committee 2010/2011 elected at the last Annual General Meeting of 29.4.2010 continued with its work on various projects with an aim to increase awareness and boost the membership of the Association of Women Lawyers (“AWL”). What follows are the highlights of the AWL 2010-2011 calendar.

1. 30th June, 2010:
Coffee, Chit-Chat” was the first event organized by AWL to kick-start the year. This informal get-together was held at Old Town White Coffee Shop to provide networking opportunities for AWL members and to raise awareness with the objective of recruiting new members. Approximately 15 persons attended and those present had an enjoyable time.
2. 12th August, 2010:
The next event held focused on a topic that dominated the headlines of the day involving Ms Daphne Iking and Section 498 of the Penal Code.
Ms Honey Tan was invited by AWL to give a talk on “The Enticement of Women, Fact or Fiction?”
This forum was co-organised by AWL with University Tunku Abdul Rahman (“UTAR”) where the venue and refreshments for approximately 60 participants were fully sponsored by the latter. We wish to thank Ms Yogeswary Alahakone for helping AWL organise the event.
This event also received publicity in the Metro section of the Star with the assistance of Datuk Ng Poh Tip. AWL had received many telephone enquiries from members of the public on the event. Overall, the turnout was good with the majority of attendees being students.


(i) Sexual Harassment
3. The AWL Exco Committee members, Ms Meera Samanther and Ms Kiran Dhaliwal have been tasked to peruse through the Sexual Harassment Circular of the Bar Council and also to look at the proposed Sexual Harassment Complaint Mechanism drafted by the Bar Council.
4. AWL is currently identifying the main areas of concerns on the Complaint Mechanism that was adopted sometime in 2007 via their circular no. 54/2007 as the Executive Committee was of the view that the procedures ought to be simplified so as not to duplicate the Disciplinary Board proceedings. This is to reduce unnecessary trauma to the victim and accused. AWL is still in discussions with the relevant person in charge in the Bar Council and will follow up with the proposed simplification of the complaint mechanism. However, the Executive Committee’s main objective is to push for a Sexual Harassment Legislation
(ii) Watching Brief – Shamalar’s Case
5. AWL is monitoring closely the progress of Shamala’s Case as it progresses through the Court of Appeal and Federal Courts as its ultimate decision would have significant impact on the lives of women and children.
Meera Samanther and Jane Pragasam held watching brief for this case on behalf of AWL. Written submissions (on the Convention of the Rights of the Child) prepared by Ms Meera Samanther, have also been filed.


(i) Endorsement of Public Interest Petitions
6. AWL supported the following two petitions:
a) CIVIL SOCIETY PETITION initiated by the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and Women's Aid Organisation (WAO): “Support the Right to Freedom of Expression in Malaysia”; and
b) “90 Days For Malaysian Mums” a petition seeking 90 days maternity leave for Malaysian mothers.
(ii) SUHAKAM Nomination.
7. Ms Meera Samanther was proposed by AWL as a SUHAKAM member

(iii) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief
8. On 20.5.2010, AWL supported the candidacy of Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan for the post of Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

(iv) National Consultation with Ms. Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women (“SRVAW”), its causes and consequences

9. On 13.1.2011, Ms Goh Siu Lin represented AWL at the National Consultation with Ms Rashida Manjoo in which several other womens’ organisations also took part including inter alia, WAO, AWAM, Pink Triangle, Tenaganita, Sisters in Islam, Perak Women for Women, Foreign Spouses Support Group and Health Equity Initiatives. Ms Meera Samanther, who chaired the Consultation in her capacity as President of WAO, informed that the women’s groups were glad to see a representative from AWL after many years of absence.

10. Siu Lin reported to the AWL Exco that attending the Consulation was an eye-opening experience for her and she benefited tremendously from hearing first hand, of the work carried out by the SRVAW who interestingly, is a volunteer, being only reimbursed for her travelling expenses on her missions.

The SRVAW would first write for permission to visit a country and if invited, whilst there, takes on the role of highlighting to the government of the day, issues of violence against women to seek justice and redress to its victims. Insofar as Malaysia is concerned, the SRVAW has written to the Government of the Malaysia on the plight of the Penan women in Sarawak but has not been invited in her capacity as Special Rapporteur.

The programme of the day included talks given by speakers from various Malaysian NGOs on the following topics:

a) Challenges in the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act 1994;
b) State Policy: A contributing factor to the vulnerability of foreign spouses;
c) Violence against Trans-women in Malaysia, an overview;
d) Patriachal Interpretation of the Syariah Leading to Violence Against Muslim Women in Malaysia.

At the Consultation, Siu Lin learnt and shared with the AWL Exco about the concept of “intersectionality” where women’s issues ought not to be dealt with in isolation but that such issues intersect with each other, for example, race, religion, social status, trans-women etc. requiring a holistic approach in problem-solving.

This also highlighted to her in a very real way the potential of AWL in making a positive impact on the improvement of individuals in society and Malaysia as a whole. Particularly once AWL succeeds in achieving a strong membership base, it would then be in a better position to leverage on the varied expertise of its members and to work towards legal reforms in a more impactful way.

11. AWL’s future rests in its members and we hope that with your support we can make a difference and achieve our mission and objectives.

Dated 7th April, 2011.

Goh Siu Lin
Hon. Secretary 2010/2011