Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Secretary's Annual Report 2012

25TH APRIL, 2012, 6.30PM

The Executive Committee 2011/2012 elected at the last Annual General Meeting of 7.4.2011 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 2011-2012 calendar.

1. 2nd June, 2011: Watching Brief – Sexual Harassment
AWL committee member, Ms Tham Hui Ying held a watching brief at the request of WAO, 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.
A written report was prepared and submitted to WAO. The outcome was that the tour operators were not at fault and did not violate any of the guidelines of the tourism industry.

2. 1st July, 2011: Endorsing Press Statement
AWL endorsed a Joint Press Statement expressing deep concern and anger at the baseless allegations that the non-governmental organisation Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower), the Secretariat for Bersih 2.0 had links to communism

The other endorsees were: Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (comprising 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 forWomenSociety), Tenaganita and Persatuan Sahabat Wanita, Selangor

3. 1st July, 2011: Press Statement in support of Empower
AWL also issued its own Press Statement denouncing inter alia, attempts by the police and other various groups in discrediting Empower's work on political participation.

The police upon raiding Empower’s office during the Bersih 2.0 lead up, highlighted to the public, one selective poster of Shamsiah Fakeh (an activist in the early years who allegedly had links to communism). It showed the lack of understanding of all the work that women's groups have been undertaking in promoting women's participation.

4. Professional Development of Women Lawyers Project:

a) AWL and the BAR are undertaking a project to conduct a survey to determine the professional standing of women at the BAR.

b) In discussions with some of the younger female lawyers in 2011, it was brought to AWL’s attention that some young lawyers experienced sexual harassment and intimidation at the work place. Many were also unaware of the Sexual Harassment Complaints mechanism that the BAR had implemented, which was drafted by an AWL member, Simrin Gill some years ago. In view of the lack of awareness of the existence of this mechanism and that there had not been any reported cases, the Executive Committee initially decided to conduct a survey to gather empirical evidence of Sexual Harassment cases rather them just having anecdotal evidence.

c) Discussions between Meera Samanther, the President and AWL member, Sheena Gurbakash took place around July 2011 and it was decided that it would be best to conduct a survey to determine the professional development of women lawyers in KL and Selangor.

d) The aim of the survey was to help AWL and the BAR 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 for those reasons alone women lawyers have a stake in it. It is a well known fact that the level playing field is not equal between male and female lawyers and as such the BAR must look into the professional development of women lawyers and how best to help level off the playing field.

e) 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 the involvement of the Bar Council in the undertaking of this survey is essential and for 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.

f) Around September 2011, the survey company, Merdeka Survey was approached. Their proposal indicated the costs to be around RM50,000.00. In late November 2011 Sheena Gurbakash, Goh Siu Lin (Secretary) and Meera Samanther held a meeting with the President, Vice President and Treasurer of the BAR who were keen to collaborate with AWL and work on this together and who also gave a commitment on this project .

g) Around February 2012 another survey company, Metrix was also approached and after several meetings, Metrix had also given a brief on their survey which would cost around RM30,900.00 for Quantitaive survey via telephone interviews whilst a Quantitative survey via face to face interviews would be around RM 50,900.00. The Committee has yet to discuss in detail on the best option before approaching the BAR and sourcing for funding on this project.

5. 13th August, 2011: Brainstorming Session

AWL held a brainstorming session facilitated by Ms Angela Kukuthas to reassess the direction of the society and to discuss and formulate ideas / projects for the future. 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. As a result of the session, various Committees were formed to spearhead specific areas:

a) Research - looking at Baseline survey on the professional development of women lawyers (ongoing project)
b) Membership Drive
c) Communication & Media - looking at Facebook, website etc.
d) Fundraising for AWL – projects.
e) Networking
f) Professional & Personal Development
g) Constitution

6. 20.7.2011: Advocating for Sexuality Rights Human Rights ( SRHR)

Our secretary, Ms Goh Siu Lin attended as AWL’s representative, the local panel presentation "Advocating for SRHR: The Malaysian Experience", organised by the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR). CSBR comprises of organisations working on sexuality rights within the Muslim based societies. CSBR had an international workshop for a week and our President was a participant.
A local panel 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 panelists 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"

7. 11.9.2011: SHout Campaign

11 NGOs kick started a campaign to lobby for Sexual Harassment legislation in the workplace and in public spaces. The campaign had been named SHout (Sexual Harassment Out) was a follow up on from a campaign started 10 years ago by the Joint Action Women's Group (JAG) when JAG had then submitted a draft of the Sexual Harassment Bill to the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry. Prema and Meera Samanther are representatives of AWL on the legal committee.

8. BERSIH 2.0

Goh Siu Lin and Meera Samanther attended the BERSIH 2.0 meetings at the KL and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall as AWL’s representatives. Meera Samanthar is on the BERSIH Publicity Committee representing AWL.

9. 23rd November, 2011: Press Release (Peaceful Assembly Bill)

AWL issued a press release to oppose the passing of the Peaceful Asembly Bill which was a direct violation of Article 10(1)(b) of our Federal Constitution, which provides for a basic right of freedom of assembly .
10. 29th November 2011: Bar Council Demonstration (Peaceful Assembly Bill)

Strong AWL presence at the Lake Gardens to protest against the Peaceful Assembly Bill.

11. 6-8 December, 2011: Taylors’ College Law Awareness Week

On 6th December, 2011, the Secretary of AWL, Ms Goh Siu Lin, gave a presentation 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”

Our AWL volunteers on duty the next day on 7.12.2011 for our recruitment exercise at Taylors' College, Lakeside campus were successful in obtaining 12 new members.

12. 9th December, 2011: Cocktails at the German Embassy.

AWL Exco members , Meera Samanther , Foo Yet Ngo , Goh Siu Lin and Kiran Dhaliwal attended a cocktail evening, a networking event , which was hosted by the German Embassy and attended by other European Union embassies and NGOs.

13. 15th December, 2011: AWL X’mas Networking Event

The AWL Networking Committee organized a fun-filled event in December 2011 at Chef n Brew, Damansara Heights with good food, warm camaraderie and a Secret Santa Gift Exchange.

14. 18th January, 2012: KLBC Forum “Women in Law”
Our President, Meera Samanther was one of the panelists who shared her insights with fellow practitioners.

Summary of the event as extracted from the KLBar Report “The forum was attended by 36 participants. The forum covered various areas from the challenges a woman lawyer faces in the legal fraternity to excelling within the ambits of the profession. Real time experiences and knowledge were shared by the speakers who themselves have dealt with various challenges and succeeded in the profession.”

Another panelist who shared her experience was Preeta Pillai, who had since the Forum, become a member of AWL.

15. 15th February, 2012: AWL’s inaugural radio slot - Capital FM88.9

AWL's inaugral radio slot every Wednesday, 11am - 12noon hosted by well-known celebrity, Ms Asha Gill, went amazingly well and made a strong impact on its listeners. Our AWL President, Ms Meera Samanther, displayed good chemistry whilst bantering with AWL anchor Ms Sheena Gurbakhash.
They opened the show with an introduction of AWL and what its missions were. Their aim was to demystify the law so as to be able reach to as many listeners as possible. They discussed what law is and also explained the concept of equality in law by differentiating the concept of formal equality from substantive equality using the framework of CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women).

They ended with explaining the importance of every individual needing to know the value of law as it affects every one of us in our daily lives and that the public can also get involved in shaping the law.

The topics that have been discussed so far include:

1. Introduction to Contract (Sheena Gurbakhash)
2. Sexual Harrassment (Meera Samanther and Ms Betty Yeoh of All Women Action Society),
3. Introduction to Tort (Sheena Gurbakhash)
4. Children and Accidents (Sheena Gurbakhash)
5. Adoption (Sharmini Thiruchelvam)
6. Managing Debts (Norina Yahya)
7. Tax (Norina Yahya and Sheena Gurbakhash)

A press report appeared in the Star on 22 February 2012 regarding “Sexual Harassment” on Capital FM, where our President, Meera Samanther was interviewed for her views on the topic.

16. 12th February, 2012: Workshop on Watching Brief Submissions

This workshop was organized jointly by AWL, WAO, AWAM, SIS.
Our President, Meera Samanther had initiated the workshop and Zarizana Abdul Aziz, an activist and practicing lawyer conducted a 101 on amicus curaies and watching briefs. Sisters In Islam (SIS) provided the venue whilst AWAM sponsored the refreshments and food. Jessica Gonzales was the case study used to illustrate the power of watching briefs/amicus and how NGO’S and lawyers can play an active role together.

17. 17th February, 2012: Watching Brief (Ban of Sexuality Merdeka Activities)

AWL sent two of its members, Meera Samanther and Sharmini Thiruchelvam to hold a watching brief on the Judicial Review on the decision to ban Sexuality Merdeka (“SM”) activities. The lawyer for SM was Honey Tan, an AWL member.

18. 18.3.2012: Women Groups Rally “Wanita Suara Perubahan”

To celebrate International Women's Day, a coalition of 15 women NGO groups led a civil society initiative called "Wanita Suara Perubahan" (Women the Voice of Change). AWL was one of the key organisers of this event. Our President, Meera Samanther, led the march of 2000 women from Section 14 towards Padang Astaka, where the event was held.

The rally was to raise awareness on women's concerns amongst members of the public, calling specifically upon women voters to participate in the 13th General Elections for a clean government and for Members of Parliament to take heed of our 6 core demands which are:-

1. A government free of corruption.

2. A decent living wage.

3. A better quality of life.

4. An end to violence against women and all genders.

5. Repeal the Peaceful Assembly Act 2011.

6. Free and fair elections.

Around 4000 women from all corners of Malaysia came together to show their support for change for a better Malaysia.

19. AWL Facebook page

This has been set up by Ms Tham Hui Ying. It is presently under construction.

Dated 19th April, 2012.

Prepared by, GOH SIU LIN
Hon Secretary 2011/2012

Edited and approved by,
President 2011/2012

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