Thursday, December 26, 2013

Baseline Study on the Working Conditions of Male and Female Lawyers in KL and Selangor - out in Praxis!

Article reproduced from the Jul-Sept 2013 issue:

The Association of Women Lawyers ("AWL") is conducting this study with the collaboration of Human Rights Commission of Malaysia ("SUHAKAM") and the Women's Aid Organisation ("WAO"). Legal and gender experts and a statistician from the University of Malaya ("UM") have been engaged as consultants.)


The main purpose of the study is to ascertain, among others, the working conditions of lawyers, their job satisfaction and the existence of any form of gender discrimination, if any, in the legal profession in Malaysia. The study will also include issues of sexual harassment.

To gain more insight into the study, we approached Meera Samanther, President of AWL to explain what the study is all about.


First things first: What is AWL?

AWL is an association of female lawyers from Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. We are responsible for the promotion of the rights, welfare and professional development of women lawyers and law graduates in Malaysia. It is an organisation to eliminate discrimination and ensure full and equal participation of women lawyers and law graduates in the legal and related fields.

Apart from promoting gender equality and increasing the participation of women in all levels of legal and public institutions, AWL also aims to help support young female lawyers, so that they learn from their "sisters-at-law" who were there before them.


How did the idea of conducting this study come about?

It all started over a cup of latte in 2010, when my friend Sheena Gurbakash (a former practitioner) and I started lamenting and discussing the various ways in which we could get AWL members energised and focused on what's best for AWL. We decided to hold a brainstorming session where some of the younger members shared about the sexual harassment cases they knew of and the intimidation they experienced. Some also spoke about how they were encouraged by their lecturers to steer towards a path in conveyancing and family law, as apparently, it best suited a woman's lifestyle. When I was in Melbourne, I met with the Dean of the Law Faculty, who shared with me the various surveys that the Victorian Women Lawyers had conducted and so over our third cup of latte, Sheena and I realised that an exclusive study on sexual harassment would be insufficient because we felt that we needed to broaden our survey to look further and look at why women lawyers face unique challenges in their career.


Why is there a need to conduct this study?

There has never been any kind of survey or analysis of how women have progressed in the profession. We accept that there are rising stars and women with amazing competence through the years, e.g. Puan Hendon Mohamed, the late Tan Sri Lim Phaik Gan, Tan Sri Norma Yaakob and Dato' Ambiga Sreenevasan, who are somewhat legendary in the legal circles. We also realise that there are many women who own their own firms or hold senior positions and who have exceeded clients' expectations. We also acknowledge the great strides that women have made in the judiciary, the Attorney General's Chambers, and also women lawyers who are less in the limelight but no less competent in the corporate world, who all began their career as lawyers. We are extremely proud of these individuals.

The profession has grown by leaps and bounds and there are many young female lawyers, who are making their way through the ranks and looking for opportunities for Mentorship and guidance. AWL Would like to play an active role in supporting these young lawyers. From the survey, we hope to obtain responses from women and men to get some kind of baseline about working conditions and social attitudes in practice.


How do you ensure that data collected from the study accurately reflects the true state of working conditions of lawyers in the Kiang Valley and Selangor?


As the sample of lawyers forming the survey is randomly selected and the field broad and large, it is hope that any lopsidedness is eradicated and we get a true picture and perspective of the working conditions of the current practitioners. There is no guarantee of course but when the numbers are big, and random, there are less chances for the study to be slanted in any way.


We hope that this study will reveal the situation from the surface and to gauge the general view of legal practitioners on the working conditions of male and female lawyers in Kiang Valley and Selangor. Most of our questions are based on experiences shared by male and female lawyers.


The Malaysian Bar has implemented a mechanism to deal with instances asexual harassment among members. In your opinion, how effective is this mechanism?


I realised from my observations that a lot of people do not seem to be aware of it. In fact, even some of the new members of AWL were not aware of the 2005 Bar Council Resolution and the Circular on the Code Of Practice on the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Harassment, which was circulated sometime in 2007. Therefore we cannot say that this mechanism is effective.


At the same time, we also need to understand the complexities of sexual harassment issues. The legal fraternity is small and, as much as we try to raise awareness on this matter sexual harassment is still a taboo in our society. It is something that affects the victims personally. We also need to be sensitive when approaching alleged perpetrators. However, we understand that just because sexual harassment is not discussed widely, that does not mean that it does not exist. That is why we support the Bar's efforts in this cause. We believe that it would be useful if the mechanism is discussed during the Ethics course or to have regular workshops on sexual harassment.


Other women NGOs have already conducted numerous surveys on women in the workplace. What distinguishes this one?


The unique thing about this study is that it is based on a feminist methodology on professional women that acknowledges that women and men experience social life and working life differently; Many studies have been conducted on the marginalised community in Malaysia and we are not aware of any conducted on a professional group.

This study will not only focus on direct discrimination such as sexual harassment. It will also seek to ascertain the extent of indirect discrimination in the Workplace. Indirect discrimination occurs when demands are made of employees that are not cognisant of the various social expectations that are placed on women. For example, the expectation that lawyers work long hours does not recognise that some women are also expected to care for families. A woman's inability to work those long hours may lead to her career options to be limited. We have also received anecdotal evidence that some young female lawyers are not given the opportunity to conduct their own trials as clients have this perception that male lawyers command more respect and are more competent to do so.


Thus the questions will include whether mentoring and paring for family members affect male and female lawyers differently and also whether there exists stereotypical perceptions on the ability of male and female lawyers. It is also pertinent to note that this study is targeted at both male and female lawyers, because it is not an isolated profession. Female lawyers work with male lawyers. We recognise the contributions that male lawyers have and continue to make in the legal fraternity and we are interested in what they have to say.


AWL is known as one of the women's groups, which pushed for the enactment of law on domestic violence. What do you hope to achieve with this study?


The aim of the survey is to help us understand the working conditions as well as the professional and personal challenges female lawyers face vis-a-vis male lawyers. Women lawyers make up nearly half of the Bar, and as such we have a stake in it. We all know that the level playing field is not equal between male and female lawyers even though there is nearly an equal participation of female lawyers in the profession.


We hope that this study will reveal information about how both men and women lawyers feel about their work and whether there really are androcentric biases. We also hope that this study will allow us to create programmes and action plans to address the issues women lawyers face and issues of discrimination, if any, and to work towards strengthening contribution by the women lawyers in the development of the profession and of society as a whole.


For further information on the study, please contact:

Meera Samanther

President, Association of Women Lawyers

Dr Lai Suat Yen

Lead Consultant, Baseline Study on the Working Condibbns of Male and Female Lawyers in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor


Written by:

Ida Daniella Zulkifili

Advocate and Solicitor, Shook Lin & Bok

Nur Raihan Jasmani

Advocate and Solicitor, Alahakone &Associates

No comments:

Post a Comment