The Association of Women Lawyers is 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.
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
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.
gain more insight into the study, we
approached Meera Samanther, President
of AWL to explain what the study
is all about.
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
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
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
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?
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.
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
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?
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
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.
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.
information on the study, please contact: