Friday, June 10, 2016

President's Address - 33rd Annual General Meeting of the Association of Women Lawyers (9th May, 2016)


It has been a gift and honour serve as President of AWL, my first year in this role. I am thankful for the unwavering support of the AWL Exco. We have shared novel experiences as well as challenges which have taken us off the beaten path and beyond our usual comfort zones. Its been an interesting journey.

For me personally, there were many firsts. I learnt how to draft my first press statement, spoke at my first press conference, attended meetings advocating for law reform with policy-makers (on the Domestic Violence Act and the Child Act) and chaired meetings comprising representatives from governmental and non-governmental agencies for the Child Sexual Abuse SOP project. I also observed the marvellous friendship and synergy of the women activists who make up the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG), a coalition of 12 womens groups. They are tireless, strong and courageous. 

I am grateful for dedication and commitment of the AWL Exco. We work well as a team, with a shared passion to carry out AWLs main objectives. These include:

        To promote and increase the participation of women in all levels of judicial, legal and public institutions.

        To provide education, gender sensitization and awareness in legal and related fields.

        To monitor laws, legislation, policies and practice directions and to advocate reforms that ensures promotion of equality and eradication of all forms of discrimination against women.

        To promote the adoption and implementation of international human rights standards, principles and norms.

        To provide a professional and social network for women lawyers and law graduates in Malaysia

We draw our inspiration from those who have paved the way before us. Our founding members, Dato Noor Farida Ariffin (former Ambassador to the Hague and G25 spokesperson), Tan Sri Dato Seri Siti Norma Yaacob (our first woman Federal Court Judge) and Dato Ambiga Sreenivasan (former Malaysian Bar President and co-chairperson of BERSIH, a coalition for free and fair elections).

AWL is also fortunate to have the continuing support of three of our past Presidents, Ms Vicky Alahakone, Ms Foo Yet Ngo and immediate past-President, Ms Meera Samanther.
Over the past year, AWL has concentrated on the areas of law reform, advocacy and outreach to the law colleges. It has been gratifying to see how each has taken form and the Annual Report has set out comprehensively the work that we have done so far. Today, I would like to highlight three projects:

a) The Child Sexual Abuse SOP project From July 2015 to December, 2015, AWL had collaborated with the Attorney-Generals Chambers, WCC Penang, various governmental agencies and Child NGOs to identify gaps in the legal system and support services with the aim of creating a working together document/SOP on handling children involved in suspected child abuse/child sexual abuse. In January, 2016, AWL submitted a concept paper to YBGK (the National Legal Aid Foundation), seeking to extend YBGK support for victims of child sexual abuse, human-trafficking and domestic violence.

As a natural progression, AWL is currently working on forming a team of lawyers to provide watching brief support for survivors of child sexual abuse, to increase their access to justice, provide them with a voice and to alleviate re-traumatisation caused by the legal process. We have recently recruited six lawyers trained in Child Representation skills to be part of the AWL CSA team.

b) The Human trafficking project AWL had organised a series of talks to raise awareness and field trips to better understand the needs of human-trafficking survivors:

        27th January, 2015: AWL-KL Bar Activist Series: Legal Case Management Support for Victims of Human Trafficking by Daniel Lo;

        18th February, 2015: CNY visit to the shelter;

        12th August, 2015: AWL-KL Bar Activist Series Capacity Building for Lawyers to work with Victims of Human Trafficking by Anderson Selvasegaram and Tharini Cecil of Suka Society, Goh Siu Lin and Daniel Lo

        7th November, 2015: Deepavali visit to the shelter;

        16th December, 2015: Xmas visit to the shelter.

Originally, AWL aimed to work with the relevant NGOs to provide victim-centred legal services, such as pamphlets or videos on FAQs (legal process/ immigration/ ATIPSOM/ compensation). However, this project has to be put on hold due to events beyond our control.

c)  The Gender Equality Initiative is a collaboration between AWL, the Malaysian Bar and local private law colleges. Its aim is to create greater awareness amongst law students on gender equality. Last years GEI highlighted issues arising from Gender Discrimination within the Learning Environment and was very well received by the law students. The GEI appears to have taken a life of its own with more and more private law colleges and non-law colleges wanting to jump on board.

For 2016, the theme Women in Leadership Positions was selected, casting a spotlight on the challenges that women face when climbing up the corporate ladder, particularly the impact of gender stereotyping and gender discrimination. The statistics reveal that women are severely under-represented at the top levels of all sectors. We need to close this gender gap, break down the barriers to leadership and enhance opportunities for women to advance.

This years colloquium will take place on 14th June, 2016 at Inti College. The GEI colloquium has been ably led by Meera Samanther, Santhi Latha and Ida Daniella Zulkifili. Thank you!

Why do we need AWL?

I now move on to address a question which I frequently hear when I invite lawyers to become members of AWL.  Many have questioned the need for a society dedicated to women lawyers and law students.

To this, I say that AWL provides a valuable platform for women lawyers to speak with a collective voice in a supportive environment. AWL provides greater visibility to advocate for focused change on issues that impact us as women lawyers as well as on laws that impact women and children generally.

AWL has the potential for a diverse and rich membership base for professional networking and support. In the months to come, we hope to hold networking luncheons for members. I have recently spoken to the Gender and Inclusive Head of an international bank to speak at our inaugural lunch networking luncheon. So, stay tuned for more details!

In addition, to showcase the professional capabilities of women lawyers, AWL has in collaboration with the Kuala Lumpur Bar, organised a forum titled Women in Arbitration. Three women practitioners of differing seniority are featured, they are, Ms Tan Swee Imm, Ms Elaine Yap (AWL member) and Ms Sharon Chong. So do pencil in 12th of August 2016 into your diaries and give them your fullest support. 
I hope to see more members coming forward to work with us in making a difference as we continue to push the boundaries for womens equality and advancement both in the legal and non-legal spheres. To end, let me quote the inspirational words of my favourite badass feminist, Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who when asked as to how she would like to be remembered, said:

"Someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has. To do something........ outside myself. 'Cause I've gotten much more satisfaction for the things that I've done for which I was not paid."

Thank you.
            Goh Siu Lin
President, Association of Women Lawyers

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