Contributed by Eden-Joy Kalom, Officer, Bar Council Secretariat; photos by Bar Council Secretariat and the Women’s Rights Conference Sub-committee
The Women’s Rights Conference Sub-committee comprised Honey Tan (Head), Vilasini Vijandran, Tiara Katrina Fuad, Farah Shuhadah Razali, Cynthia Lee, Syazwani Suhaimy and Yau Khai Ling.
On 20 Mar 2021, the Bar Council Women’s Rights Committee (“WRC”) organised its inaugural Women’s Rights Virtual Conference 2021, entitled, “Malaysian Women Lawyers: Fit for the 21st Century”, via Zoom.
This Conference explored the work of women in many fields, such as judges, lawyers, and in non-governmental organisations (“NGOs”), as well as highlighted the impact of COVID-19 in changing the lives of women lawyers, professionally and in their personal lives.
A G Kalidas, President of the Malaysian Bar, delivering his Welcome Speech.
The conference was honoured to have featured YBhg Tan Sri Datuk Zainun Ali, former Federal Court Judge, as its Keynote Speaker; A G Kalidas, President of the Malaysian Bar, to deliver the Welcome Speech; Shahareen Begum, Secretary of the Malaysian Bar, to deliver the Closing Speech; and Kokila Vaani Vadiveloo, Selangor Bar Chairman, as its Master of Ceremonies.
YBhg Tan Sri Datuk Zainun Ali as Keynote Speaker.
Kokila Vaani Vadiveloo was the Master of Ceremonies.
(1) Panel 1 — The Federal Constitution & CEDAW: Never the Twain Shall Meet?
New Sin Yew, Bar Council member and WRC member; and Mary Shanthi Dairiam, Vice-President of the Women’s Aid Organisation and a former CEDAW Committee member, explored “equality” and “non-discrimination” under the Federal Constitution, and how the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (“CEDAW”) can be used to deal with gender discrimination. It was moderated by Honey Tan, Bar Council member and former WRC Co-Chairperson.
Honey Tan was moderator for Panel 1.
(2) Panel 2 — From East to West: How Has the “New Norm” Affected Malaysian Women in the Legal Profession?
This panel addressed the issues and challenges faced by women in the legal profession in East and West Malaysia, particularly the challenges arising directly from the COVID-19 pandemic and the steps that could be taken by the relevant stakeholders to resolve them.
The speakers were Chua Kuan Ching, Partner at Simon Siah, Chua and Chow Advocates (Sarawak); Iris Lim, Partner at Shelley Yap (Sabah) and member of the Sabah Law Society’s Court Practice (Civil) Sub-Committee and Human Rights Sub-Committee; and Yuslinov Ahmad, Partner at Yuslinov Ahmad & Petra Oon and former President of the Federation of Women Lawyers (Penang). Farah Shuhadah Razali, WRC member, moderated this panel.
Farah Shuhadah Razali moderated for Panel 2.
(3) Panel 3 — Getting from De Jure to De Facto Gender Equality: The Intersectional Approach
Dr Sharon A Bong, Associate Professor of Gender Studies at the School of Arts and Social Sciences of Monash University Malaysia; and Firdaus Husni, Chief Human Rights Strategist at the Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights (“MCCHR”), explained the concept of “intersectionality”.
They discussed how policies, laws and procedures could be made more “user-friendly” to women in all their diversity. They also exposed how the COVID-19 pandemic had made it all the more urgent that better policies, laws and procedures be put in place to help women achieve substantive equality. The moderator was Tiara Katrina Fuad, member of WRC.
Tiara Katrina Fuad as Moderator for Panel 3.
(4) Panel 4 — Intergenerational Conversations: Pupils, Junior & Senior Lawyers
Malaysian Bar statistics showed that as at 31 Mar 2020, female lawyers form 54% of the Malaysian Bar. Experiences and opinions of female lawyers of different seniorities are deeply relevant to the Malaysian Bar, as a whole. It was a rare opportunity to have an intergenerational conversation on common issues — including opportunities, challenges, COVID-19 and more — faced by female lawyers across different levels of seniority. The speakers also discussed on ways to improve the Malaysian Bar for existing and future lawyers, especially to build a sense of camaraderie among women lawyers.
Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan, Partner at Sreenevasan and past President of the Malaysian Bar (2007–2009); Nicole Wee, advocate at David Allan Sagah & Teng Advocates (Kuching, Sarawak); and Nur Kamilia Rozlan, pupil in chambers at Kanesalingam & Co., were the speakers. The session was moderated by Vilasini Vijandran, WRC member.
Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan was one of the speakers for Panel 4.
(5) Panel 5 — The World is Our Oyster: Lessons from the Philippines, Singapore & India
In Asia, the economic and social contributions made by women in the family and the workplace tend to be undervalued. Although most corporations or organisations acknowledge that gender inclusivity and fair treatment are essential, it does not always translate into practice. We heard about the barriers to women’s access to justice and how the COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated existing barriers to this access.
The Honorable Amy Alabado Avellano, Family Court Judge in the Philippines and professorial lecturer at the Philippine Judicial Academy; Malathi Das, Director of Joyce A Tan & Partners LLC (Singapore); as well as Tulika Srivastava, Executive Director of the Women’s Fund Asia (India), were lively panellists on this panel. The moderators were Cynthia Lee and Syazwani Suhaimy, WRC members.
Top panel, left to right: Syazwani Suhaimy (moderator), Tulika Srivastava and The Honorable Judge Amy Alabado Avellano. Bottom panel, left to right: Cynthia Lee (moderator) and Malathi Das.
Shahareen Begum, Secretary of the Malaysian Bar and Co-Chairperson of WRC, delivered her Closing Speech entitled “Women Lawyers at the Bar: The Future”.
Shahareen Begum, Secretary of the Malaysian Bar and current WRC Chairperson, delivering her Closing Speech.
This virtual conference was joined by 272 registered participants, and its livestream garnered almost 2,900 views on the official Malaysian Bar Facebook Page.