Photo by Jul Indra Tofan, Senior Administrative Assistant, Bar Council
A very good morning to
YBhg Tan Sri Datuk Zainun Ali;
Judge Amy Alabado Avellano from the Philippines;
Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan;
Shahareen Begum and Honey Tan Lay Ean, Co-Chairpersons of the Bar Council
Women’s Rights Committee (“WRC”);
Invited speakers and moderators, each distinguished in their respective fields and careers;
Members of the Bar; and
Last but not least — you, our online audience.
1. Welcome to the inaugural Women’s Rights Conference of the Malaysian Bar organised by the Bar Council’s Women’s Rights Committee (“WRC”).
2. Let me begin by citing some statistics for context: Currently as of 16 March 2021, 55% of the Malaysian Bar is women. That is — we have 11,194 strong, capable, and talented women lawyers across the country, each of them making the Malaysian Bar proud in all their endeavours: as skilled advocates and solicitors; as learned and wise Judges; as defenders of justice, the rule of law, and democracy; as social activists championing the rights of the oppressed; and anything and everything that they put their minds and hearts to. And that number will increase.
3. Even today’s Conference is the culmination of the time and effort our women Members have consistently put in through the years in advancing women’s rights, in striving to make the world a better and fairer place for everyone of all genders. We are to respect, admire and even aspire to their levels of commitment and passion. So please join me to applaud all the good they have done, and for their work ahead.
4. The work is ceaseless and in all candour, it won’t stop in our time. There have been setbacks and pushbacks from various quarters. But we must persevere. We need to continue the ongoing discourse and advocacy for women’s rights through more platforms and engagements such as this Conference today.
5. Today’s Conference will explore the work of women in many fields: as Judges, at the Bar, and in NGOs. The issues discussed will also highlight how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lives of women lawyers, both professionally and personally. The speakers come from different regions of Malaysia, and from the Philippines, Singapore, and India, bringing with them diverse disciplines and experiences. My sincerest gratitude to the speakers for accepting our invitation to share your views and knowledge with our Members.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
6. Women lawyers, like in many other professions, are facing the problem of a faulty system, despite forming an integral part of the Bar. According to a survey conducted by the Association of Women Lawyers (“AWL”), 68% of legal assistants are women but only 42% stay on long enough to become partners, with a significant 41% of women lawyers confessing that having children has had a high impact on their careers. And now with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted conventional legal practice, the profound imbalance in the lives of our women lawyers has only increased.
7. The Bar is aware that women lawyers are being overlooked or excluded from promotion and leadership pipelines. I believe that no one should have to choose between being a mother, being a wife, a daughter, or being a woman in charge of her career and destiny.
8. Please allow me, as President, to reaffirm the Bar’s commitment to promote gender equality in the workplace, in terms of pay and promotion opportunities. This is my pledge to you — that I will strive to make the legal profession more accommodative towards women lawyers, so that all may compete on a level playing field. Gender bias has no place in the 21st century and sexism in the legal profession must cease.
9. Under our term, the Bar will strive to be progressive by integrating technology with the legal profession so that more gender barriers are broken down and gender discrimination eradicated for the betterment of us all. The use of artificial intelligence, remote hearing technology and remote working solutions — partially spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic — will hopefully chip away at conventional constraints, familial and otherwise, thus empowering and equipping women with choice, liberating them from compulsion.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
10. The Bar is committed to creating a safe working space within the legal profession and eradicating any form of sexual harassment. We do acknowledge that sexual harassment is a very important issue, and we cannot be in denial. I believe that no one should live in fear of harassment, intimidation or predation, be it in their workplace or at home. No one should suffer in silence. Your wellbeing is of paramount concern. All lawyers and pupils must be free from unwanted harassment and intimidation, to be able to achieve their fullest potential and provide quality legal services.
11. It is a priority for us to create awareness and change the law on sexual harassment. We are looking to categorise sexual harassment as a form of misconduct in our amendments to the Legal Profession Act 1976.
12. Second, we will work on establishing and implementing best practices for support, reporting and processing of complaints of sexual harassment. The Bar has prepared a paper concerning sexual harassment, which is at its final stage. I hope that in the near future, it will be less prohibitive for complainants to make complaints regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. At the same time, any system or mechanism that is put in place must ensure that fairness and impartiality are maintained. We will continue to work on what is best for our Members to ensure all complaints are channelled in the right manner. In doing so, we ought to be extremely careful in weighing the law so that any measures that we implement will not be ultra vires.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
13. I have taken enough time from your Conference. Today, you will celebrate each other’s achievements, learn from one another, and chart the path forward for the world to see. Women are a solace to a world in a sorry state, and the women of the Bar, as paragons and pioneers in all that we do, will always be heard, loud and clear. Let your voices soar.
14. With that, I wish you a meaningful and an enriching Conference. Thank you.
A G Kalidas
20 Mar 2021