Un­even le­gal field

Lawyers fight for jus­tice for oth­ers but women lawyers seem no bet­ter equipped to fend off dis­crim­i­na­tory em­ploy­ment prac­tices and sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - WOMAN -

She just jig­gles and the files will come run­ning. No need to do any­thing. For women lawyers it comes easy, just sleep your way up.”

“Why you are very good, what have you done to all the people (to) pass cases to you, they ‘keep’ you?”

Many Malaysians would nod in agree­ment hear­ing those com­ments or laugh. Fewer would froth at the mouth be­cause these are sex­ist re­marks.

These com­ments were ut­tered by some of the re­spon­dents in Malaysia’s first ever Base­line Study on the Work­ing Con­di­tions of Male and Fe­male Lawyers in Kuala Lumpur and Se­lan­gor.

The re­search project ti­tled “51%! Is it a Level Play­ing Field?” was com­mis­sioned by the As­so­ci­a­tion of Women Lawyers (AWL), in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Malaysian Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion (Suhakam) and Women’s Aid Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WAO), and was funded by the United Na­tions Pop­u­la­tion Fund in Malaysia.

The project re­port was pre­pared by Univer­siti Malaya’s (UM) Dr Lai Suat Yan (chief con­sul­tant), Dr Kup­pusamy Sin­gar­avel­loo (statis­ti­cian), Dr Nur­jaanah Chew Li Hua and Dr Sa­rina Mo­hamed (re­searchers).

The re­search find­ings were made pub­lic yes­ter­day at the Kuala Lumpur Bar Au­di­to­rium.

In an exclusive in­ter­view, AWL pres­i­dent and project co­or­di­na­tor Meera Sa­man­ther says one could be lulled into think­ing sta­tis­ti­cally that the hir­ing of women lawyers is fair since women lawyers rep­re­sent 51% of the Malaysian Bar.

How­ever, gen­der equal­ity is not alive and well in the le­gal pro­fes­sion.

The sur­vey shows it is not a level play­ing field in re­gard to women’s po­si­tion in the law firm, pro­mo­tions and salaries, es­pe­cially if they are also moth­ers.

And it is not just about bal­anc­ing work and home life but can in­volve bend­ing/break­ing one’s val­ues and prin­ci­ples.

A fe­male part­ner who was sur­veyed noted this: “Male lawyers were not re­stricted in this re­gard and could in­dulge in the nightlife which in­cluded go­ing out for drinks and mas­sages as part of net­work­ing to en­ter­tain clients.”

She cited this as the rea­son why she would not get cor­po­rate work.

We’ve all heard anec­do­tal evi- dence like this be­fore, says Meera, but for the first time we have a sta­tis­ti­cally based study to cite now.

She says that Dr Lai, who was over­seas dur­ing this in­ter­view, played a crit­i­cal role in pro­vid­ing a fem­i­nist per­spec­tive to the study.

For one, the study cov­ered both fe­male and male lawyers for a more bal­anced pic­ture of the ex­is­tence and per­cep­tions around gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion and bias in the le­gal pro­fes­sion.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, re­searchers used both quan­ti­ta­tive and qual­i­ta­tive meth­ods to ob­tain data; the quan­ti­ta­tive sur­vey com­ple­mented by the qual­i­ta­tive in­ter­views pro­vided in-depth de­tails of the dis­crim­i­na­tion faced by work­ing moth­ers which in­cluded lesser re­mu­ner­a­tion and chances of pro­mo­tion and ad­vance­ment.

Dr Kup­pusamy, who is also act­ing di­rec­tor of UM’s Cen­tre for Con­tin­u­ing Ed­u­ca­tion, says they used a strat­i­fied ran­dom sam­pling pro­ce­dure to se­lect the re­spon­dents from the list of reg­is­tered lawyers as at De­cem­ber 2012.

This gave a sam­ple of 9,631 law-

as­so­ci­a­tion of Women Lawyers pres­i­dent Meera Sa­man­ther re­vealed that a re­cent base­line study shows that gen­der equal­ity is not alive and well in the le­gal pro­fes­sion in Malaysia. yers, com­pris­ing 51% fe­male lawyers and 49% male lawyers.

Dr Kup­pusamy says there were 198 re­sponses to the quan­ti­ta­tive sur­vey but three con­sul­tants were omit­ted due to the small fig­ure not be­ing sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant in analysing the data.

“How­ever, they were in­cluded in the qual­i­ta­tive part as it adds more in-depth un­der­stand­ing of the is­sue at hand.”

Meera says they planned to sur­vey 450 re­spon­dents but could not be­cause of the lawyers’ busy sched­ules and the project time­line. The quan­ti­ta­tive as­pect of the study looked at sta­tus in firm, at­tri­tion rate, lead­er­ship role in the Bar Coun­cil’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee or the KL and Se­lan­gor state Bars and work­ing con­di­tions.

Based on three time frames (March 2011, De­cem­ber 2011 and De­cem­ber 2012), the sta­tis­tics show:

> Women make up over 60% of le­gal as­sis­tants while men com­prise about 75% of con­sul­tants;

> Sole pro­pri­etors – 35% fe­male

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