Malaysian Bar wants specific anti-gender discrimination laws

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Bar has urged the Government to enact specific anti-gender discrimination laws which would further promote and protect gender equality here.

Its president Christopher Leong called upon the Government to do more in eradicating gender discrimination, pointing out that there was no law prohibiting it apart from a 2001 amendment to include gender in Article 8 of the Federal Constitution.

He added that two court decisions following the amendment did not give full effect to the principles of the Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw), which Malaysia ratified in July 1995.

Leong also urged the Government to address concerns made by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which it issued after reviewing Malaysia in May 2006.

“Many of those concerns remain outstanding, notwithstanding the passage of seven years,” he said in a statement yesterday.

Nevertheless, he welcomed the Attorney-General’s decision on Thursday to withdraw the Government’s appeal against a landmark 2011 High Court decision that it was unconstitutional to deny employment due to pregnancy.

Referring to the case of Chayed Basirun & Ors v Noorfadilla Ahmad Saikin, he said it was significant that Shah Alam High Court Justice Zaleha Yusof relied on Cedaw in clarifying what was meant by the terms “equality” and “gender discrimination”.

In the case, the state education department had revoked and withdrew Noorfadilla’s appointment as an untrained relief teacher because she was pregnant.

“The High Court held that this act amounted to gender discrimination and constituted a violation of Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution, which deals with equality before the law,” he said, commending the appeal withdrawal as a step in the right direction.

The decision was nominated for a Gavel award in Women’s Link Worldwide, an international human rights non-profit organisation which works to ensure gender equality is a reality around the world.

In her judgement, Justice Zaleha had written: “Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is a form of gender discrimination because a basic biological fact is that only women have the capacity to become pregnant.”