Women with disabilities, pregnancy and workplace discrimination

By Lee Xin Ying


On Women International Day, Women Aids Organisation (WAO) launched an art exhibition, entitled “Invisible Women“, held at the Black Box at Publika, Mont Kiara,  The highlight of the art exhibition are stories of discrimination against women at workplace on the occurrence of pregnancy and motherhood.  Meera Samanther, Vice President of WAO, described pregnancy and maternity as a social function and a basic right of women to be treated equally.  Calling for ownership to the solution to the government, public sector, the private sector and the community.


In fact, the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) review in 2006 recommended the implementation of Gender Equality law. The purpose of the Gender Equality Law would address gender based discrimination. the possibility of redress and being responsible for issues face in the public and private sectors and ensuring women who suffers discrimination has ease of access to justice (considering the cost, time and effort in the legislative process). The same comment was given in 2018 CEDAW review.  Malaysia has an international obligation to enact the Gender Equality Act.


Meera also stressed for a timeline and set actions to be taken.  In November 2016, Dato’ Sri Hajjah Rohani Abdul Karim, Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development announced in Parliament that they are working on a Gender Equality Act. The drafting of the Act involves Women Aids Organisation and Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG). An important issue to look now is women in private sectors has no protection from gender discrimination.


Vicki Treadell, the British High Commissioner to Malaysia said the enactment of Gender Equality Act, will make employers consider and respect women.

“It is the biological factor that women are the ones to conceive and carry the baby.  We need to be open minded to solutions to help the women in their careers, empower them and to build their potential, rather than penalising them,” Treadell explained.


The phenomenon of maternity penalty and the paternity bonus

Tan Heang-Lee, Communications Officer of WAO shared a study in which a group of mothers versus women without children compared to a group of fathers versus men without children were rated on their workplace performance.  It was found that fathers are rated as more high performing compared to mothers in the event that both of them have children. The first discrimination occurred when the question was asked about whether to employ the woman.


How to create a supportive environment and a non-discriminatory practice in companies for females in the event of pregnancy and maternity?

Some of the solutions proposed are flexible working hours and longer maternity and longer paternity leave.

Adi Wira Abdul Razak, Head of the Supply Chain, Sime Darby Property, shared that Sime Darby Property has several good practices such as the extension of maternity leave to 3 months and also the introduction  of paternity leave of 7 days.  Besides that, expectant mothers are allowed to go home one and a half hour early.

Yu Ren Chung, the Acting Executive Director of WAO stressed three important points to be taken note of regarding the issue,  Firstly, the definition of discrimination,second, protection for people in the private sector and thirdly, the duty and the obligation of the minister to take corrective steps to tackle the issue.


On Women With Disabilities:

Meera Samanther, said that women with disabilities were having difficulties finding access to help as well.  She described the Person With Disabilities (PWD) Act as a toothless tiger and  that women with disabilities are having difficulties in accessing their rights.


Women must know their rights in the event that they experience discrimination and the appropriate platform  according to Meera, such as  the industry relation officer for the issues from the private sector  and the government officer currently with the government sector

Meera said that women with disailities should get together and start a movement for gender and disability equality in employment.

Start the conversation. Get creative and innovative in  your approach. Most importantly, build the momentum for the push for the rights of the PWDs such as cases of women with disabilities getting pregnant and facing discrimination in the workplace in an intersection of disabilities, gender and their economic background as well.” explained Meera.