KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 30 ― The Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) called today for the Gender Equality Act to ensure that fathers and mothers get equal leave, as Malaysia currently does not offer paternity leave.
The women’s rights group noted that women shoulder the burden of unpaid child care and that employers view working mothers less positively than women without children, called the “motherhood penalty”, but consider working fathers to be more committed than childless men.
“We hope the Gender Equality Act can address this ― any law cannot be discriminatory,” WAO advocacy manager Yu Ren Chung told a forum on pregnancy discrimination here.
“For example, the provision that gives unequal duration of parental leave can be seen as discriminatory,” he added.
Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Rohani Abdul Karim said earlier this month that the government is currently enacting a Gender Equality Act.
WAO communications officer Tan Heang-Lee said if both men and women can take leave to take care of their children, women workers will not be singled out for taking time off.
“I would love it if men take up the responsibility to take care of kids,” Tan told the forum.
Civil servants in Malaysia get 90 days’ paid maternity leave. Female civil servants can also take unpaid child care leave for a year at any time.
In the private sector, women workers are generally offered 60 days’ paid maternity leave, although some multi-national corporations provide longer leave.
The UK, however, provides parents up to 50 weeks of shared parental leave, 37 weeks of which is paid at 90 per cent of an employee’s average weekly earnings or £139.58 (RM732.55) a week, whichever is lower. The remaining 13 weeks of leave entitlement is unpaid. Parents decide how to split the leave.
Noorfadilla Ahmad Saikin, who won a landmark gender discrimination case against the government when she was refused a temporary teaching job because of her pregnancy, said her legal battle was not hers alone.
“This is not only my fight. It’s protection for women at work,” she told the forum.
The Court of Appeal dismissed last Wednesday the government's claim of profiteering in its bid to contest damages awarded to Noorfadilla and ruled that the 34-year-old woman was entitled to RM30,000 for breach of her constitutional right to gender equality, as well as RM10,000 for pain and suffering, and RM10,000 for legal costs.
In February, the Shah Alam High Court slashed her 2014 award from RM325,000 to just RM30,000, including damages for emotional and mental distress, after finding the original sum tantamount to a “handsome profit” for Noorfadilla.