TEACHER'S BATTLE AGAINST PREGNANCY DISCRIMINATION RECOGNISED WITH HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD
DEC 7, 2018 @3.15 PM
Noorfadilla Ahmad Saikin and her team, who fought pregnancy discrimination and won a landmark court case, jointly-won the SUARAM Human Rights Award 2018 on Tuesday.
The award recognises their pathbreaking ten-year pursuit of justice, which created legal precedents enabling other Malaysians to seek redress for pregnancy discrimination and breach of constitutional rights.
“The award by SUARAM was the first ever official recognition given to the whole legal team. I'm thrilled that the whole team was nominated for the award,” said Noorfadilla.
“This case was made possible with the help of my lawyers and various groups. In medieval times, there were warriors or knights. Today, lawyers are knights in shining armour, fighting against injustice and oppression.”
In 2009, the Hulu Langat Education District revoked Noorfadilla’s job offer as a temporary teacher after she became pregnant.
With the support of lawyers Honey Tan, Edmund Bon, Joachim Xavier, Chen Yen Hui, Andrew Yong and Arina Ong, Noorfadilla sued the government.
In a landmark 2011 judgement, the High Court ruled that revoking a job offer due to pregnancy is gender discrimination and that the government had violated Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution, which protects against gender discrimination.
In 2016, the Court of Appeals affirmed that pregnancy discrimination is a breach of constitutional rights and individuals can claim damages for breach of constitutional rights.
Finally in 2018, the Federal Court awarded RM40,000 in damages to Noorfadilla.
“The Noorfadilla case is important because the court adopted the CEDAW definition of discrimination against women. This means that there cannot be direct or indirect discrimination against women,” said lawyer Honey Tan.
“The CEDAW definition also recognises that discrimination can be intersectional. For example, a woman may be discriminated on the grounds of her gender, race or marital statuses simultaneously.”
“Our next big challenge is to use the due diligence principle in CEDAW to hold non-state actors such as private companies accountable for gender discrimination.”
“The case was to test the extent Malaysia was prepared to accept the CEDAW principles in pregnancy discrimination in the absence of a gender equality law,” added lawyer Edmund Bon.
“The courts have pulled through, and we are now hoping the government will enact a Gender Equality Act that domesticates all of CEDAW to make it even more enforceable.”
CEDAW is the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
Noorfadilla also received support from Rodziah Ismail and Zuraida Kamaruddin, who were at that time an EXCO member of the Selangor state government and the PKR Women’s chief respectively, as well as Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) and the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality.
Congratulating Noorfadillla and her team on their award, WAO said that Noorfadilla’s case represents hope and progress for women in Malaysia.
“This groundbreaking case has opened up new avenues for women to seek justice and claim their right to non-discrimination,” said Sumitra Visvanathan, Executive Director of WAO.
“Moving forward, we urge the government to enact a Gender Equality Act to comprehensively protect against gender discrimination and to accelerate the fulfillment of gender equality in Malaysia.”
In addition to Noorfadilla and her case team, the other recipient of the SUARAM Human Rights Award was the National Union of Workers in Hospital Support and Allied Services.
The SUARAM Human Rights Award recognises contributions to human rights and the role of communities across the country in fulfilling the aspiration for a democratic Malaysia.