KUALA LUMPUR: Goh Siu Lin, who recently became the first woman to head the Kuala Lumpur Bar Committee, describes herself as a “late bloomer” in the world of activism.
In an interview with FMT, she said she decided to become an activist only in 2009. By then, she had been practising law for more than 12 years.
The decision came after a flight to Johor Bahru.
“During the flight, I was seated next to an executive committee member of AWL (Association of Women Lawyers). She invited me to become a member.
“Joining AWL was an eye-opener for me. I attended a talk on feminist perspectives of the law, which transformed my thinking and how I viewed my role as a lawyer, a mother and wife.”
She is currently the president of AWL.
In AWL, she said, there was “great fellowship and support” among the members and also from the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG).
“We are passionate about our causes and there is a lot of work conducted behind the scenes, fighting for women and children whose rights have been violated and trampled upon.”
Goh said she would push for the establishment of a “Gender Equality and Diversity Committee” within the KL Bar to carry out gender-sensitisation programmes for its members.
She said there was stereotyping and discrimination of women within the legal fraternity, manifested in sexual harassment, non-inclusive policies, and a lack of female participation in decision making positions.
“This is why we need to educate both men and women so that they are able to identify what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behaviour, and how to deal with it,” she said.
“I wish to reassure male lawyers that the changes I have in mind do not in any way diminish their rights. The reality today is that female lawyers form 51% of the bar and these measures are to level the playing field to enhance women’s human rights.”
She plans to expand the sensitisation programmes to cover rights of other minorities such as the disabled and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual communities.
“I hope to accomplish as much as I can in this coming year. So far I’ve received tremendous support from people who have come forward to help me fight for a more gender-inclusive bar.
“With enough support and hard work, I’m optimistic we can accomplish change.”
Goh is the first lawyer in her family. Both her parents are educators.
“Before I studied law, I wanted to become a dentist,” she said, “but I later changed my mind and decided on becoming a lawyer because my young idealistic self thought I could make a difference in the lives of others.”