KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 10 ― Lack of awareness caused nearly 90 per cent of pregnant women who faced discrimination at work to lodge formal complaints, according to a Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) survey.
In its “Workplace Discrimination Survey” that polled 222 women, the group said many who were dismissed or overlooked for promotions due to pregnancy did not speak out as they did not know their rights or feared reprisals.
“A woman should be free to choose if and when to have children. She should not have to fear losing her job because she has a baby,” said Sumitra Visvanathan, executive director of WAO.
“Terminating, demoting, or failing to hire or promote a woman because she is pregnant is gender discrimination,” she added when pressing Malaysian policy makers to ensure adequate protection against such prejudice.
Sumitra said this was necessary as gender discrimination continued despite constitutional articles on equality and Malaysia’s ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1995.
Among others, she cited court cases in which it was decided that the right to equality only extended to civil servants, and not those in the private sector.
She also called for legislation of laws similar to the US Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) that protects the rights of pregnant women in the workplace.
It is presently not illegal in Malaysia for prospective employers to ask job candidates if they are pregnant or planning to conceive, while such questions are prohibited in the US under PDA.
Sumitra added that beyond hiring discrimination, such a law would help provide job security for expectant mothers as well prevent attempts to deny them career advancement.
“Malaysia needs to work towards this direction. Awareness as a start and eventually a statute,” Sumitra added.
Out of those surveyed, 40 per cent said they experienced discrimination at work due to pregnancy, which resulted in them losing their jobs, promotion or given redundant positions.
The survey also found that 20 per cent had their job applications rejected or job offers revoked after employers found out about their pregnancy.
Due to such discrimination, 30 per cent of women surveyed also delayed pregnancy plans out of fear in losing their jobs or promotion.