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Summary of Public Webinar on “Women in Law: Asian Perspectives”

Summary of Public Webinar on Women in Law: Asian Perspectives

Date: Friday 30 April 2021, 15.00-17.00 hrs
Facebook Live: @Thammasatlaw

Speakers:

  • Professor Mindy Chen-Wishart, Dean of the Faculty of Law, Oxford University
  • Dr Vilawan Manglatanakul, Director-General of the Department of Treaties and Law at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand
  • Associate Professor Jaclyn Neo, Director of the Centre for Asian Legal Studies at the National University of Singapore

Moderator: Thitirat Thipsamritkul, Lecturer of Centre for International Law, Faculty of Law, Thammasat University

  • Summary by Mr Kornranut Junwerasatien, 3rd year student, Faculty of Law, Thammasat University
  • Edited by Assistant Professor Dr Korrasut Khopuangklang, Assistant Dean for Student Development, Faculty of Law, Thammasat University

Professor Mindy Chen-Wishart, Dean of the Faculty of Law, Oxford University

The educated people always think that we all have gender equality but the reality in 2021 is very different. Recently, Tokyo Medical University admitted to lowering test scores on women’s entrance exams by 20 per cent. They wanted fewer female doctors because they believe that these female doctors tend to leave the medical profession to give birth and raise their children. Additionally, there are a lower proportion of women than men in the first-class degree in some universities and some subjects.

Professor Chen-Wishart also shared her own experiences. She was born in Taiwan and her family migrated to New Zealand when she was ten years old. Now, she is currently, the Dean of the Faculty of Law, Oxford University. In the UK, 92 per cent of professor in the UK are white and 80 per cent are male. She has to always contend with the feeling of not belonging which gives her the imposter syndrome. She does not get her graduate degree nor studied in Oxford. She faced several unconscious-biased questions from students and staffs in Oxford. Students and colleagues find it take to take her negative responses. This is very challenging. When she was asked to be the Dean, someone rang her to cheer her up. She never thought that she could not do it, but her question was whether the rest of the faculty accepted her leadership. She referred to the book by Nelson Mandala, “Long Walk to Freedom.” In this book, Mandala had to keep his surprise when he saw a black pilot. It shows that there was unconscious-biased feeling even for Mandala who was the embodiment of the legitimate and universal fight against discrimination. Therefore, she thought that if she was one of them and she met herself, she might also be dubious.

Gender stereotype distorts personal views of themselves and other people’s views of themselves. Women are much less confidence than men in many subjects. They hold back on expressing their ideas. In fact, confident is not as equal as competence. However, the research shows that people who act confidently makes others think that they are confident. Men tend to think that they are more able than they actually are. In other words, they then overestimated their ability by 30 per cent. On the other hand, they tend to routinely underestimate their abilities. This large confidence gap can lead to fewer opportunities for women.

Men tend to dominate the discussion, disrupt more frequently and speak for longer. Women tend to speak in a very short verse and not interrupt others. This makes women feel discouraged to continue the discussion. In other words, women are more sensitive to other people opinions and more likely to negatively interpret feedbacks. For instance, one of her Oxford colleagues who is an associate professor gave a talk at Hong Kong University. After the talk, she underrated her speech, even though she did a good job. Men also dealt with criticisms differently from women. Men tend to receive criticisms as an indicator that they can do better. On the other hand, women are more likely to perceive these criticisms as a sense of doing not good enough. For example, when she gave bad marks to a male student, he did not accept the result that he thought that this is her first time marking.

People are likely to perform poorly when they feel threaten or undermined. For example, a person who aware of negative stereotype will worry that performing poorly will confirm the stereotype. This is a result of the studies in the cases of African American, women, old people and students of lower socio-economic class. Stereotype-threat produced a physical response. It lowers self-esteem and arouses stress. This will later on lower the abilities of the performance of persons.

There are stereotypes from many sides. It can come from women as well. For instance, when Professor Chen-Wishart picked her son up from Sunday School. Another mother who has five kids told her that her son was the only one who did not cry. She said to her that this might be because her son was used to be neglected. She even once said that she was once took her kid to Oxford. She believes that this is a normal situation for women to work while raising children. Women can be a mother and a professional at the same time.

Everyone can have imposter syndrome. Doing things differently is not wrong. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not. Women tend to turn things down when they should not turn things down. Help does not necessarily come to you. Sometimes you need to go out and look for it. It is not wrong to seek help from others. It is important to step up and reinforce other people. Women should support each other, and men need to help as well.

Dr Vilawan Manglatanakul, Director-General of the Department of Treaties and Law at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand

Women have to believe in themselves and believe that they are able to do their jobs. She accepts that it is not an easy task for her to do her take. Women who have to work harder than men to become a good and successful executive. Women, especially those who have their children, have to work and also take care of children. In order to become a working woman, they have to create their own strategies which might be unconventional. She believed that it is quite hard for women to go out and work, especially in Asian family and society. In her experiences, she faced criticisms from her neighbour about going out to work every day and unable to pick up her kids at school, due to her long working hours at the Ministry.

As a legal profession, there are rooms to extend the role of women. In order to perform the legal profession, the persons have to be diligent and understanding of the feelings of other people. Dr Manglatanakul believes that “If you are able to do the jobs, no one will refuse to include you.” She learnt that from her experience when she first joined the Ministry which was male dominant. She is the third generation that they accept women in Ministry. When she first joined the Ministry, she was already married and have a child. Her colleagues tend not to get her to involve in jobs that required extra working hours. However, she was up to the task and was able to do the jobs. Eventually, the Ministry had to find a way to work with her.

Working in such a pressing environment as a lawyer and a diplomat, Dr Manglatanakul learnt to plan, adjust, and negotiate with her colleagues. In general, the junior diplomat has to spend about four years for the service abroad. However, she asked to drop out from doing service abroad, twice. She made that decision because she prioritises her family. She would not like to be separated from her family for a long time. From her experiences, there is no fixed rule and it is not too hard for women to accomplish in the career. Women can and have to find a way to do it.

The recommendation is that you should be the persons you want to be your mentor. You will spend more time with yourself more than anyone else. You should be your own best friend and talk nicely to yourself.

The systems should be favourable and supportive for women in working conditions. During the mid-career, there is no sabbatical leave for women in the ministry. Dr Manglatanakul believes that this kind of leave is important for women to have this opportunity. Women have to be positive and support each other.

Associate Professor Jaclyn Neo, Director of the Centre for Asian Legal Studies at the National University of Singapore

When she was 15, her family took a trip to the UK. They visited the nuclear power station in Lancashire, England. This visit inspired her younger sister to be a nuclear engineer and she went on to study this field On the other hand, she decided to study law.

Our imagination of who we can be comes from family and society. The influence of the family is very important. Her parents have never gender-stereotyped the children. Everyone has to do the housework. Family can shape the way that their children see themselves. Unfortunately, some women were shaped to think that they cannot be something they want to be. In Asia, there is the belief that men are the ones that continue the family line. Thus, men are more important. In her case, she married a foreigner. She gave her Chinese surname to her daughter. She was criticised for not allowing her daughters to have her husband surname.

In the field of the study of technologies, it is mainly male dominant. This reflects how technology perceives female. This does not happen in the study of laws as much. In the study in the jurisdiction, there is gender disparity in the legal practical field. Research shows that women participate less frequently in the competitive environment. Women sometimes find it hampered to be heard. The structure classed participation is better for women because it provides the time slot for women to speak. This allows women to prepare and does not make them feel that they need permission to speak. In Singapore, graduates with first-class honour are more likely to be men than women. The first-class honour opened the door to better career opportunities in the future. There is a higher number of men at the top leadership in the field of laws.

It is the legitimate choice for women to be married and to have kids. These women have to take care of students and maintain good performance at work. In Singapore, there are new policies that facilitate women to perform well at work. First, there is a tenure clock extension for women who have children. They can extend their tenure clock if they are unable to fully carry out academic activities for an extended period. Second, there is teaching relief after giving birth. This will halve their teaching load for the semester. These policies allow them to take care of family and to progress at work.

The role of the father is also important. When she went to teach in Italy for three weeks, her husband took their two young children. He was frequently asked about the mother. We need to rethink parenting that a father is also parents, not a babysitter.

Women leave their jobs due to several reasons. First, mansplaining is a situation that men overexplain something to women that they already know. Men tend to assume that they knew better than women. She faced this situation herself when her male college explains her PhD dissertation to her. Second, manel is a situation of the all-male panel. There are some narrow ranges of the topic that manel is necessary such as the personal experience of men health. In so many other areas, there is no need of manel. This situation highlights the insignificant of women. It also shows a lack of effort to ensure that women are also included.

Changing the system to allow women to take care of the family and to work at the same time is only one part of the story. Additionally, it is also important to empower women to go through obstacles. Women can have imposter syndrome which makes them feel that they are not deserved the achievement. Overcoming the syndrome requires a repeated challenge of self-doubt. We need to build a society in which women do not need to do more to achieve the same as men.