What exactly are 'invisible women'? In March, the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) launched a campaign that took this curious term as its title, done in collaboration with creative partner Leo Burnett. The campaign kicked off with a thought-provoking art exhibition on International Women’s Day: a moving display of what workplace pregnancy discrimination has done to expecting mothers in modern-day society. We speak to Leo Burnett Group Creative Director Iska Hashim about the effort that went into this campaign and why its message is so important today.

The creative partnership between the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) and Leo Burnett has historically produced some amazing content aimed at raising awareness of the harrowing effects of domestic violence and physical abuse.

So what’s different about WAO’s most recent Invisible Women campaign? It uses a range of media – art installations, videos, and powerful images that tug at the heart-strings while calling out the lack of workplace policies protecting female staff from various forms of gender discrimination at work.

WAO has been pushing for a Gender Equality Act to be passed in parliament, which will potentially put the mechanics in place to protect women in the private sector from unfair dismissal due to pregnancy – a worrying trend that many women face with little to no options for redress.

With its sombre tone and compelling visuals, the Invisible Women campaign isn't just geared towards raising awareness about gender discrimination, it's part and parcel of an ongoing effort by WAO to garner support for a Gender Equality Act.

Art with Heart

A diorama-style scene of a stay-at-home mother who has reluctantly ‘merged’ into her surroundings, unnoticed and undesirable to an employer. A massive ‘wall’ of paper CVs detailing real-life experiences of workplace discrimination instead of work experience. A spotlight shines on a messy collection of discarded CVs that form the shadow of a woman in the background.

These and other clever displays seen throughout the White Box, Publika in March were conceptualised and brought to life by a talented group of people from creative agency Leo Burnett, a group consisting of Pia Dhaliwal, Lee Shyyi, Larissa Loh, Ong Jia Yean, James Seet and Group Creative Director Iska Hashim.

“It all started to feel real when the team started receiving the stories from women who had faced the kinds of workplace discrimination the campaign focused on,” Iska says, referring to the hanging CV display.

“In showcasing the stories of real women in this hanging CV display, we were letting these women know that they’re not alone, letting other women know that this is something that could affect them if the law doesn’t change and finally, letting people unfamiliar with this issue see that it’s a problem that affects lots of women across the board.”

"That's how society functions now: we act like pregnant women or working mums are a burden and the current laws and practices reflect that…"

While workplace discrimination and a Gender Equality Act aren’t easy subjects to tackle, Iska says his team recognised the reality of these problems despite not having first-hand experience with them.

“There are definitely people who refuse to believe this is an issue, that women should stop complaining because if they decide to get pregnant, they should accept all the ‘consequences’.

“It's easy to think that way because that's how society functions now: we act like pregnant women or working mums are a burden and so the current laws and practices reflect that. You have to be able to believe that things can be done differently; just because something's always been done a certain way it doesn't mean it's the right or the best way.”

 

According to WAO, Malaysia saw its first review by the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Commitee in 2006; the outcome of which was a recommendation for the government to implement a gender equality law.

Twelve years have since passed with no such gender equality law or act in effect as of yet, according to WAO.

Despite this seemingly glum state of affairs for gender equality, can movements like the Invisible Women campaign make a difference to the lives of gender discrimination victims?

“At the moment, there aren't a lot of ways victims can address the injustices they face at work. The campaign - at least this stage of it - has been about educating the public about this problem first and foremost, with a view to gaining support for the Gender Equality Act," Iska says.

 

“We're also hoping to get people, just on an individual level, to rethink what it means to support pregnant women and working mums in the workplace. Why are pregnant women or mothers considered so undesirable as employees? Because they can't work 24/7? What does that say about our working culture and how we measure productivity?” Iska says.

“If you think none of these things need to change, that's your opinion. But if you feel that we do need to put more rights in place for all working parents, then share word of the campaign and sign the petition in support of the Gender Equality Act."