China Beat Archive


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August 11, 2010 in The China Beat


Copyright August 11, 2010 Reenita Malhotra. Used by permission.


Hong Kong’s women have the power of their purses, are freer and more educated, and enjoy more legal protection than they did 20 years ago. And since 1996, when Hong Kong signed CEDAW, the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women—which calls for 50 percent representation of women in government leadership, political parties, trade unions, professional and other representative groups—women’s participation in managerial positions has risen from 22 percent in 1998 to 29 percent in 2008. In the civil service, women held 31 percent of directorate officer positions in 2008, compared to 21 percent in 1998.

So what’s the problem? The Women’s Commission and the Women’s Foundation, two Hong Kong-based organizations, claim women still don’t share equally in decision-making in the public sector, businesses, professions or political parties, despite comprising 54 percent of university graduates and 46 percent of the labor force.

“Statistics show married women tend to exit the labor force after marriage and childbirth either temporarily or permanently,” according to Sophia Kao Ching-chi and Lau Ka-shi of the Women’s Commission. And leadership positions are generally held by persons with longer working experiences.

Furthermore, gender stereotyping is deeply rooted in Hong Kong culture. Women’s Foundation research shows that women’s role is confined to the family, and women’s contributions to other areas of society are understated.

“Family-unfriendly workplace policies and practices were cited as a major reason keeping women from staying or advancing in the workplace,” says Su-Mei Thompson, Women’s Foundation executive director. “Women also chafe at the strict gender roles they are forced to navigate, and yearn for more recognition of the range of skills and leadership styles [they] can offer.”