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Submission of NGO Report to Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women on the Implementation of CEDAW in Hong Kong

by Hong Kong Federation of Women (HKFW)

In 1993, the Chairperson of Hong Kong Federation of Women (HKFW), Mrs Peggy Lam, then a Legislative Council member moved the motion to implement "The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women(CEDAW)" in Hong Kong and has been adopted unanimously. Thus, CEDAW was introduced to Hong Kong in 1996. Within these 10 years, a number of administrative and legal measures have been taken to strengthen the status of women in Hong Kong, and the Women's Commission (WoC) was set up in 2001, which is a manifestation of the HKSAR Government's commitment to the advancement of women's status and well-being. However, there are still rooms for improvement. At the 36th Session of Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women during which the 2nd CEDAW report submitted by Hong Kong will be examined, HKFW would like to express our views regarding the following major areas, hoping that we could further advance women's status and prompt the equal development of women and men.

1. Elimination of discrimination on the women's participation in power and decision making

HKFW believes leadership training for women is the preliminary action in increasing women's participation in power and decision making. After years of women leadership trainingsand extensive civil education, there are stronger awareness and more opportunities for women to participate in social and political decision making. Although the majority of Legislative Council and District Council members in Hong Kong are male, evidence shows that the number of women participating in Council election is rapidly rising. Since 2001, the appointment rate of female in Government advisory and statutory bodies has reached 25%.

However, there is still a lack of public awareness of the importance of a balanced participation of women and men in power and decision-making which results in slow progress on gender equality. Besides, women's traditional role and responsibility in families are obstructing women to participate actively in civic activities.

Therefore, HKFW has made the following recommendations:

a. There should be a Functional Constituency representing women organizations in the Legislative Council to allow at least one member in this constituency to be elected as the legislative councilor so as to reflect and support the opinion of women organizations. On the other hand, a 5th group - 'General Group' consisting of representatives from local organizations, including women organizations should be included in Electoral Affairs Commission.

b. The Government should proactively increase the ratio of direct appointment seats to allow a specified number of women representatives in government advisory bodies and statutory bodies in order to meet the critical mass of 30% and set 50% as the end goal. This would in turn enhance public acceptance of the policies concerned and would be conducive to positive social development.

c. The Government should initiate "Family Friendliness" policies and plans in support of a platform for women's participation in politics and decision-making, such as establishing mutual help resources center, so that women can get support in home care and have more time in social participation.

d. Women should strive to gain all-rounded knowledge continuously, especially in fields traditionally led by men.Women should be encouraged to life-long learning, and to seek any chance to participate in society decision-making.

2. Education rights and gender prejudices and stereotyping

Since the introduction of the nine-year free basic education in 1978 for all children under the age of 15, both sexes are endowed with equal opportunities in education.In the recent 10 years, the number of females and males between the ages of 6 and 16 enrolling in schools were almost the same, with a rate reaching approximately 100%. Women and men attaining tertiary education (degree course) both are around 50%. Moreover, NGOs including HKFW have been providing ongoing courses of different types in order to arouse the interest in learning and stimulate the potential of female individuals. The courses help to encourage females to broaden their horizons, continue with their education and further develop their potentials.

HKFW is pleased to see that there is an increasing awareness of the importance of anti-discriminatory education by the society. Education sector and parents are also concern with issues relating to family education, formal education and teaching materials. Besides, the Women Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission have launched public education programs to publicize gender equality.

However, gender stereotyping and gender-based biases are still in existence, and it takes time and a long-term commitment of people in society to make a fundamental change. Besides, gender stereotyping is commonly found in teaching materials and textbooks and it is prominent in teachers' professional development training, in schools and in continuing education organizations.

Therefore, HKFW has made the following recommendations:

  • The Government should set up a Commission to supervise the organization of course development and textbooks for eliminating stereotype against women.

  • It is important to provide pre-job and on-job training for teachers and educators to increase their sensitivity towards gender issues.

  • The Government should allocate sufficient resources to support and undertake research studies on gender issues.

  • Mass media should collaborate with public education to emphasize to parents the importance of an anti-discrimination education and the equality of roles in the family.

  • Social services organizations and NGOs should fully implement "Capacity Building Mileage Program", in order to foster women's interest in continuous learning and to explore their inner potentials.

3. Institutional Mechanism

The Women's Commission (WoC), by our strong lobby and perseverance, was set up in January 2001 as a high-level central mechanism to enable women to fully realize their due status, rights and opportunities in all aspects.

WoC plays a strategic role in developing women's strategies in a holistic and systematic manner, advising the Government on policies, legislation and services affecting women and assisting in implementing CEDAW and the Beijing Platform for Action, as well as other international conventions relating to women.Since its establishment, WoC has identified strategic objectives and implemented a number of initiatives to facilitate the development of women including gender mainstreaming, empowerment, public education and publicity.

Gender mainstreaming was acknowledged as a strategy to enhance the impact of policies to promote gender equality.The goal of the strategy is to incorporate a gender perspective in all legislation, policies, programs and projects.To encourage women empowerment, WoC has developed a "Capacity Building Mileage Program" (CBMP) for women's self-development and life-long education. Furthermore, in order to maximize its impact, WoC collaborates with the NGOs in promoting the realization of women's full potential and elimination of gender prejudices.

However, WoC falls short in being a high-level central mechanism.Gender mainstreaming has not been widely acknowledged as a strategy by all Government Bureaux and Departments. This weakness has diminished the effectiveness of WoC.

Therefore, HKFW has made the following recommendations:

  • The Government should expand the concrete duties of WoC to oversee and coordinate with different bureaux and departments. Implementation of the gender mainstreaming from public to private sector is thus guaranteed.

  • The Government should recognize WoC as an monitoring body which is endowed with appropriate power and sufficient resources. This enables female-focused policies which are concerned by the Government be discussed in the conferences.

  • The Commission should also increase its representation of women by soliciting views from women of all levels, therefore promoting a balanced policies development in women¡¦s affairs in Hong Kong.

4. Equality in Family Law

The ¡mMarriage Reform Ordinance¡nwas validated in 1971 in Hong Kong and monogamous marriage was enforced.Moreover, there is no differential treatment between women and men under the Separation and Maintenance Orders Ordinance and the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Ordinance.However, due to various reasons, women often are in weak financial position.Once mired in marriage breakdowns, they tend to play a passive role and are deprived from their rights in child custody and maintenance.

HKFW is delighted that the Government introduced the Income Orders and adopted the Attachment of Income Orders (Amendment) Bill in 2001, to further facilitate recovery of maintenance.An attachment of income order is a court order that requires a maintenance payer's income source, e.g. his employer or tenant, to deduct maintenance payments from his income and pay the deduction direct to the maintenance payee. It enables the maintenance payee to receive payments on time.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of the Income Order is far from predictable. With complicated procedures in processing applications for the Income Order and the absent of a third party for assistance, the maintenance payee may not benefit from the order.

Therefore, HKFW has made the following recommendations:

  • The Government and NGOs should collaborate to introduce 'Family Disputes Mediation Service'.In the mediation conference, a mediator who is a neutral third party, shall facilitate the parties in dispute to discuss, understand and make attempts to end their disagreement and eventually achieve a 'win-win' situation. Therefore, both parties could exempt from the expensive proceeding costs and also reduce conflicts.

  • 'Code of practice for Access to a Child' should be issued to assist the parents to comply with the terms agreed between both parties relating toaccess to their child.Therefore, avoiding situations which the child could face the pressure of animosity from either parents

5. Elimination of Violence against Women

Similar to other countries, women in Hong Kong are threatened by acts violence. The causes of violence against women are complicated. Therefore, multi-dimensional collaboration, supplemented with different preventive and treatment methods, is necessary, besides, affected children should also be protected.

Various policies and measures have been taken by the Government in fulfilling the recommendations from the CEDAW Committee during the hearing of the First Report, including the offer to give counselling and treatment to offenders, enhance services for victims of domestic violence by empowering them and providing rehabilitation.Besides, the Government recognises the importance of the joint efforts of different government departments, professionals and NGOs in presenting and tackling violence against women. The Government also supports the principle of "Zero tolerance in domestic violence" and has made continuous efforts to review related policies and services. Furthermore, to make a greater impact on the public regarding early identification and prevention of family violence, the Government has strengthened its preventive work through large-scale public education in a centrally co-ordinated approach.

To prevent women from sex violence, the Government has proposed amendments to the Evidence Ordinance in 2002 to abrogate the corroboration rules in sexual offences so that offenders in sexual offence cases could now be brought to justice more easily. Besides, the Crimes Ordinance was amended to make it clear that marital rape is a criminal offence. Furthermore, following a study by the Law Reform Commission on stalking, the Government also considers the proposal of legislating against harassment behaviour, such as stalking.

Due to the increasing complexity of the issue and in order to protect women against domestic violence, HKFW has made the following recommendations:

  • Review the Domestic Violence Ordinance regarding the scope of application of the Ordinance and the definition of domestic violence. We suggest to extend the abusive relationship to include ex-spouses, in-laws, etc. Besides, mandatory treatment and counseling programs should be made part of the sentences for batterers, so as to stop the batterers from the violent acts and avoid the behaviors to be passed onto the next generation.

  • From the experience in Hong Kong as well as overseas countries, harassment conducted by ex-spouse is not rare. The criminalization of stalking should be expedited to help women get away from the influence of domestic violence.

  • Incidence of domestic violence is under reported.Battered women, suffering from fear that their children would be affected, were reluctant to stand witness against a violent act. This attributed to the low prosecution rate of domestic violence. As domestic crime cannot be tolerated, the Government should review at length the effectiveness of the instruction on obtaining proof of evidence. It ought to undertake more proactive investigations based on certain procedures and methods so as to raise the prosecution rate to combat domestic violence.Coupled with counseling and treatment services offered for batterers, there is a higher chance that domestic violence could be cured and aggravation of the problem could be prevented.

6. Equality in employment and labour rights

The labor market in Hong Kong is much open that women are free to apply for jobs through various channels and they can obtain jobs as easily as men. On the other hand, the number of women appointed in managerial and executive position has significantly increased, as compared to 1996, there was a 25.3% increase. Besides, the monthly employment earnings of women engaged in professionals, associate professionals or clerical works are about the same as those of men, which shows that in general men and women in Hong Kong has achieved equal pay for equal work.

However, over past years, under economic restructuring, women who have taken up jobs with low education requirement and are less skilled, though haven't lost their job, are receiving less salary and welfare. Thus, the trend of female povertization is increasing. On the other hand, women's time and effort devoted to the family is not remunerated. They also lack retirement security. In addition, household burden has deterred women from advancing in career development.

Therefore, HKFW has made the following recommendations

  • To allow a full scale evaluation of women's contribution to the society and economy, the Government should include statistics on women and men for all GDP and related economic and social indicators. Besides, "Time Use Pattern Survey" should be conducted regularly to raise the public awareness of harmonization of work and family responsibilities for women and men, and to identify the contribution of "unremunerated work" to the economy.

  • In order to make a balance between job and family life, the Government should initiate "Family Friendliness" policies and plans among civil servants, such as setting flexible working hours for individual employees according to their family needs, and offering tax or other incentives to encourage employers to follow suit.

  • It is recommended to improve the flexibility of Employees Retraining Programs, in react to the labor market more effectively, to raise the standard of women and to maintain their economic competitive power through skills training.

  • The Government should actively study the possibility of retirement scheme for housewives to ensure that proper financial support as recognition of their contribution to the society could be received.


Hong Kong Federation of Women

7 August 2006

 
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