Men face equality problems, too
Thanks to growing awareness and efforts in fighting gender inequality, Hong Kong women seem to face fewer problems at work and home today than they used to. But whether the same can be said of men is open to debate. While they apparently remain privileged in the workplace and the family, that does not mean they are not victims of sexual stereotypes and social prejudice.
The problems are put into perspective for the first time in a university study commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Commission. According to the government watchdog, most men consider career the most important element in self-identity. But because of the changing job market, they find it difficult to do low-end service jobs traditionally taken by women. When they fail to meet socially asserted expectations, they lose self-esteem.
The findings are nothing striking. They confirm what has long been known, or indeed, taken for granted. The commission deserves credit for drawing public attention to men's problems ahead of Mother's Day. As rightly pointed out in the study, many public policies are often tilted in favour of women. Men, unfortunately, do not benefit from such institutional protection.
Habits and mindsets do not change overnight. But that does not mean we should sit back and let the problems become entrenched. The study has provided a good basis to formulate gender-sensitive policies and strengthen public education. Apart from introducing paternity leave, social services for men - such as male specialist clinics and sheltered centres for abused men - are worth considering.
Absolute equality and zero stereotyping in society are perhaps just social ideals. But sophisticated societies like Hong Kong should make them the goal. The need to release women from the gender straightjacket equally applies to men. As we seek to close the equality gap by promoting women's rights and welfare, let's not forget about the problems faced by men.