Review of women's role

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 April, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 April, 1993, 12:00am

IN Hongkong's rural communities, where seasonal change still has some residual importance, even the elders of the Heung Yee Kuk seem to have a new bounce in their step. An all-male committee of indigenous New Territories residents has come out in support of urging women to play a greater role in rural politics, vote in village elections and run for office as village representatives.

That is a remarkable stance for a body which has so long stood in the way of change, especially of altering the traditional male-only land inheritance laws. On its own, however, a recommendation to urge women to take part is not the great breakthrough women's groups have been waiting for. In five per cent of the 690 New Territories villages, representatives are elected by adult males only. However in 95 per cent only heads of household have the vote. In the vast majority of households, the elector is therefore a man. Encouraging women to take part more actively will be a meaningless exercise unless this is rectified.

A change in the rules has been urged on the rural leadership not only by women's groups, but also by the City and New Territories Administration. The Kuk will seek further clarification from the Government at a meeting next Tuesday and will, no doubt, come under further pressure.

Although the present review of the Kuk's position follows the request by the constitutional affairs panel of the Legislative Council, the rural body insists that changes to customs which have been followed for generations should come from within the community.

It must be expected that pressure for change will be resisted by the rural gerontocracy until New Territories women themselves take a more pugnacious stand. Even if village electoral rules are changed under government pressure, rural women will need to be educated to make use of their votes.

In the long run, however, a greater degree of New Territories democracy will inevitably increase the voice of women in society. It is a vital prerequisite for the eventual emancipation of rural women from the archaic system which now binds them.