Isolation blamed for women's poverty
Sherry Lee and Celine Sun
Many are stuck in remote areas on low pay, unable to look further afield because of high transport costs
Women in remote districts are suffering social exclusion and discrimination because of a lack of town planning and costly transport, unionists and academics say.
Unable to pay the high fares, they are forced to seek low-paid jobs close to home, earning as little as $1,000 a month.
Their plight has prompted a team, set up last year to look at poverty in such areas, to launch a study of the problems facing women.
The team - formed by Civic Party legislator Ronny Tong Ka-wah and academics including Chinese University's assistant professor of social work Wong Hung - has already released a report on youth poverty and launched the women's study this month.
They will talk to 720 women in Tai Po, Sheung Shui, Fanling, Yuen Long, Tuen Mun, and the socially troubled Tin Shui Wai.
'Based on what we have discovered through non-government organisations, we feel that social exclusion and discrimination are causing the women's poverty, and we want to prove this with a comprehensive study,' Professor Wong said.
He said women generally faced age and family status discrimination, including lower pay, but those in outlying areas were worse off because of transport costs and a lack of planning to provide jobs.
'Because of the high transportation costs, many cannot go to work in urban areas. This affects their economic conditions as well as their personal life. They can't afford to go out to meet friends and are isolated. They are trapped.'
Professor Wong said studies in Britain, France and Germany had found that social exclusion was a factor in creating poverty.
'The problems of women in remote areas are being packaged as a domestic violence issue, but we want to find out if discrimination and social exclusion are root causes.'
Mr Tong said the former colonial government had a policy of planning self-contained new towns with industrial areas to create jobs, 'but it is not the case now'.
Economics expert Stephen Cheung Yan-leung, a member of the Commission on Poverty, said towns with industrial areas had problems because most factories had now gone. He urged the government to fund social enterprises such as flea markets and dai pai dong stalls to create jobs for women in remote areas.
Ip Pui-yu, of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said the poor women were mostly middle-aged, new migrants and single parents.
'They are forced to stay in the districts to find jobs. But there are very few jobs there,' she said. 'Apart from Tai Po, few districts have middle-class estates and rarely have domestic workers jobs for them. We feel pressure in finding them employment after training them as maids. They work mostly as cleaners, restaurant workers, shop sales, some as maids earning $1,000 to $2,000 a month.'
Yang Ying, 37, a new migrant in Tin Shui Wai, said she had tried but failed to find work in Tin Shiu Wai, Yuen Long, and Tuen Mun.
'I think this is mainly because I only have a middle-school degree from the mainland, and there are also not many working opportunities in these remote places.'
She said it would be unrealistic to seek jobs in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island because of the high transport cost and travelling time.
'My husband is often unemployed. At the most difficult time, my family had only a couple of bucks in hand to feed four mouths. I want to work to improve the family's living, but it is difficult.'