Female hopefuls in short supply

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2007, 12:00am

Two high-profile women candidates may dominate next month's Legislative Council by-election but, overall, female participation in Hong Kong politics is limited.

Only 169 of the 913 candidates for the district council elections on Sunday are women - representing just 18.5 per cent of candidates - despite women accounting for 52.5 per cent of the city's population in the latest mid-year census.

The female participation ratio has also remained almost static - in 2003, women comprised 17.7 per cent of candidates, slightly more than the 16.2 per cent in 1999.

Persuading women to run for election is difficult, said Lau Ka-yee, who heads the Women's Political Participation Network.

The group was set up six months ahead of the elections to push for gender equality and family issues and to encourage more women to take part in public affairs.

'Many women have the courage to stand up for community issues, such as fighting for residents' rights in urban redevelopment projects,' Ms Lau said. 'But when we suggest they go one step further and run for election, they often refrain.'

The group had hoped to field a number of candidates in the district council elections, believing female representation could provide insights on solutions to family problems.

The group had planned to field Chung Yuen-yi in Yat Chak constituency in Tin Shui Wai, scene of many family tragedies. But Ms Chung discovered she was pregnant two months before the election, leaving one other network member, Ivy Chan Siu-ping, to run under the group's banner.

Ms Lau said women's traditional role as homemakers, and little family support were other obstacles to women entering politics.

She criticised Hong Kong's political parties for a lack of effort in nurturing female talent.

She proposed that the parties set a quota so that a proportion of female candidates were submitted for election, a practice adopted in Taiwan.

Ms Lau said the quota would not need to be as high as 50 per cent, but a target representation should be set as a short-term goal. In the long run, the quota could be abolished when men and women were fairly equally active in politics.

The Frontier and the Civic Party have the highest proportion of female candidates - 27 per cent and 24 per cent respectively.