Equal Opportunities Commission

More effort needed to ensure gender equality

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 November, 2010, 12:00am

For any modern society, the search for real gender equality in the home and the workplace has been a cherished but elusive goal. Many jurisdictions legislate to ensure there is no blatant discrimination against genders, while some feel the need for active policies to ensure there are more women in higher positions to redress inequality. It will always be impossible to measure how much a society respects principles of equality, but the least each one of us can do is to respect the opposite sex as equals, and make no assumptions about their 'natural role' according to their gender.

In Hong Kong, despite our awareness of the importance of equal rights, and the establishment of the Equal Opportunities Commission, we do not always act according to those professed beliefs. Earlier this month, results from a survey showed about 80 per cent of respondents agreed that men and women should contribute to household income, but less than half considered that men should do more housework than they do now. For the men who answered in such a way, this indicates they are willing to subscribe to values of equality only when it suits them - such as when they can split the bill - but then rejecting such values when it actually requires them to make an effort. It appears that there is still a widespread assumption that it is the natural role of women to take care of the household chores, and that when men contribute to such duties they are only sharing the burden of what should be borne by women.

Usually, such attitudes are confined to the household in the knowledge that such open misogynistic display would be frowned upon. And yet it was only earlier this year that the EOC publicised a case in which a female teacher was required to wear a dress to work and ridiculed by the headmaster for wearing trousers. The long history of prejudicial views towards women means that unless we make particularly forceful arguments to the younger generation about gender equality and the pitfalls of stereotyping, it will be very difficult to break this self-legitimising cycle of prejudice. The evidence so far is that we all have to put in more effort.