Hong Kong society must unite against discrimination

Yan-yan Yip urges support for efforts to turn Hong Kong into a more inclusive society, with equal rights for all, in a time of fractious divisions

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 September, 2014, 12:16pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 September, 2014, 1:44am

The universal suffrage debate has dominated public attention. But while some government officials are busy dealing with issues of constitutional development, some other sectors of Hong Kong society have been paying attention to another important issue - equal opportunities.

The Equal Opportunities Commission is conducting a comprehensive review of our discrimination laws. In July, it released a consultation document based on its initial findings, and has been hosting public forums and meetings to explain the major issues highlighted in the document.

Just like in the constitutional reform debate, the issues raised by the review have divided opinion. In the two public forums that I attended, the focus fell on anti-mainland sentiment and de facto marriage, especially during the Cantonese session.

It was neither intended nor planned. As a result, there was only a very limited time to discuss the other important issues raised, such as disabilities and gender, that were also covered in the consultation.

The review covers the four current discrimination ordinances (on sex, disability, family status and race), and also the role, power and constitutional arrangements of the commission. It is about much more than just the two controversial issues of anti-mainland sentiment and de facto marriage.

There are a total of 77 questions in the consultation document and it would be unrealistic to expect everyone to answer all of them. But it is crucial that people respond to the many different issues raised.

In addition to the review, the commission co-organised an international symposium on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights last week, to explore how to achieve an inclusive society. There is currently no law protecting sexual minorities from discrimination, but there is at least more discussion on the issue in Hong Kong these days.

Hong Kong started its research on legislation related to homosexuality in the 1980s and there have been consultations and surveys conducted over the past 30 years. Reviewing the four existing ordinances is already quite challenging, suggesting any new legislation may require more time.

We have to ask: after 30 years of effort, how far have we come in this regard? The French experience was shared during the symposium. Their road to legislation was not without hurdles. There was opposition from the community, and the change of government and its political will to take action mattered.

The desire to engage the community in genuine dialogue and political will are things Hong Kong would do well to note and learn from.

We appreciate the commission's efforts to address these issues that divide Hong Kong, which could undermine the growth of the city and even lead to instability. However, it is ultimately the government that will have to act in response to the commission's recommendations.

The issues of equal opportunities may help us reflect on how Hong Kong should move forward - taking into account the social divisions we are facing. If justice and equality are our core values, and key to the city's development, it is time for us to think about how we want to uphold them.

Yan-yan Yip is CEO of Civic Exchange