When it comes to equality of the sexes, Hong Kong has a way to go
Oxfam study throws spotlight on wage disparity among the working poor, with women earning only 60 per cent what men do
Hong Kong prides itself on being a fair and equal society. With the Sex Discrimination Ordinance and the Equal Opportunities Commission in place for two decades, and followed by the establishment of the Women’s Commission in 2001, one would have thought inequality between the sexes should not be a serious problem nowadays. Sadly, the truth is that women are still worse off than men in some respects.
This was highlighted in a recent study by Oxfam. According to its analysis on wages, the pay gap between men and women living below the poverty line has widened in the past 15 years, with women earning only 60 per cent of what men do on average. The disparity has surged from
HK$2,500 in 2001 to HK$4,300 last year. More than two-thirds of the working poor doing fewer than 17 hours a week are women.
It would require more in-depth studies to ascertain whether women are paid less for identical work. What is certain, though, is that family roles and responsibilities have put women in an inferior position in the labour market. The expectations of women taking care of children or elderly family members at home mean they can only take up casual or part-time work that offers fewer benefits and less job protection. Jobs that are more physically demanding and with higher wages generally go to men.
Currently, only those who have worked for four weeks in a row with at least 18 hours of work per week are entitled to paid rest days andsick and maternity leave. Further improvements are warranted. The government should also explore more training and retraining opportunities for women to help sharpen their competitiveness in the job market.
The income gap highlighted by Oxfam is probably not the only disparity. It would not be surprising if the same problem exists in other income groups. Because of entrenched values, prejudice and stereotypes, gender equality remains a goal rather than a fait accompli. The Oxfam study is a reminder that more needs to be done to improve protection for the disadvantaged.