International Women's Day

Women's Day must support migrants

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 March, 2013, 3:49am

Every year, Hong Kong hosts several initiatives to mark International Women's Day on March 8. It is an occasion to celebrate women's accomplishments and tackle gender equality issues.

However, the concerns of some of Hong Kong's most vulnerable groups - refugee and migrant women - are conspicuously absent from these conversations.

Refugee and migrant women arrive in Hong Kong looking for a safer or better life. Many come from countries with patriarchal societies where unequal treatment, oppression and violence against women are commonplace.

Yet on arrival in Hong Kong, these women are often the victims of multiple, intersecting forms of discrimination due to their gender, ethnicity, race, national origin and/or socio-economic status. Prejudice and lack of awareness are proliferating negative stereotypes.

Last year, the Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre found that a staggering 58 per cent of the single refugee women it helped had experienced sexual and gender-based violence back in their home country.

These experiences are exacerbated once they arrive in Hong Kong. Christian Action finds that many women flee from persecution, only to experience violence here in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, foreign domestic helpers are instrumental in enabling women in Hong Kong to maintain a work-life balance. Despite this, they are frequently subjected to exploitative working conditions, abuse and are denied their maternity rights when they become pregnant.

As we mark International Women's Day 2013, we urge Hong Kong people to have solidarity with refugee and migrant women. These women have experienced some of the worst forms of gender inequality and discrimination and urgently need more assistance and support.

We further call on the government to respect, protect and safeguard the human rights of all women in Hong Kong.

In doing so, we urge the administration to adhere to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women's recommendations, in 2006, to eradicate all forms of discrimination against women. The government must ensure female foreign domestic workers are not discriminated against by their employers or subjected to abuse, while strengthening the avenues for redress available to them to claim their rights and extend the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees to Hong Kong.

Aleta Miller, executive director, Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre; Kylie Uebergang, executive director, PathFinders; Cheung-Ang Siew Mei, executive director, Christian Action