Hong Kong’s young women still facing gender inequality as world marks United Nations’ International Day of the Girl

Hong Kong government says no need to promote UN event as it already prioritises girls’ education through the school curriculum

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2016, 8:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2016, 10:12am

Hong Kong should work harder to promote the United Nations’ International Day of the Girl because the city’s young women still face gender inequality and unhelpful gender stereotyping from an early age, campaigners have said.

The Hong Kong government has said it does not consider it necessary to actively support the international event on October 11 because it already educates school pupils about girls’ empowerment.

Q&A: Su-Mei Thompson on her fight for gender equality

But campaigners insist although Hong Kong’s young women remain comparatively better off than their counterparts in developing Asian countries such as Cambodia, there should be greater awareness of the pressures they endure.

In one of the few attempts to mark the event locally, the Hong Kong branch of child rights organisation Plan International will hold a youth conference in the city with the theme ‘Justice: Because I Am A Girl’. A total of 16 teams of students from seven schools will discuss issues facing girls around the world.

Last week the organisation also held its fourth “donate a pencil” campaign, which has seen Hong Kong schoolchildren send more than 170,000 pencils to girls in mainland China, Ghana, Nepal and northern Thailand.

Kanie Siu, CEO of Plan International Hong Kong, said the city, where only 10 per cent of company board members are women, was lagging behind in terms of its support for equal employment opportunities for women.

She said Hong Kong girls continued to face high expectations in education, where they often outperform boys, but they were rarely seen in male-dominated professions such as engineering, and faced pressures to maintain a career while being the perfect mother and housewife.

“It is the standards that we impose on ourselves but it is also imposed on us,” Siu said. “It is the traditional Chinese way. It is difficult to get rid of. Women are often put in supporting workforce roles in Hong Kong. You still find that is a problem.

“I think there is a stereotyping of young girls here. For example, when you see the books they read, it is always a woman as a nurse and a man as a police officer. I think we can start the education around this earlier. I do not think this kind of positive thing is being put in place in the Hong Kong education system.”

Hong Kong’s female workers face a growing gender pay gap, according to the 2014 census report. In 2015, they were paid on average HK$2,500 less annually than men, meaning the pay gap had widened by HK$500 since 2011, despite the government’s pledge to improve equality.

The English-speaking Hong Kong Girl Guides Association, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, is marking the International Day of the Girl by inviting its members to work for a badge which promotes gender equality.

Hayley Chung, the association’s commissioner for the guides’ hibiscus district, said it demonstrated her members’ commitment to the UN’s pledge to eradicate all forms of inequality by 2030.

“We have not got gender equality in Hong Kong,” she said. “Making girls aware makes them ask what they can do. In my full-time job as a scientist, I still work in a male-dominated environment. It is good the girls are aware that they can do this kind of job too. It is showing them that they can do anything.”

Chung said she felt girls in Hong Kong still faced unnecessary pressure to get married, as well as conflicting gender stereotypes.

“I think Hong Kong should allow girls to grow without those pressures,” she said. “Girl guiding gives them the space to express themselves. We need to do more to allow these girls to grow up with gender equality and by celebrating the UN’s International Day of the Girl we are raising awareness of this special day.”

A spokeswoman for the Education Bureau said it did not plan to promote the event, but was committed to supporting its aims through the school curriculum.

“Elements related to the protection of girls’ rights, including gender equality and human rights, are included in the school curriculums of pre-primary, primary and secondary schools in accordance with children’s developmental stages,” she said.

“Relevant themes such as protecting the body, respecting human rights and avoidance of stereotyping help students develop positive values and attitudes towards different genders.”

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Labour and Welfare Bureau, which oversees the Women’s Commission, said its remit did not cover the event.

A spokeswoman for the United Nations in Asia said investing in girls required detailed knowledge and targeted action.

“To achieve the future envisioned by the 2030 agenda, investment in girls is critical – in times of peace and during emergency situations,” she said.

“By listening to girls describe their experiences, decision makers gain critical insight into girls’ lives and can discover ways to work with girls to help them reach their goals.”