A SURVEY of 3,000 people is to be conducted to gauge the public's views on sex discrimination ahead of any action by the Government, the Secretary for Home Affairs, Michael Suen Ming-yeung, said yesterday.
Men and women across Hong Kong will be interviewed on their perceptions of equal opportunities and equality, said Mr Suen, who added that there were differences between the achievements of the sexes but refused to say if he thought there was discrimination.
Launching the Green Paper on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men - which examines the political, social and economic situation in Hong Kong - Mr Suen said the Government had an open mind on what action, if any, to take.
Any action on specific issues - such as an equal pay law or deciding to adhere to the more general United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) - would rely on public attitude, despite a motion passed by the Legislative Council last year urging the Government to sign the CEDAW.
''Legislative Councillors themselves are well versed in these particular subjects and they are aware of the facts, but these are not available to the man in the street,'' Mr Suen said.
''If you ask him if he really understands, the likelihood is that you will draw a blank. We want to increase public awareness so the public can give us views on which direction we should take.'' The survey was welcomed by women's groups and supporters who wanted reassurances that the survey would be truly independent.
But criticism of the paper, which began long before it was published, continued yesterday with complaints that the Government had said nothing useful.
Mr Suen said there were no plans to draft a White Paper or introduce legislation, adding that the Green Paper was educational in itself - both for members of the public who read it and for the government departments responsible for drafting it.
The survey, to be conducted by one of Hong Kong's universities, will take place before the end of the year if the City and New Territories Administration can find funds for it. The results will be used in conjunction with views sent in during the Green Paper consultation period.
Laws introducing equal pay for equal work could force the Government to intervene in the operation of individual employers and could therefore be undesirable, while adopting CEDAW would have to be addressed by the Joint Liaison Group as it would bind Hong Kong to international agreements straddling 1997, Mr Suen said.
Legislator Anna Wu Hung-yuk called for the Government to ensure the survey was devised and conducted by a totally independent group, as the Government had shown it was unable to establish an unbiased framework for discussion.
A carefully designed survey would cover legislative proposals and not just bring the discussion full circle on general issues such as whether inequality existed, she said.
''It's about time the Government moved ahead and bit the bullet with some decisive action instead of just generating more general discussion,'' she said.
Linda Wong Sau-ying, secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Women's Centres, also called for the survey to be conducted by an objective group and said she hoped it would be the beginning of a much larger investigation.
''More people need to be interviewed to provide data on discrimination,'' she said.