As a young city girl, Ip Shun-hing was shocked by the submissive lives led by many rural women she came across while running a kindergarten in Tuen Mun in the early 70s. It was then a sleepy fishing and farming community and the rural women were working in the fields from dawn to dusk. Ms Ip was also appalled that single males were trading their sisters for the women they wanted as a wife. They married a sister into the woman's family when they could not afford the wedding expenses. Determined to improve women's status, Ms Ip set up mutual aid groups which offered literacy classes for woman villagers. Ms Ip, 43, still lives in Tuen Mun and chairs both the Tuen Mun District Women's Association and the Women's Centre under the New Territories Association of Societies, which also covers Sai Kung and the outlying islands. 'Many women I came into contact with were heavily influenced by feudal thinking and dependent on their husbands,' she recalled. 'They were resigned to their fate and had no idea what the world outside their home was like.' Things have certainly changed for the better over the years. But she still sees the need for services such as day-care centres for small children and professional or leadership training for the 1.2 million women living in the New Territories. One of her prime goals is to help improve women's self-confidence as well as their sense of responsibility for their community. 'I hope they feel that they can lead a useful life,' says the mother of two who is a volunteer in the two associations. A problem facing today's women in Tuen Mun, she says, is a lack of employment opportunities. High transportation costs keep many from travelling to the city to work. Middle-aged women were also frustrated with the few options they had, a result of their limited education. 'The younger ones have more career choices as they have had at least secondary education, thanks to the compulsory education policy introduced by the Government in the late 1970s. 'But the older ones are different. Many had little education since their families were only willing to put their sons through school,' said Ms Ip. The Tuen Mun District Women's Association is collaborating with Baptist University on a survey to be completed by the end of the year on employment difficulties faced by women residents there. A nominee to the Selection Committee which will select the future SAR Chief Executive and the provisional legislature, Ms Ip believes the body should reserve at least 20 per cent of its seats for women. Meanwhile, she says, women still receive unequal treatment in some rural households. Despite the legal provision granting inheritance rights to New Territories women, some communities in Yuen Long and Fanling still bar women from being nominated to rural committees. 'A certain degree of discrimination against women still prevails in the New Territories. In some villages, males are entitled to a higher proportion of gains from sales of ancestral properties,' says Ms Ip, also a director of the Federation of Women. Four years ago, Ms Ip obtained a sociology degree through a distance learning programme offered by a mainland university. 'It was very tough for me and I had quarrels with my husband over the hours I spent with the family. But he took me to the classes,' she recalled. 'It is very important how a couple divide their responsibilities and time. I think once a person decides to have a family, he or she should be responsible and give time to it. But I would not want to give up my own interests.' She has no plans to scale down her community involvement, but neither does she intend to extend her commitments. 'People have asked me to be a district board member. I said no. I don't want to devote all my energy to community affairs. All I want is to do what I like and at the same time, take care of my family. 'I don't go to all social functions. Often my husband accompanies me or if it's a weekend event, I bring my whole family out together.' Ms Ip strongly backs the call for a women's commission in Hong Kong, citing the need for a central body to come up with female-oriented policies. 'It could do various surveys and research and help those who are unemployed. 'There is a need for a body whose resources are devoted exclusively to work for women.'