BOUNDARY Street is today an historical landmark, showing the extent of colonial Hong Kong before the British leased the New Territories in 1898. But for the women whose families own land beyond that border, it is a line beyond which they are stripped of inheritance rights to which every other woman in Hong Kong and China is properly entitled. Current Hong Kong law still provides that under New Territories Ordinance, Hong Kong courts ''shall have power to recognise and enforce any Chinese custom or customary right affecting such land.'' These words have been interpreted to restrict succession of land in that area exclusively to male heirs. This arbitrary discrimination against women cannot continue in Hong Kong. It violates Articles 1 and 22 of our Bill of Rights, which guarantees equality and equal protection of law for all Hong Kong citizens. Male-only succession also contravenes international human rights standards, as well as current Chinese law. In a modern and cosmopolitan city like Hong Kong, it is especially surprising that this discriminatory law has managed to survive at all, particularly given its roots in customary law practised during the Qing Dynasty. When the New Territories were leased from China a century ago, the British agreed that there would be no interference with the traditions and customs of the indigenous peoples who found their land transferred to a new sovereign. The British explicitly provided in the New Territories Ordinance of 1910 that Chinese customary law of the Qing Dynasty would continue to govern land transactions, including inheritances. The custom of male-only succession was developed principally to maintain the identity and autonomy of family clans in traditional agricultural societies. When a woman married, she moved from her parents' home to join her husband's clan. If she retained inheritance rights to her parents' property, land from one family could potentially be transferred to another clan. This prospect was viewed as potentially destabilising to the social and economic order of the era. Unfortunately, what was intended to protect the right of indigenous peoples to maintain their way of life has today become a clear impediment to the proper development of the law and to the betterment of life in Hong Kong. Almost a century after the downfall of the Qing Dynasty, its ancient traditions still lurk in a city known internationally for its advanced standard of living. Residents of the New Territories no longer live in agricultural societies, tilling the fields to make their living. Today they live their lives just like the people of Hong Hong Island and Kowloon, where women have always enjoyed the right to inherit property. New Territories' residents shop at the same malls and work in the same offices as every other Hong Kong resident. Heung Yee Kuk representatives wear suits and drive luxurious cars, following a way of life their predecessors decades ago surely could not have envisioned. There is no legitimate reason to continue to deny women the right to inherit property in the New Territories. Society today has changed a great deal from what it was under the Qing rules, and many aspects of old customary law no longer form the linchpin of social and economic stability in the New Territories. On the contrary, backward laws slow the proper development of our social system and prevent us from enjoying the higher standard of living for which we have all worked. In all probability, restriction of inheritance to males alone violates Hong Kong law already. The Bill of Rights Ordinance, passed two years ago, was intended to entrench human rights in the laws of Hong Kong. Under Article 22, ''All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination . . .'' These words protect both men and women in Hong Kong, whether their family's land is north or south of Boundary Street. Furthermore the Bill of Rights Ordinance was specifically designed to apply to Hong Kong the terms of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which was signed by the British Government. Its terms unambiguously require that fundamental rights be enjoyed by every citizen regardless of gender. It is time to bring Hong Kong in line with international standards - not just in the economic sphere but also in our laws. It is significant that even the laws of China clearly protect women's rights to inherit property. The Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Women states in Article 31: ''Women's equal right, with men, of succession to property shall be protected by law.'' Those opposed to correcting Hong Kong's discriminatory laws claim that the indigenous peoples of the New Territories have a right to maintain their way of life. But they fail to realise that the society which the British promised to respect in 1910 has long ago disappeared from Hong Hong and China. It is highly unlikely that residents of the New Territories would qualify under the international or Chinese legal definition of ''national minorities'' and thereby qualify for some sort of special protection. Even if these residents did fall into such acategory, they would have no right under local, Chinese, or international law to impinge upon the fundamental human rights of their female members. Opponents also argue that changing the New Territory's inheritance laws would violate Article 40 of the Basic Law, which protects the ''lawful traditional rights and interests of the indigenous inhabitants of the New Territories.'' The word ''lawful'' isnot meaningless in this clause. It is clear that there are some customs which the Basic Law drafters considered unlawful, such as discriminatory land succession. Such illegal practices will not be enforceable in the Special Administrative Region. The Basic Law further declares that the international human rights treaties as applied to Hong Kong will continue in force after the handover in 1997. Gender-based discrimination in land succession will violate those human rights instruments after 1997 just as much as they do today. Hong Kong people who oppose changing this discriminatory practice abandon their moral principles. They should remember that this law also prevents men who very much want their daughters to inherit their land from legally doing so unless they make a will. At the most fundamental level, law mirrors our social values. So it is important that our laws are not left behind while our society advances and develops respect for fundamental human rights. The New Territories Ordinance must be altered to ensure that women have the right to inherit land on the same basis as men so that our laws will reflect a Hong Kong society committed to equality and fairness and so that we can move forward on that basisinto the future. Fung Chi-wood is a directly elected legislator and the United Democrats' spokesman on women's issues.