Amid rising intolerance, Hong Kong must renew its commitment to stand against racism
York Chow says there is still ample evidence that ethnic minority Hongkongers face enormous barriers in everyday life. It’s time to get behind reforms to eliminate discrimination
Although there has been clear advancement over the years, not least with the passage of the Race Discrimination Ordinance in 2008, racial inequality remains entrenched in different facets of daily life.
There is ample evidence to demonstrate that ethnic minority Hongkongers continue to face enormous barriers to equal opportunities, starting from an early age, which leaves them more vulnerable to intergenerational poverty.
In the government’s report in December 2015, the poverty rate of South Asian households with children, after policy intervention, stood at 31 per cent, nearly double the comparable figure for overall households with children.
What is sorely needed is a comprehensive policy solution covering different domains, including education, employment and access to services. We has consistently called for more targeted and multi-level support measures, starting from the pre-primary stage, to assist ethnic minority children to learn Chinese, taking into account their specific needs as second- or third-language learners, and to widen their access to higher and tertiary qualifications.
The government should hire more ethnic minority applicants into the civil service, to enable the viewpoints and needs of their communities to be integrated into policymaking and public service.
A stronger effort is needed to foster a truly bilingual environment, with both official languages of English and Chinese being used. This can facilitate the equal participation of ethnic minority Hongkongers, not to mention maintaining our competitiveness as an international city.
Concurrently, the Equal Opportunities Commission is working with the private sector to enhance access to culturally sensitive services, including in areas such as banking or housing. To investigate the situation more systematically, last year we commissioned a new study on race discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services, which is currently ongoing. It is hoped that the findings can provide an evidence-based foundation for further action.
The commission also considered related issues in the context of our comprehensive review of the existing anti-discrimination ordinances, about which the public was consulted in 2014.
In relation to education, the public’s views were sought on removing the existing exceptions relating to medium of instruction in vocational training and education, given our concern that these exceptions may be too wide and may not comply with both local and international human rights obligations regarding language discrimination.
There is also a need to look at whether it would be appropriate to prohibit race discrimination in certain government functions and exercise of powers, which would make the race-related protection consistent with that under other anti-discrimination ordinances.
We must recognise that systemic inequality cannot be adequately addressed reactively, but requires proactive measures.
During the 2014 public consultation, divergent responses were received, which we have carefully analysed along with other relevant factors, including Hong Kong’s human rights obligations. We are in the final stages of putting together our recommendations for legislative reforms on all four anti-discrimination ordinances to the government.
We believe these reforms will be vital to taking our city’s equality framework to the next level and building a truly inclusive society. They would also be timely, given the increasing division in our society.
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We are seeing xenophobia, intolerance and unjust ethnic stereotypes evidently on the rise, sometimes fuelled by biased and sensationalistic media coverage, such as linking asylum seekers to increasing crime or conflating illegal immigrants with genuine protection claimants.
Surely, what defines a “Hongkonger” is neither ethnicity nor circumstances, but mutual love for this city and the willingness to contribute to our shared future.
We need to banish the prejudicial attitudes and stereotypical assumptions that have stubbornly remained. Whatever our background, we all deserve equal respect and opportunity to reach our potential.
It is now half a century since the world took a stand together against racism. On this occasion, Hong Kong should unequivocally reiterate that race discrimination has no place in our community and our character, and put in place the measures that would ensure its elimination.
Dr York Y. N. Chow is chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission