Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC)

New head, same mission for Equal Opportunities Commission

A change of leadership may bring with it a change in style but watchdog’s core goal of equality for all should not be altered

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 March, 2016, 10:27pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 April, 2016, 12:00pm

That Dr York Chow Yat-ngok is on the way out after serving his three-year term as head of the Equal Opportunities Commission has been known for a while. In fact, the anti-discrimination watchdog has had seven leaders in 20 years, none of whom served a second term. For an agency with such frequent changes at the helm, the news should come as no surprise.

But Chow’s replacement by academic Alfred Chan Cheung-ming, who heads the Elderly Commission, has understandably drawn the ire of gay rights activists. They are worried that the government wants Chan to reverse gear on the watchdog’s drive for legislation to protect sexual minorities.

Credit goes to Chow for broaching a highly contentious issue. His vocal call for legislative protection is in line with the watchdog’s advocacy role on equal opportunities. While he has won applause from some quarters in society, he is also seen as “too front-running” in the eyes of others, possibly including officials. So far the government has no plan for such a law.

There is more to equal opportunities than just defending gay rights. The commission should not be seen as a single-issue watchdog. While there is a strong case to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, it should be done with care.

Chan may lack experience in gay rights issues. But his appointments to a wide range of public service bodies have put him in a position to take on the challenge. Unlike Chow’s no-holds-barred approach, the Lingnan University professor is more open to negotiation and consensus. Our society is already embroiled in too many arguments and they should be resolved through inclusive consultation, he says.

Chan is just stating the truth. Despite growing acceptance of gay relationships, social resistance against legislation remains strong. This is not helped when the government is not prepared to take a stronger lead on legislation at this stage. The watchdog has a mission to make Hong Kong a place with equal opportunities for all. This aspiration should not be altered because of a change in leadership.