Hong Kong women's notable progress inspires commitment to do more
To mark the 40th anniversary of the International Women's Year, the American Women's Association recently hosted a luncheon seminar asking two notable questions about Hong Kong women: what progress has been made in the past 40 years, and what needs to happen next?
The event's convener, former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, opened the programme by stating: I am probably the oldest person in this room.
Given her intellect and independence, Mrs Chan is of course well placed to assess the progress of Hong Kong women over the past 40 years. That day, she helped the audience understand that our life experience can be a great teacher, holding lessons for the challenges we face in the present.
The seminar's four panellists shared their views on education, health, careers and family matters. Sweeping gains in educational opportunities for girls and women have enabled many women to seize employment opportunities offering salary and job prospects equal to men's. This is especially true for recent graduates.
Yet, the question remains: will this continue to be true for women as they mature through the child-bearing years and later?
When a woman has young children, will her husband take time away from his paid job to help care for those children? If not, are employed women justified in hiring women from developing countries in Southeast Asia to work in the home? Further, how do we measure women's work in caring for their ageing parents?
Wanting to be certain of their own career advancement, many younger women are postponing marriage and pregnancy. Some women freeze their eggs. What do you say when your 33-year-old daughter, niece or mentee tells you that she is freezing her eggs because while her career is going OK, she is still searching for the right man?
We also learned that family life is not always bliss. Domestic abuse could come in the form of daily insult or assault. A hospital nurse sees bruises and asks what can be done to help. Often, the women dare not speak up for fear of bringing the family shame. How can we better train our physical and mental health professionals to watch out for the signs of abuse?
Reviewing the progress since 1975, we can be thankful to one another. Over the past 40 years, many of us have worked together in civic, corporate and community organisations to raise the quality of life for Hong Kong's women, men and families. While grateful for the progress so far, we cannot stop. We have a long way to go.
Rosann Santora Kao, Tsim Sha Tsui