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A cardboard collector passes by people waiting for a traffic light in Mong Kok on July 19. Photo: Sam Tsang

Letters | More must be done to end inequalities Hong Kong’s elderly women face

  • Readers discuss how to celebrate the contributions of older women while improving their well-being and giving support to victims of sexual violence
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The theme of this year’s UN International Day of Older Persons on October 1, “Resilience of Older Persons in a Changing World”, shines a spotlight on the achievements of older women in the face of lifelong environmental, social and economic inequalities.
This issue might not seem relevant in Hong Kong, where women enjoy the longest life expectancy in the world and have consistently outlived men since 1986, even as this gap narrows in other countries.

Yet the contributions and resilience of women in Hong Kong should come hand in hand with their well-being, which is about more than having a long life. Ageing well means having a happy, meaningful and satisfying life.

Indices to track well-being among the elderly, compiled by the Institute of Ageing at the Chinese University of Hong Kong from 2017 to 2020, tell a different story to those about lifespan. Compared to their male counterparts, older women reported higher levels of poverty, rated themselves poorer in health, had lower mental health and were more frail.

This inequality relates back to various social issues that are intertwined with Hong Kong’s development across the decades. Before the introduction of compulsory education, women had fewer learning opportunities. The labour participation rate is also lower among women, especially those who are married.

Women typically take on a larger share of caregiving responsibilities, and the struggle to balance work and family can affect their career prospects. Unpaid caregiving work represents a significant burden that too often goes unrecognised.

This was exemplified during the Covid-19 pandemic, during which women in Hong Kong reported their well-being was lower than usual. Female carers in particular experienced higher levels of stress and lower general self-efficacy and physical and psychological health.

In addition, the pandemic gave rise to ageist portrayals of older people in the media, where they were depicted as being incapable and dependent on others.

The International Day of Older Persons gives us an opportunity to applaud the contributions of older women both past and present and strive for a more gender-equitable society. Even with the improvements made over the years, much more needs to be done to reduce gender inequalities.

We need to create more women-friendly workplaces and provide timely and adequate support to caretakers and frail elders. If we all resolve to build a better society, we will have reason to be optimistic about this cause.

Dr Anson Chau, postdoctoral fellow, Richard Lee, functional manager, Institute of Health Equity, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Sexual violence victims deserve our support

Every now and then, reports of sexual violence suffered by women make the headlines. In Hong Kong, a recent survey found that as many as two-fifths of women here had experienced such violence.

As a woman, I feel it is important to voice my opinion on this subject. Victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse are often left feeling stigma and shame. They frequently face disbelief or hostility when they come forward to report their abuser. The survey does a great job of shedding light on the issue.

Sexual violence and domestic abuse are not only physical but also mental and emotional. The scars of these crimes can last a lifetime. Victims often struggle with trust issues, anxiety and depression, and as a result they could have trouble maintaining relationships and often feel isolated and alone.

These crimes are not the victims’ fault. No one deserves to be abused, no matter what. Victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse need our support, not our judgment.

Sexual violence and domestic abuse are not “trends”, they are serious crimes that have a lasting impact on the lives of those who experience them. The women who participated in the survey are brave survivors who have faced immense challenges. I commend them for their strength and hope that their courage will inspire other victims to come forward and seek help.

Qaiser Alishba, Kwai Chung