International Women's Day

5 trailblazing Hong Kong women who broke through the glass ceiling

These high achievers serve as beacons in the push towards sex equality

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2016, 1:12am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2016, 1:11am

In 2014, the World Economic Forum predicted it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity, but wound back its forecast the next year to 2133. So why is the rate of progress so glacial? In a bid to nudge organisations along, “Pledge for Parity” has been chosen as the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day­, which falls today.

Still, there are achievements to celebrate, among them those of five Hong Kong women who have made great strides in the city and beyond.

Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, director general of the World Health Organisation

Before taking the helm of the world’s leading health body, Chan was the first woman to head Hong Kong’s Department of Health. She was in charge of handling the first outbreak of H5N1 bird flu in the city in 1997 and of the response to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003. Chan, 68, ranked 73rd on Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Powerful People in 2015.

Anson Chan Fang On-sang, former chief secretary

Anson Chan was not only the first woman but also the first ethnic Chinese person to hold the second- highest position in the Hong Kong government. She served in both the colonial administration and after the return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Chan joined the civil service in 1962, and helped form the Association of Female Senior Government Officers to fight for equal pay and benefits for women.

Vivian Yam Wing-wah, chemist

Now a chemistry professor at the University of Hong Kong, Vivian Yam was the youngest person appointed to the Chinese Academy of Sciences when she was inducted into the national think tank and research organisation in 2001 at the age of 38. She has received a prestigious international award for Women in Science for her research on light-emitting diodes – an energy-efficient form of lighting now ubiquitous in devices such as smartphones and television screens.

Lee Lai-shan, Olympic gold medallist

Retired professional windsurfer Lee Lai-shan remains the only person from Hong Kong to have won an Olympic gold medal. Known affectionately as San-san, she clinched gold at the 1996 Atlanta games and has been an inspiration to many young athletes since.

Ann Hui On-wah, film director

Before making her mark as one of Hong Kong’s most respected directors with works such as Boat People (1982) and Summer Snow (1995), Ann Hui showed her calibre in a series of films made for the Independent Commission Against Corruption, two of which were deemed too controversial to be aired. Her 2011 work A Simple Life was nominated for a Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival.