Women's Commission has become about 'cocktails and receptions', blasts Anson Chan

Former chief secretary, who announced the commission's setting up in 2001, says it isn't tackling issues of vital importance to women

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 August, 2014, 5:44am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 August, 2014, 10:46am

The Women's Commission is under fire for failing to do its duty to advance the lot of women in Hong Kong - from Anson Chan Fang On-sang, the woman who announced its setting up.

The former chief secretary said the commission had become more about "cocktails and receptions" than real initiatives.

"The most important thing is to identify areas in need of work, do basic research, collaborate. Real effort. Not just turn up for cocktails and receptions, and International Women's Day," she said. "This isn't what I set it up to do."

The Women's Commission was created in 2001, after the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women was applied to Hong Kong. Its role is to advise government bureaus and departments on ways to rid themselves of sexist policies, such as the small- house policy which grants all male indigenous villagers land rights, to conduct research on pressing matters for women and to advise the government on how policies would affect women.

The government is increasing the commission's funding by almost 17 per cent to HK$29.6 million in the current financial year after lifting it by almost 5 per cent in the last year.

Chan said it was apparent from the commission's own reports that little had been done in the last few years to identify the most pressing needs of women and to push government departments to address any shortcomings.

She added that government departments across the board suffered from "a lack of leadership and a lack of initiative".

And she said it was increasingly difficult even for businesspeople to get a straight answer about policies.

Women's Commission chairwoman Stella Lau Kun Lai-kuen defended her organisation, saying it had been working quietly at a more grass-roots level and was constantly meeting people.

"There are people with more urgent needs; we wanted to visit them to see for ourselves what their needs were," said Lau.

"We want to help them come out of their cocoon, and help them feel they can contribute to society in whatever way they see fit."

She said the commission had been working in conjunction with other women's groups in petitioning for better after-school child care for working parents. Some schools, she said, had already begun to operate longer hours to cater for this.

Organisations that should be natural allies of the commission were also critical.

"They're not forward looking, they're doing very little and the stuff they are doing with health, for example, is what a lot of district councillors, legislative councillors and NGOs are already doing," said Annie Chan Hau-ming, a member of the Association for the Advancement of Feminism.

"They should be tackling issues like gender mainstreaming, gender budgeting, affordable childcare for women. In health, they should be pressing for free or very cheap mandatory health screening," said Chan.

Current and former members of the commission speaking anonymously also voiced concern, saying they were unclear about the body's direction and the work being done.

One member spoke about the general sentiment in government advisory bodies: "People don't want to rock the boat, because if you rock the boat, you'll be shot."

The Women's Foundation, an NGO, earlier this year put out a statement saying the commission was "inadequately staffed, resourced and positioned to drive the integration of gender in legislation, public policies and programmes".

It called for the commission to be "properly monitored and evaluated", and called on the government to create a post of women's affairs minister or something similar to push for changes full-time.

Lau's post as chairwoman is voluntary and comes on top of her duties as the head of Diocesan Girls' School, as well as other commitments.