City Weekend

How does Hong Kong compare with Europe when it comes to women-friendly workplaces?

Sweden tops the list as the best place in the world for women to work, while the city still has a long way to go before making significant progress in this aspect

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 March, 2018, 11:16am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2018, 11:31am

From low childcare costs to paid leave for mothers and fathers, some European countries, especially Scandinavian ones, have long been lauded for their high degree of gender equality.

In Hong Kong, where the government is currently seeking ways to boost childcare services through increasing land supply for such facilities and raising the amount of maternity leave, the Equal Opportunities Commission says the city still needs to do more to build not only women-friendly but family-friendly work environments.

“Without sufficient family-friendly measures such as flexible work arrangements, many women continue to struggle with striking a balance between their work and responsibilities at home,” a commission spokesman says.

Is gender pay inequality a problem in Hong Kong?

A 2018 glass ceiling index study by The Economist looked into several areas such as labour force participation and childcare cost of 29 developed countries and cities. The study, released in February, ranked Sweden as the best place for working women, with the highest participation rate for the female work force and largest share of women in parliament.

Just below Sweden are Norway and Iceland, which recently legalised gender pay equality.

The study did not cover Hong Kong but suggested South Korea, Japan and Turkey as the three worst places for working women.

Many Hong Kong women face greater stress as they are squeezed between poorest and better off

Here is how Hong Kong measures up when it comes to indicators for gender equality:

Paid leave for both mothers and fathers

Women in Hungary get the equivalent of 71.8 weeks of paid maternity leave, while men get one week of paid paternity leave. The Hong Kong government, however, is hoping to increase maternity leave from 10 to 14 weeks, while men currently are entitled to a three-day paternity leave.

Gender wage gap

In Belgium, women earn 3.3 per cent less than men. But in Hong Kong, the median monthly income of women is around 28 per cent less than men.

Female labour force participation rate

The participation rate for women in Sweden is only 3.7 percentage points lower than that of men. This figure is 13.8 for Hong Kong.

Women in parliament

In Sweden, women hold 43.6 per cent of seats in parliament, a sharp contrast to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council where currently only 10 out of the total 64 legislators – 15 per cent – are female.

Three steps to gender equality in Hong Kong offices. Can men do it?

Ahead of the International Women’s Day on March 8, City Weekend talks to some women and men on their views about what they hope to change to make Hong Kong a more women-friendly society:

Raees Begum Baig, 35, assistant professor

“I hope people can stop making negative judgments about women based on how they look and dress. This might sound very insignificant but body shaming women reduces our desire for social engagement. Not only women, but everyone would be discouraged from taking part in any kind of social events if he or she becomes the subject of a personal attack.”

Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, 36, legislative councillor

“The most practical measure to me is to increase the number of female bathrooms in public areas and shopping malls. I often see a ridiculously long queue outside the ladies’ room when I am out. I think this is the simplest thing we can do.”

Diana Chen, 27, sustainability adviser

“Globally, a lot of companies have increased the amount of maternity and paternity leave for staff, but it’s about going beyond that. British-Dutch transnational consumer goods company Unilever offers childcare services and a regular breakfast series in which female executives discuss their careers … As Hong Kong isn’t known for early adoption, the evolution may be slower here, but in today’s world, this may just be in a few years’ time.”

Kenneth Lau King-hei, 30, freelance writer

“Some of my friends are mothers and have to breastfeed their babies all the time. But the lack of nursing rooms in public areas and at some companies have put them in a very difficult position. I really hope to see more nursing rooms.”

Eman Villanueva, 45, foreign domestic helper

“There are lots of restrictions to domestic helpers that do not apply to other foreign workers, such as the live-in arrangement with employers, and disallowing us to apply for permanent residency. All these regulations are discriminatory. But if the scene can be changed, it would be a very big step towards gender equality, because 89 per cent, or 370,000, of the city’s foreign domestic workers are women.”