City Weekend

‘It won’t happen to me’: activist tackles prejudice against sexual violence victims in Hong Kong

Angie Ng was raised in a conservative household, so when she became a victim of sexual violence she found it hard to come to terms with the episode. Now, through SlutWalk Hong Kong, she is fighting back against victim blaming

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 August, 2018, 1:30pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 August, 2018, 1:30pm

Angie Ng says there are some distasteful phrases in Cantonese – such as dai sei, meaning a person deserved something, and lo lai seu (to bring something upon oneself) – which are frequently being thrown around in daily conversation about victims in all walks of life.

The 39-year-old Canadian, born to parents from Hong Kong, has been a victim of sexual violence, and says she was blamed for it.

“I’ve heard people blame victims of anything, from cancer to homelessness,” says Ng, a feminist activist who is out to change opinions in the city.

But such a tendency towards victim shaming is in no way unique to Hong Kong, she says.

“Not only is it a lack of empathy, I think it makes people feel safer, like they are immune to sexual assault ... as long as they don’t ‘dress like a slut’,” Ng says.

Following her ordeal, Ng turned to SlutWalk – an international movement calling for an end to rape culture, including victim blaming of sexual assault victims. But the organisation had no branch in Hong Kong – so Ng started one.

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A writer and social researcher, she founded SlutWalk Hong Kong in 2011. The group is behind an annual march in Central that aims to raise awareness of their cause.

Last year Ng was included in the BBC’s list of 100 most influential and innovative women.

Like many Hongkongers, she was brought up and educated in a conservative household and education system where she was taught sexually conservative attitudes.

“I could see very clearly how gender oppression played a role in my life,” Ng says.

After she was sexually assaulted in Hong Kong 14 years ago, Ng suffered from post-traumatic stress.

“The incident forced me to personally face the sexual control of women, the Madonna-whore dichotomy, rape myths, victim blaming and so on,” she says.

It was this experience that led Ng to reflect on broader issues of women’s rights and the realisation of how far Hong Kong had to go to achieve gender equality.

I’ve heard people blame victims of anything, from cancer to homelessness
Angie Ng, founder, SlutWalk Hong Kong

One issue in particular affects all women – employment. According to government statistics, the labour force participation rate of women in Hong Kong increased from 49 per cent in 2001 to 55 per cent by 2016.

But few are advancing to senior positions compared with men. Just 29 per cent of management roles are held by women, according to the 2018 Hays Asia Salary Guide released in February.

That figure is above Japan, where only 22 per cent of top posts are filled by females, but below the Asian average of 31 per cent.

A recent study by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) found fewer than half of employers in Hong Kong were willing to hire women with children, even if they were as competent as other candidates who were less family oriented.

The survey, conducted last year, interviewed 436 employers and 1,030 employees. Only 47.2 per cent of firms said they would offer jobs to mothers with young children. The researchers said this showed the companies’ decisions were not based on competence or commitment.

About 40 per cent of gender discrimination complaints received by the EOC were related to pregnancies, according to the study.

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Traditional values are holding many Hong Kong women back, Ng says. Society expects them to drop a career to be a mother or carer, referring to such women as see lai – a degrading Cantonese term meaning housewife.

“There is a lack of acknowledgement of women who leave the workforce to care for others, in areas such as childcare or elderly care,” Ng says.

“Mostly it is women carrying out these duties, unless they manage to afford additional help such as migrant workers.”

Ng wants longer maternity leave for Hongkongers, calling the current 10 weeks “shameful”.

“We are definitely not living in a post-feminist utopia,” she says. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but at least more and more people are aware of the issues.”