New Hong Kong Labour Party leader urges equality for women in politics and better policies for caregivers

Suzanne Wu articulates her vision at the start of her two-year term

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 December, 2015, 3:25pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 December, 2015, 3:25pm

The Hong Kong government should put forward policies to alleviate the caregiving burden placed on women’s shoulders for years, according to the Labour Party’s newly-elected chairwoman as she vowed to advocate gender equality in the city’s political participation.

The election on Sunday of Suzanne Wu Sui-shan to succeed veteran lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan in helming the four-year-old party brought to seven the number of the city’s 11 major political parties led by women.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Wu, 35, said: “I have seen many grassroots female members [in the party and other organisations] decide to recede from the scene at some point in their lives as their family burdens increase.”

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“Society has long held an expectation that women are responsible for taking care of children, regardless of their social class,” she added.

Wu lamented what she regarded as the government’s lack of recognition for the contribution of caregivers, most of whom she said were women. She said it failed to introduce policies to share caregiving costs, such as providing adequate services and family-friendly protocols in the workplace.

Taking the political helm, Wu, also the project coordinator of the Association for the Advancement of Feminism, said she planned to strengthen her party’s internal organisation.

One item topping her to-do list was to set up a task force looking into equal rights policies.

“We are not only talking about gender, but also ethnic minorities, disabled persons and new immigrants,” she said.

Wu hoped the new task force could better engage party members as well as build a sustainable working relationship with non-governmental groups, which she said were traditionally reluctant to work closely with political parties.

She also hoped to introduce a monthly small-amount donation scheme to ensure the Labour Party had a regular source of money from the general public.

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“A stable income from small-amount donations would enable our party to truly reflect the citizens’ voices,” she said, noting that a large donation would raise expectations that the party would act according to a particular donor’s wishes.

Wu got her start in politics by joining the Confederation of Trade Unions, with a focus on cleaning workers and security guards, right after she graduated from Polytechnic University in 2002.

She once led union members in occupying the vice chancellor’s office at her alma mater to call for higher pay for the cleaning staff, after witnessing their plight when she served as a student union leader at the institution. Their pay eventually was raised from some HK$4,500 to HK$6,000.

“There was a great sense of satisfaction,” she recalled. “Since then I decided to devote my whole life to working in non-governmental organisations, looking for ways to help make the world a better place.”

Looking ahead, Wu said she would not rule out running for a seat in the Legislative Council if the party found her a suitable candidate.

But she added that she was more interested in strengthening her party’s cohesion during her two-year tenure as its leader.