The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have brought the world’s attention to sexual harassment in the workplace. But what about in schools? Can we apply the conversation taking place on a global platform to our own city, schools, and lives?
The University of Hong Kong (HKU) was the first university to adopt the UN’s gender equality initiative, HeForShe, back in 2015. Now, HKU’s HeForShe society is helping to kick-start the conversation about sexual harassment in our city – specifically, one which is tailored to students and their experiences.
On the eve of the (so-called) most romantic day of the year, the society hosted How to Valentine: HeForShe x #MeToo. A workshop about both Valentine’s Day and #MeToo may sound odd, but raising awareness about sexual harassment and having positive romantic experiences are closely related.
As Vice-President and Pro-Vice-Chancellor Terry Au Kit-fong said at the workshop, dating is a “learning experience” in which universities play an important role. They should provide students with a safety net which gives them “the space and opportunity to make recoverable errors”. So, are Hong Kong’s universities fulfilling this role?
According to HKU’s own figures, 10 per cent of its students have experienced sexual harassment, while 20 per cent know of someone who has experienced it. And yet, 22 per cent can’t identify sexual harassment and 35 per cent wouldn’t know what to do if they witnessed or experienced it.
It’s an issue which many students are looking to their universities to address. Indeed, most of the students who turned up to the February 13 event already knew about #MeToo and #TimesUp, and were keen to be part of the solution.
“When I was reading about the MeToo movement, I knew it was [not only] about the more obvious cases of sexual harassment, but also, the more subtle ways you might make someone uncomfortable,” said 19-year-old law student Sakshi Chandrasekhar. “[Today’s meeting] talked about the more obvious stuff, but if this is one of the first things that has happened in HKU, that says something about Hong Kong culture and shows that we really aren’t talking about this enough.”
Medical student Constance Wong, 19, agreed. “I think people do experience this stuff, but no one really talks about it.”
How To Valentine’s guest speakers, image consultant May Chan, psychologist Jaymee Kwan and dating coach J. J. Wu Chang, each offered their perspective on how to navigate the world of dating while also staying safe. Chui emphasised the distinction between being open about your sexuality, and being open to sexual experience.
Students should be able to explore their identities and the avenues open to them, she said, without being put at risk. Chang, meanwhile, pointed out that sexual harassment is an issue we all have a collective responsibility to face head-on.
Again, this seems to be a view that many HKU students already share – the number of male and female students in the room was roughly equal.
“We do agree that more men have to take part in these sort of things,” said 19-year-old law and business student Senthil Asokan. He said that boys often worry about saying and doing the wrong thing when it comes to talking about movements like Me Too. “But we should not be afraid of that,” he added. “We should just try to make the effort to make better discussions. Opening up can get more men involved.”
HeForShe society member Sharon Yuen is one of the driving forces behind the group’s growing presence at HKU – as she explained, “we’re a new group, but we’re gaining momentum and traction now”.
She and the other members of the society worked diligently to put together the workshop. “We did a lot of logistics planning, getting the supporters. We all just came together for this function,” said Sharon.
“The next step is definitely to unite people and tell them what we’re doing,” she said. “HKU is in a unique position to be able to bring people together.”