EOC Releases Findings of a Study on Public Attitudes Towards Female Political Leadership
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) today (7 October 2020) released the findings of “A Study on Public Attitudes towards Female Political Leadership”, which found that about half of the general public participated in the survey regarded “domestic responsibilities”, “traditional attitudes of gender roles”, and “double standards between genders to prove themselves” as the three major obstacles encountered by women specifically in their way seeking political leadership.
In Hong Kong, women’s proportion among government officials has increased over time to 38% today, but the growth rate has slowed down in recent years, and women remain underrepresented in both the Legislative Council (17.1% female in 2016) and District Councils (19.5% elected members are female in 2019).
To explore the perceptions of qualities of female leaders in Hong Kong’s political sphere and the barriers women facing in attaining political leadership, the EOC has commissioned the research team from the Gender Research Centre in Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at The Chinese University of Hong Kong to conduct the study. It also examines the opinions about different policies for increasing female representation in political leadership and eliminating difficulties encountered by women.
A mixed-method research design was adopted to collect both quantitative and qualitative data of the study. A territory-wide representative telephone survey of the general public aged 15 or above in Hong Kong was conducted which collected 1003 responses (response rate: 38.4%) between December 2018 and January 2019. In addition, a web-based survey and in-depth interviews with political leaders from the Government, the Legislative Council and District Councils, political parties, and other organisations were held.
Regarding qualities of political leadership, more than 60% of the telephone and web-based survey respondents believed that men and women have equally good leadership qualities, while a significant proportion of respondents regarded men more “visionary” (29.1%) and women as more “compassionate” (25.1%) and “collaborative and working out with compromises” (25.9%) in the telephone survey.
Moreover, gender stereotypes exist regarding perceptions of leaders’ performances in different policy areas. More than half of the general public indicated that men were more capable in dealing with issues in security affairs (71.6%) and economic, finance and trade (51.9%), while a significant proportion of respondents believed that women were more capable in areas of social welfare (42.9%) and education (31.5%).
On the one hand, over 70% of the respondents expressed having the same level of confidence in men and women at different levels of political leadership. On the other hand, a significant minority reported different levels of confidence in male and female leaders: they were more likely to regard men as better political leaders (13.4% for male leaders and 8.2% for female leaders) and Legislative Council and District Councils members (10.1% for male leaders and 6.3% for female leaders). As for community or grassroots leaders, 16.0% believed that women perform better, while 8.7% had greater confidence in men’s performance.
Regarding barriers in attaining political leadership, while women faced obstacles common to both genders, such as “lack of experience” and “lack of social network and connections”, women were perceived to encounter additional specific barriers. Up to 64% of the general public respondents regarded “domestic responsibilities” (64%), “traditional attitudes of gender roles” (55.9%), and “double standards between genders to prove themselves” (46.8%) as obstacles specifically faced by women, while very few respondents believed men faced any specific barriers due to their gender. Similar findings are collected from the web-based survey among political leaders themselves.
In interviews, female interviewees further shared that they received unwanted public attention with a focus on their body shape and appearance, while limited access to financial and human resources were mentioned by both female and male political leaders, nascent leaders in particular.
“Although both men and women leaders in in-depth interviews mentioned that extended working hours hindered their work-life balance, women faced greater tensions due to traditional gender role expectations for caregivers with family responsibilities and the lack of organizational support to allow them to accommodate both, particularly for women working at the grassroots levels and in small political organizations,” said Professor Susanne CHOI Yuk-ping, Convener of the Policy, Research and Training Committee of the EOC.
Regarding policies in increasing female political leadership, female respondents (39.1%) and young people (aged 15-34) (44.8%) were significantly more likely to agree that the proportion of women in political leadership should be increased. Yet, around half of the overall respondents in the telephone survey (51.0%) did not think so.
When respondents were asked about the concrete measures to support women in political leadership, the most popular ones focus on family-friendly and capacity-building aspects, including “implement family-friendly policy”, “encourage women to lean in for opportunities”, “provide training for potential female leaders”, i.e. the supply-side measures.
According to the United Nations, in general, in areas where electoral quotas (candidate nomination quotas and reserved seats) are more prevalent, women’s representation increased rapidly with an around 10% rise since 1995. But respondents in this survey showed greater reservation to gender quota systems than other measures. Regarding the requirement of nomination candidacy lists to have a certain number of women, 40% of respondents do not support while about 35% support. When asked whether a certain number of seats should be reserved for women in Legislative Council, District Council and Government units, about 42% would not support while 34% expressed their support.
Professor Susanne CHOI Yuk-ping explained, “We use the logistic regression models to explore why the opinions about increasing female political leadership and for implementing gender quotas are divided. First, it was conditioned by people’s perceptions of female and male leaders, i.e., gender stereotypes. Second, some privileged groups such as the highly educated or high-income people are more reluctant to support gender quotas, possibly because they do not see a need to provide institutional support. To them, the leaking pipeline may be an issue to be solved with individual efforts, but it may not be the situation for women who work at the grassroots levels and small political organizations.”
Mr Gary WONG Chi-him, Member of the Policy, Research and Training Committee of the EOC, said, “Engaging women equally for decision-making in public affairs is not only a fundamental human right, increasing women representation in the political sphere also helps to avoid women’s marginalization, which will lead to a more prosperous and harmonious world. To achieve this goal, this report have made a series of policy suggestions. From the supply side, we suggest enhancing capacities and opportunities for potential leaders through public education, family-friendly policies, training and mentorship, and organisational support.”
“From the demand side, we suggest taking several flexible actions, including voluntary gender quota and promoting gender targets, but both have to be deliberated and designed along with other measures to improve gender awareness and to address gender bias. Whether voluntary gender quotas and gender targets can be effective depends on the transformation of social and cultural practices in the wider society”, said Mr Gary WONG Chi-him.
While this study highlights the fact that women have faced obstacles to participating in political life, women are also often underrepresented in the private sector. “The latest figures from Community Business show that there was only 13.7% of women on Hang Seng Index (HSI) Boards in the second quarter of 2020 which has remained at a similar level in the past two years. Diversity in the boardroom is not only essential for businesses to thrive, but better for society as a whole. To further enhance women's role in both the political and business spheres, it is important to create an enabling environment for them to excel,” said EOC Chairperson, Ricky CHU Man-kin.
The full research report is available at:
Photo caption: Dr Ferrick CHU Chung-man, Executive Director (Operations) of the EOC (first from right), Mr Gary WONG Chi-him, Member of the Policy, Research and Training Committee of the EOC (second from right), along with research team members including Professor Jing SONG, Assistant Professor of the Gender Studies Programme of the CUHK (centre) and Dr Sally LO from the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies of the CUHK (second from left), presented the findings and recommendations of the Study at the press conference today. Professor Anthony YH FUNG, JP, Director of the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies of the CUHK (first from left) also attended the press conference.
Equal Opportunities Commission
7 October 2020