Equal Opportunities Commission



Christian Action’s Forum on Access to Services by Ethnic Minorities

“The Government Must Show Leadership on Access Issues” — Speech by Mr LAM Woon-kwong, — Chairperson, Equal Opportunities Commission



Siew-Mei, Professor Kapai, honored guests, friends,

Good afternoon. Thank you for inviting me.

I know that you will hear from a few speakers, all experts in their fields, later this afternoon. So, for my part, I want to share a few thoughts with you about today’s topic, “Access to Services by Ethnic Minorities.”

Why Equal Access?

There are a number of reasons for why we need equal access for our ethnic minorities (EM).

The Moral Argument

Of course, there is the moral argument: Providing equal access to services is the right thing to do, because discrimination is inherently wrong. To extend this argument a bit further, we might say that it is the moral responsibility of a government to protect its people from discriminatory acts. In addition to this, the government should actively remove barriers, visible and invisible, that prevent a level playing field. This is the firm belief of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC).

Legal Liabilities

But we all know that sometimes, a moral argument may not be enough. For those who are particularly resistant to such an argument, the threat of legal action can have a deterrent effect and incentivise many to provide equal access, while also giving aggrieved persons a platform to seek redress. In fact, under the Race Discrimination Ordinance, the EOC frequently sees complaints falling under the provision of goods, facilities and services.

Social Consequences

Unequal access to important services such as education and healthcare can have dire consequences. In extreme cases, excluding minorities can lead to social upheaval. Here in Hong Kong, depriving young people access to life-changing services runs the risk of breeding intergenerational poverty and an endemic sense of isolation and hopelessness among many. Society, indeed, has a reason and an incentive to act.

Business Opportunities

This waste in human resource resulting from discrimination is especially troubling, because we are throwing away both potential talents and consumers, who could contribute to Hong Kong’s economy and open up new opportunities in business.

Enhancing Global Competitiveness

Hong Kong, as an open city, needs diverse talents to remain competitive. After all, in this increasingly inter-connected world and marketplace, the ability to interact effectively across different ethnicities and traditions will be invaluable. Many ethnic minority youths are already naturally fluent in such cross-cultural communication. We only need to give them a platform to compete equally.

How Do We Get There?

So how do we achieve this?

The Government Must Lead

First and foremost, the Government must take the initiative to level the playing field.

Remove Structural Barriers

To begin with, the Government must act to remove the structural barriers that keep ethnic minorities from being able to access services equitably. The most important of this is to ensure equal education opportunity for ethnic minority children by facilitating their learning of Chinese. The EOC has spoken at length on this issue. We have argued our case to the new Chief Executive and received the backing of the Legislative Council. The Chief Executive reiterated his commitment to this issue during a meeting with EOC representatives in June. Now we need real resources and concrete action.

Recommendations from the EOC

To effectively dismantle systemic barriers to education, the key to our children’s future, the EOC has made a number of recommendations. These include a structured support programme in addition to the school voucher system, to facilitate EM children to attend kindergarten; programmes to facilitate Chinese learning, including an alternative teaching and assessing framework; and a data collection system to track the performance of EM students.

No One-Size Fits All Solution

But real and effective change will not happen without a change in mindset. And that will take a recognition that the ethnic minority community is diverse and dynamic. Different groups may face a variety of issues depending on different parts of their identity, be it ethnic, gender, disability, or other factors. Multiple layers of identities intersect and interact, and policymaking should actively take this as a consideration in order to ensure that no group is left behind.

Move Beyond the Bare Minimum

To date, we have seen relative apathy from Government departments, which have adopted an unfortunate attitude of doing the bare minimum without substantive consideration on whether the measures would truly benefit their targets. Beyond reactive measures, the Government must address the source of racial inequality, including the lack of cultural sensitivity by service providers and the seeming invisibility of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. They should put more resources into enhancing social inclusion and cross-cultural understanding.

In trying to change the prevalent attitude of indifference, what can you also do?

Make a Difference in Your Own Life

Each of us holds the power to make a difference in our own lives which could, in turn, trigger change to norms and attitudes on a larger scale.

Equip Yourself with Knowledge

To begin, it is important to be proactive in learning about your rights and responsibilities. I urge you to speak often with community support groups, be they service agencies, NGOs, religious organisations, as well as friends and neighbours, to learn from each other’s experiences in Hong Kong.

Advocate Minority Representation

To add your voice to the decision-making process, greater visibility of minorities in the public arena is necessary, in order to mainstream racial equality into policymaking. I also encourage you to speak to those who are members of public and political bodies, so they can clearly represent and articulate your concerns.

Speak Up Against Injustice

When you see or experience injustice, do speak up. Silence implies consent. If you experience discrimination, you may lodge a complaint with the EOC and other relevant organisations, or speak to your community or NGOs to explore ways to raise awareness on the issue. Without action, there can be no change.

Challenge Stereotypes

This includes speaking out against stereotypes in your own daily life, even if it does not fall within the remit of the law. The Hong Kong Comedian, Vivek Mahbubahni, shared a story with us about how, when he was a student, one of his classmates called him “achaa”. Vivek did not shy away, but responded in Cantonese that he could understand him perfectly. The boy, duly embarrassed, realized that Vivek was not that "different" from him and the two became friends. They remained good friends afterwards.

Unfortunately, when others behave in a discriminatory manner, they may not be wholly aware that their actions are offensive. So speaking out can have an educational effect. When we witness discrimination and do nothing, we only weaken our own rights.

Start Early to Change Mindset

I also urge you to instill the values of inclusion and diversity to all the children that you come into contact with, including your own. The EOC’s study shows that children can pick up prejudice even from the age of three, but early intervention can counteract this thinking.

Cross Cultural Interactions Build Respect

We can all set an example and be a role model. In a recent EOC study, we found that many still hold outdated and stereotypical ideas about other groups. By making the effort to reach across linguistic and cultural barriers, you would be contributing to building a stronger society for all, not just for us, but for the generations to come.


Real changes do not happen overnight. But the EOC will not give up on this fight. We will continue to lobby the Government to ensure that all its citizens can equally access all that Hong Kong has to offer.

With your persistence and voice, we can all help to make Hong Kong more equal for all.

Thank you, and I wish you an enjoyable and fruitful afternoon.