Hong Kong Family Welfare Society 62nd Annual General Meeting
Speech by Mr LAM Woon-kwong, Chairperson, Equal Opportunities Commission
Mr. Eric K.C. Li, Mr. Christopher Law, Mrs. Cecilia Kwan, distinguished guests, staff and members of the Hong Kong Family Welfare Society.
- It is my great pleasure to attend the 62nd AGM on behalf of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). Since its establishment in 1949, the Hong Kong Family Welfare Society, basing on its “Family Perspective”, has been providing diversified professional services to families in need. For many years, you also have been an important partner of the EOC in spreading the messages of equal opportunities to the community.
- Today I am invited to share the experience of promoting equal opportunities and diversity with you. In my views, you are in fact the pioneer in this regard. Your various services, such as the clinical psychological service commenced in the 1970s, the foster care and multiple support programmes for single parents in the 1980s, as well as the programme for ethnic minorities in more recent years, are helping the disadvantaged groups to have better access to equal participation in our society. Those in need are duly supported and are able to contribute their talents to the society. I wish to express my sincere appreciation to the Hong Kong Family Welfare Society for your efforts in promoting social harmony and diversity over the years.
- Over more than a decade, following the enactment of the four anti-discrimination ordinances administered by the EOC, the public awareness of equal opportunities has been significantly increased. Yet, discrimination is still common and creates various social issues -
Despite that the gap between men and women in employment has gradually narrowed, with the ratio of working population between men and women in 2010 being 56%:44%, the average monthly income of women is still lagging behind men (only at 75% of men’s income). Such a disparity has created an even greater impact on female workers in the elementary workforce, who have remained the working poor of our community.
In 2010/11, the EOC investigated into almost 400 complaints lodged under the Sex Discrimination Ordinance. Among them, about 50% were employment-related. In view of the aging population, the government has been encouraging families to have more children. Yet, women face various hurdles from pregnancy to delivery and from childcare to their children's education. Raising children has become a “Mission Impossible” to many, and dual-role parents have to face various family issues all the time.
Family status discrimination
Although the number of complaints on family status received by the EOC is the smallest (51 out of 1,119 cases), most employers are yet to adopt family-friendly policies in promoting work-life balance in their workplace. Nowadays women still often take on the role of homemakers and child-carers in our families. “House-husbands” are rare to be seen. In October this year, it was announced in the Policy Address that the Government would finally consider granting male civil servants paid paternity leave, and to consider making this provision a statutory requirement for all employers. It is hoped that such an initiative would bring about change, and both men and women would bear equal responsibilities in taking care of their families.
Among the employment-related complaints handled by the EOC, more than half of the cases were about disability discrimination. (There were 869 employment-related complaints last year, of which 446 cases were about disability discrimination.) Persons with disabilities who want to show their talents in employment face various hurdles – Are the employers willing to employ them? Will the co-workers get along with them? Are the buildings and facilities accessible for persons with disabilities? Are the roads and transportation accessible? Many people think that persons with disabilities are burdens of the society. However, many persons with disabilities are indeed our valuable human resources. It is the absence of accomodation that become the barrier for them to find the right jobs. The inaccessibility of transportation and facilities in buildings also holds them back from fully integrating into the society.
One of the key reasons of race discrimination is language and cultural barriers. In Hong Kong, about 5% of the population is ethnic minorities (EM). However, the number of EM youngsters who remain in the education system is comparatively low. Hong Kong also lacks a comprehensive system for EM to learn Chinese as well as to advance in education. The level of proficiency in Chinese has limited many EM students’ opportunities from attaining higher academic achievement and subsequently, better employment. While young people have to face such challenges, the adult or more mature EM women also find it difficult to be integrated into the society, and may become the “hidden women”.
- In order to ensure equal opportunities of social participation for different people, the EOC not only enforces the anti-discrimination legislation, but also promotes the concept of equal opportunities through public education, publicity, training and policy research, to raise public awareness and to curb the acts of discrimination. The recent work of the EOC includes:
Handling complaints and enquiries
Last year, EOC answered over 13,000 telephone enquiries and handled over 1,000 complaint cases. The successful conciliation rate was 68% (about two-third). The total amount of monetary compensation was about HK$5.5 million.
Education and publicity
In addition to the promotion of equal opportunity messages on TV, radio, via internet and through various publicity campaigns, we have also engaged more than 50 NGOs through our Community Participation Funding Programme. These are our community partners that actively promote the message of equal opportunities in society.
We have offered training programmes to the public, in particular, to employers, human resources practitioners and managers, etc. The training programmes aim to enhance their awareness on anti-discrimination and to help create a work environment of equality. Last year more than 36,000 employers, employees and groups participated in our training.
Policy and research
The EOC has set up two working groups, namely the Working Group on Access and the Working Group on Education for Ethnic Minorities, and had made recommendations to the government. After our Formal Investigation Report on Accessibility in Publicly Accessible Premises was published, the Hong Kong government and the Link had committed to invest HK$1.3 billion and HK$200 million respectively to improve accessibility.
- In addition to the elimination of discrimination, the EOC also promotes the values of mutual respect, inclusion and diversity. Before these values take root in people’s mind, we have to convey the benefits of embracing these values and help them understand what detriment people will suffer in a society without equality and diversity. In order to gain everyone’s support for equal opportunities, we must have the determination and perseverance to drive the paradigm shift. It takes similar roads like buying in of anti-corruption, protecting our environment, conserving heritage, etc. The journey may be long for the public to fully accept, embrace and realize this ideology.
- Currently, there are discriminatory acts that are outside of the jurisdictions of the existing anti-discrimination laws, for example, age discrimination, as well as discrimination against sexual minorities (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender or LGBT) and the new arrivals. We believe that all kinds of discrimination can only be eliminated if we embrace the values of equality, diversity, and respect.
- To resolve a dispute, one may not necessarily bring it to court. Instead we can resolve it through conciliation. For instance, with issues of barrier-free access and facilities, instead of spending huge amount of money in legal action, the facility providers should understand that an accessible environment is not only beneficial to the public, but also to their business. Such an approach will have a more positive effect on improvement of accessibility.
- We are all members of the global village. Every individual is an important member of this world. We need to partner with every stakeholder to create an equal and diverse community. The “family perspective” of the Hong Kong Family Welfare Society shares our values in respecting family status and work-life balance. On this special occasion, I would like to convey my best wishes for your thriving development to provide quality family welfare service in Hong Kong. Thank you.