CEDAW (Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women)
Non-Governmental Organization Report
of the Equal Opportunities Commission
on Hong Kong Special Administrative Region's
Second Report under the Convention on Elimination of
all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
Before the CEDAW 36th Session (New York, August 2006)
1. The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) was established by statute in May 1996 and is responsible for administering three anti-discrimination laws in Hong Kong: the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO); the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO); and the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance (FSDO). The EOC is fully funded by the Government.
2. The EOC is charged with the responsibility of eliminating discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status, pregnancy, family status and disability, eliminating sexual harassment and disability harassment and vilification, and promoting equality between men and women, between persons with disabilities and without disabilities, and persons with family status and without family status. The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) would like to take this opportunity to provide our views on the implementation of CEDAW in Hong Kong to the Committee on CEDAW (the Committee).
Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value
3. The Committee has recently issued a list of questions with regard to the consideration of China's country report. The Committee asks, among other things, the HKSAR Government to "provide the results of the 2001 Government-funded study on equal pay for work of equal value (EPEV) in both public and private sectors".
4. For the Committee's information, members of the Task Force set up to oversee the study on EPEV commissioned by the EOC had examined the initial draft report prepared by the consultants of the study in 2003. They had divergent views on the methodology adopted in the study and the interpretation of data. Due to the complexities of the issues involved, the EOC has taken time to look into the various issues in detail and consider the best way to take the matter forward. After deliberations, the EOC has now decided on the way forward and planned to finalise and release the results of the study in July or August 2006. Thereafter, the EOC will revise the Code of Practice on Employment issued under the Sex Discrimination Ordinance to explain more clearly the concept of EPEV. Public education to promote understanding of EPEV will also be organised.
Review of the Sex Discrimination Ordinance
5. In 1999, the EOC completed a review of the SDO and proposed to the HKSAR Government 14 amendments to -
(a) clarify the application of certain provisions;
(b) extend the provisions against sexual harassment to additional areas. These include, for example, sexual harassment of tenants/sub-tenants by other tenants/sub-tenants, and harassment of providers of goods, services and facilities by customers, and extends "sexually hostile environment" harassment in the field of education;
(c) remove certain exceptions;
(d) provide the EOC with additional powers and means to handle discrimination; and
(e) amend certain headings and some parts of the Chinese text.
6. In its response to the list of issues presented by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in May 2004, the HKSAR Government said it had accepted many of the EOC's proposals for the amendment of the SDO and was actively considering how to take them forward. The response also said at the time of finalising the reply to CESCR, it was thinking of incorporating some of the recommendations in the proposed legislation against racial discrimination and then to make corresponding amendments to the SDO, so widening their scope and ensuring consistency. No progress, however, is made so far in relation to these proposed amendments since there is delay in the introduction of the proposed legislation against racial discrimination.
7. The EOC strongly urges the HKSAR Government to introduce the proposed amendments to the SDO as soon as possible independent of the proposed race law.
Small House Policy
8. An exemption in the existing SDO relates to the small house policy. Under this policy, a male indigenous person in the New Territories of Hong Kong is entitled to apply to the HKSAR Government to build a three-storey village style house as a residence. Both women and non-indigenous persons are excluded from this policy.
9. In February 1999, the EOC recommended to the HKSAR Government, as part of the proposals made following its review of the SDO, that the small house policy exemption should be repealed. In January 2001, the HKSAR Government advised the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) that it had commenced a review of the policy in September 1997. In its second report submitted to the Committee in 2003, the HKSAR Government informed the CESCR that the review foreshadowed in the initial report was still in progress.
10. The EOC urges the HKSAR Government to expedite on its decision on the small house policy and to ensure that any possible options to resolve the matter do not discriminate on the grounds of sex.
Under-representation of women in Advisory and Statutory Bodies
11. It is the HKSAR Government's position that appointments to HKSAR Government advisory and statutory bodies (ASBs) are made on the basis of merits, taking into consideration an individual's ability, expertise, experience, integrity and commitment to public service, regardless of gender. That said, the HKSAR Government has set a gender benchmark of 25%, on the advice of the Women's Commission (WoC), as an initial working target for appointments to ASBs. According to the Health, Welfare and Foods Bureau, as at December 2005, the 25% target of the appointed non-official posts of ASBs was met.
12. Though it is encouraging to see that the 25% benchmark is achieved, the EOC considers a more balanced gender composition would enable the views and concerns of both genders to be fully reflected in the HKSAR Government's policies formulation and implementation processes. Thus, the EOC urges the HKSAR Government to review and to upward adjust the working target for appointments to ASBs in consultation with the WoC and stakeholder groups.
13. In Hong Kong, there is a difference in average monthly earnings between men and women employees, and the difference was greater in non-supervisory and non-technical jobs. For example, a woman worker in manufacturing industry engaged in non-production work earned about HK$6,330 a month, as compared to HK$7,867 earned by a man in the same occupation.
14. In our regular contacts with women groups, we also received allegations claiming that some employers used different job titles to label the same job for male and female jobholders so that they could pay male and female jobholders differently. This problem of "unequal pay for equal work" is most apparent in certain job groups such as cleaners, security guards and manual labor in the catering industry and may have contributed to the gender wage-gap in the non-supervisory and non-technical jobs abovementioned.
15. The EOC is concerned about the persistent existence of the gender wage-gap and the practice of unequal pay for equal work. The EOC has already approached representatives of some trade unions to obtain further information about the experience of female workers engaging in certain industries where they were customarily paid less than male counterparts to decide our step next of action.
Family-friendly Employment Policies and Practices (FFEPs)
16. In recent years, we are seeing a gradual increase in participation of women (some of them with children) in the work force in Hong Kong. On the other hand, Hong Kong's aging population implies that more responsibility for care of the elderly population would fall onto the shoulders of our working population, including women. It is encouraging to note that the HKSAR Government is setting good example by taking initiative to introduce 5-day workweek to address work-life balance of the civil servants. However, the initiative is but one of the many established good practices adopted by employers in some overseas countries to address work-life balance of their employees and more FFEPs suitable for use by employers in Hong Kong should be explored.
17. The EOC and the WoC has in January 2006 commissioned a study on FFEPs. Objectives of the study include:
· To investigate the prevalence of FFEPs in Hong Kong
· To identify an inventory of FFEPs that are available in organisations in Hong Kong
· To assess the level of awareness among Hong Kong employers of the value and benefits of FFEPs
· To gauge employers' willingness to adopt FFEPs
· To explore possible incentives that would encourage employers to adopt FFEPs
18. It is expected that findings and recommendations of the abovementioned study on FFEPs would be available for release in August 2006. The EOC urges the HKSAR Government to seriously consider the findings and recommendations of the study and take the lead to introduce more FFEPs to address employees' work-life balance.
Women with Disabilities
19. In early 2005, the Association of Women with Disabilities Hong Kong expressed their concern on the inaccessibility of some Maternal and Child Health Centres (MCHC) of the Department of Health. The key problems identified by the Association include lack of signage and tactile guide-paths; blockage of passages, entrances, tactile guide-paths and lift entrances; steep gradient of some access routes; lift press-buttons too high for wheelchair users; lack of toilets for the disabled; and reception counters too high for wheelchair users etc. The problems identified by the Association were then conveyed to the Department of Health in February 2005. Subsequently, a seminar was held with participation from the Association, the Department of Health and the EOC to discuss how to improve the accessibility of services and facilities of the MCHCs to women with disabilities. Due to physical constraints, retrofitting to improve accessibility of some of the MCHCs was not feasible and the Department of Health undertook to facilitate patients with disabilities to transfer to other accessible MCHCs for follow up.
20. The incident clearly illustrates the unique nature of the kinds of difficulties faced by women with disabilities. The EOC urges the HKSAR Government to critically audit the accessibility of all premises where government services or facilities are provided, particularly those providing special services to women, and to make improvement where possible.
Integrating Gender Equality and Equal Opportunity Concepts into School Curriculum
21. In the past few years, the EOC was in regular dialogue with the Curriculum Development Institute (CDI) of Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) to advocate for the integration of gender equality and equal opportunity concepts into school curriculum. According to the CDI, the concept of equal opportunity and human rights were incorporated in subjects such as the General Studies for junior secondary students, and in Social Studies, History and GPA for higher forms under the existing curriculum. In addition, the concept of equal opportunity was introduced in morning assemblies, cross-curricular activities and extra-curricular activities. Moreover, the concept of equal opportunity would be introduced in the Liberal Studies subject of the proposed New Senior Secondary academic structure. "Gender" as an issue of enquiry and "gender" as a perspective for issue enquiry would also be introduced in the study area of "Self and Personal Development" in the Liberal Studies.
22. While recognising EMB's effort in integrating the concepts of gender equality and equal opportunity into school curriculum, the EOC is concerned whether teachers, particularly teachers of the future Liberal Studies subject, have sufficient knowledge and training on these complicated and evolving concepts. In this connection, the EOC urges the EMB of the HKSAR Government to invite different experts, including the NGO community providing services to women, to providing training on these specific topics to enrich knowledge of the teachers concerned. The EOC is most willing to contribute to such enrichment exercise if required.
23. The EOC is concerned about the recent increase in terms of number and seriousness of reported domestic violence incidents, most notably a tragedy occurred in 2003 in which a housewife and her two children died as a result. There are also patterns that most battered wives are new arrivals from the mainland; that they tend to reside in certain known districts; and that they are Comprehensive Social Security Allowance (CSSA) recipients.
24. The EOC urges the Government to formulate its public education and prevention strategies and programmes having regard to the abovementioned patterns and trends as well as to provide appropriate awareness and sensitivity trainings to front-line staff such as social workers, police officers, healthcare workers, etc.
25. Additional to the above listed issues of concern, the EOC urges the Government to take into account views and concerns expressed by women groups and NGOs providing direct services to women from time to time and to consult them in their formulation and implementation of government policies and programmes.
Equal Opportunities Commission