Launch of The University of Hong Kong’s commitment to The United Nations HeForShe Initiative
Speech by Dr York Y.N. CHOW, Chairperson, Equal Opportunities Commission （只备英文版）
Prof. Mathieson, Ms Nyamayaro, Dr Armour, Dr Chau, Honoured guests, Friends,
Thank you to HKU for your invitation to this important event. I am always delighted to be here at my alma mater. I am especially proud tonight to show my support to the United Nations which initiated the HeForShe campaign, and particularly to HKU for becoming the first university in the world to publicly sign up for the campaign. It is certainly a significant moment for HKU to demonstrate herself as the global role model university for inclusion, diversity and gender equality.
For those of you who are not familiar with us, the Equal Opportunities Commission is the statutory body tasked to implement the anti-discrimination ordinances in Hong Kong, including the Sex Discrimination Ordinance. Promoting gender equality and eliminating discrimination on the basis of sex, pregnancy, and marital status in Hong Kong has been an integral part of our work since our establishment nearly 20 years ago. In fact, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, which was initially passed in July 1995. It makes our initiatives on gender equality especially meaningful.
We have always been able to justifiably take pride that Hong Kong is a leader in gender equality in Asia, and that we have come a long way on this front since compulsory education was established in 1978. Today, girls in Hong Kong have ample opportunities for education, and we have even had more female undergraduates than male for almost 20 years. The public sector and most of the private sector also have equal pay and benefits for men and women employees.
Nevertheless, we still lack female role models in many areas of leadership, including across the academic, business, professional, government, and even political sectors. For instance, currently, only 16% of Members in the Legislative Council are women. As for the private sector, progress has also been limited. In 2014, only 11.1% of the Board Members of Hang Seng-listed companies are women, according to the latest study by the NGO Community Business. In my experience with various boards and councils in Hong Kong or in international organisations, I find committees which have a balanced percentage of male and female members are often more effective and productive.
In addition, all around the world, women continue to be more vulnerable to poverty and gender violence, including sexual harassment, especially if they are ethnic minority, new migrants and associated with disabilities.
Although we appreciate the Government’s recent effort to mainstream gender equality, much more still needs to be done. And we need men to step up and own this cause.
In fact, since I assumed my role as EOC Chairperson in 2013, I have often noted the fact that I was frequently one of very few men at events to promote gender equality. Certainly, men are participating in initiatives to advance gender equality in far fewer numbers, perhaps because many men do not view gender equality as their issue. There is no doubt that both men and women must be engaged on this pursuit. After all, gender stereotypes and inequality affect men as well, and will increasingly continue to do so in the years to come as we face ongoing demographic and social changes.
That is why initiatives such as HeForShe – which aim specifically at getting men to be visible, proactive, and outspoken in their solidarity for the cause of gender equality – are so important. Gender equality is a human right, not only women’s right, and it impacts all of us. We need to shift the narrative at every level: in the family, in the classroom, at work, in policymaking, and in everyday conversations. And we can only do that if all of us, whatever our age, position or gender, get involved, starting now.
Looking around at the large number of men in attendance today, I am sure that the visible support being shown here at HKU will have positive reverberations across society in the years to come. After all, the future leaders who leave this university with the values of diversity and inclusion firmly imprinted in their mind will be able to implement them in their own lives, speaking up for more equal workplaces, homes, and the community at large, and they will thrive and succeed in our ever globalizing international community.
Such steps are necessary if we are to truly level the playing field for all and ensure that both women and men have equal opportunities to pursue their aspirations. The Commission looks forward to working with all of you towards this shared goal.
Thank you again for your invitation, and I wish the launch of the HeForShe campaign every success.