Women's Human Rights
Women's organizations have been advocating and promoting the protection of women's human rights in Hong Kong for a number of years. However, many women are now concerned that the hard-won government promises for legal reform will not be realized at any time soon and, perhaps, not even prior to 1997. There are three primary areas of concern.
1. Almost two years ago, the British and Hong Kong governments, in response to women's demands, agreed to extend the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women to Hong Kong. However, after two years of British examination and now Joint Liaison Group review, the Hong Kong government has still not made a firm commitment to extend the Convention prior to 1997. Furthermore, it has not given any indication about which reservations will be made, except for ones to permit the continued discrimination against the New Territories indigenous women regarding the male-only rent concessions and the Small House Policy.
2. Despite its passage last July, the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO) is still not in effect and will not be in effect for some time. The entire Ordinance will be declared effective on a piecemeal basis, at the discretion of the Secretary for Home Affairs. The effective date of the SDO has been postponed until the Equal Opportunities Commission is fully operational. The Government's target date for this is September 1996 at which time the non-employment related clauses of the SDO will come into force. The employment provisions will take even longer as they will not come into effect until after the Commission drafts codes of practice on eliminating discrimination and sexual harassment and promoting equal opportunity. The government estimates that the codes of practice will be ready in late 1996. LegCo member Lee Cheuk Yan (who is also a member of the Monitor) has proposed a resolution which calls for the SDO (and the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO) to go into full eff ect on 2 September 1996. LegCo will vote on the resolution 26 June 1996. If it passes, the SDO and DDO will go into full effect in September. If not, the government's schedule will prevail.
3. The government has resisted passing any law against age discrimination. It objected to the age discrimination provisions in Anna Wu's 1995 Equal Opportunities anti-discrimination bill and it continues to object to the Equal Opportunities [Family Responsibility, Sexuality, and Age] Bill sponsored by Lau Chin Shek (also a member of the Monitor). The Government attempted to prevent the present bill from even being introduced into Legco on the ground that the bill had financial implications. Its attempt to block the bill on these grounds failed when the President of Legco ruled in favor of the bill's sponsors. The first reading of the bill will take place on 3 July.
While age discrimination can affect anyone, statistics show that the overwhelming majority of those discriminated against on the ground of age are women. Hong Kong women, especially working class women over 30, bear the brunt of age discrimination in employment.
Members of many women's groups are now concerned that the government will continue to resist implementing effective protection of women's human rights in Hong Kong before 1997. If laws protecting women's human rights are not in place prior to 1997, then it may prove to be even more difficult to achieve gender equality after 1997 as the post-handover government has shown itself even less receptive to protecting women's rights. For example, Beijing has already declared that indigenous New Territories women will once again be treated as second-class citizens. It has acceded to the Heung Yee Kuk's demands to bring back discriminatory laws that recently prevented indigenous New Territories women from inheriting property. Therefore, the time for implementing and enforcing laws protecting women's human rights is now.