Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Home Affairs
Protection of Rights of Women
Government subscribes to the principle of equality between men and women and is fully committed to fostering gender equality in Hong Kong. This paper informs Members of the progress of work taken by the Government to enhance gender equality in Hong Kong and to improve the welfare and health services for women in our society.
Promotion of Gender Equality
2.The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) requires State Parties to embody in their constitutions or other legislation in principle the equality of men and women. Following Government's announcement in June 1994 to prepare legislation against sex discrimination and to seek the extension of the CEDAW to Hong Kong, the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO) was enacted in July 1995 to ensure the realisation of the objective of the CEDAW.
3.The SDO renders unlawful discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status, or pregnancy in specified areas of activity including employment, education, provision of goods, facilities or services, disposal or management of premises and activities of Government. It also outlaws sexual harassment and makes it unlawful to apply any discriminatory practices.
4.In general, the SDO allows for the adoption of special measures designed to achieve equality for, or to meet special needs of, pregnant women or persons of a particular sex or marital status. Specifically, the SDO provides for exceptions for acts done for the purpose of protection of women as regards pregnancy or maternity and other circumstances giving rise to risks specifically affecting women.
5.The CEDAW was extended to Hong Kong in October 1996 and the entire SDO came into force in December 1996.
6.Following the enactment of the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance (FSDO) in June 1997 to render unlawful discrimination against a person who has family status in specified areas of activities similar to those covered by the SDO, we are also able to provide protection to women who have responsibility for the care of an immediate family member who is related to them by blood, marriage, adoption or affinity. This applies particularly to those women carers and single parents. We aim to bring the FSDO into force in November 1997.
Equal Opportunities Commission
7.The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), which is an independent statutory body responsible for the implementation of the SDO and FSDO, has been in full operation for over 1 year since September 1996. The EOC is specifically tasked with the functions to promote equality of opportunity between men and women generally as well as equality of opportunity between persons irrespective of family status. With the commencement of the FSDO, it will pay special attention to implementing the provisions contained therein and continue its efforts to promote equal opportunities.
8.We recognise that legislation is not the only effective means to enhance equality of opportunity between the two genders and in particular, the status of women. We have also introduced non-legislative measures, such as public education and self-regulation, to promote gender equality by both the Government and other public bodies. These measures are-
Welfare Services for Women in Need
- public education and publicity activities launched by the EOC for the purpose of promoting equality of opportunity between the two genders. These include the distribution of codes of practice, information leaflets and quarterly newsletters; the commissioning of a series of radio programmes and docu-dramas; the organisation of various seminars and weekly workshops; the issuing of booklets on good management practices; and the development of a series of training modules;
- programmes organised by the Committee on the Promotion of Civil Education (CPCE) to promote civic awareness. The CPCE has designated " equal opportunities " a focus of its work over the last three years. The Committee has launched programmes specifically designed to address the issue of gender stereotyping. These include the production of television campaigns, teaching materials targeting children and publications for adults; the sponsorship of projects organised by voluntary agencies and community organisations on the promotion of gender equality; as well as the launching of exhibitions to promote, inter alia, the message of gender equality. Besides, the CPCE had also sponsored the publication by the Faculty of Law, the University of Hong Kong a manual in Chinese on " Assessing the Status of Women: Reporting under the CEDAW " in late 1996;
- promotion measures taken by the Government to enhance the public's awareness of gender equality. These include the production of publications in forms of booklets, comic book and CD Rom distributed to the public; the publishing of pamphlets containing the text of the CEDAW; the uploading of the text onto the internet; and the free distribution of booklets and souvenirs in various forms on the CEDAW to arouse the public awareness of the Convention.
9.To support the family and its carer, including women, the Social Welfare Department and the NGOs have made available a comprehensive network of family services, which include the provision of -
- family casework and counselling services through 65 family services centres to assist families and individuals including women new arrivals from the Mainland to enhance their problem solving capacity when dealing with problems of the family;
- Family Life Education (FLE) services, in the form of community education, through 79 FLE workers to arouse the awareness of the importance of family life and to help family members grow into contributing and responsible members of the society, with the ultimate aim to improve the quality of family life and prevent family breakdown;
- home help services through 124 home help teams to assist families in need to take care of their disabled or elderly members;
- family aide services through 52 family aid workers to provide training on home management and child care skills; and
- a Family Care Demonstration and Resource Centre in Chai Wan to provide demonstration and practical skills training to married couples in small group sessions on family care, home management, parenting concepts and family caring skills.
10.To tackle the problem of domestic violence, including wife battering, we adopt a three-pronged approach to tackle the problem: firstly, to prevent its occurrence through family life education and publicity; secondly, to arrest the offenders and thirdly, to protect and assist the victims through counselling and provision of various welfare services, including refuge services.
11.The Domestic Violence Ordinance was enacted to deal specifically with domestic violence. Under the Ordinance, the court may grant injunctions on application by a party to a marriage to restrain the other party from using violence or exclude the other party from certain areas.
12.Besides, as tackling the problem of wife battering requires the concerted efforts from various professions, a Working Group on Battered Spouses consisting of representatives from concerned government departments and NGOs has been in place. Apart from working out a Multi-disciplinary Guidelines on handling cases of domestic violence, the Working Group has also assumed a co-ordinating role in collecting and disseminating information for different public education programmes, including the production of publicity leaflets to enhance public awareness of the problem and to encourage victims to come forward for assistance.
13.Government recognises that in the absence of support from their spouses, single parents (with the majority of them being women), tend to have a greater need for financial and child care services. Following a comprehensive review of the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme completed in early 1996, improvements were introduced in April 1996. These include an increase in the standard rate for single parents; introduction of an annual flat-rate grant for selected items of school related expenses for school children in order to simplify the procedures and to overcome any stigmatisation that may be attached to it; and priority access to retraining courses for single parents on CSSA.
14.Furthermore, legal aid is also available to eligible and meritorious applicants to take proceedings for divorce, child custody, or ancillary relief. Legal advice for single parents can now be obtained from the Tel Law Scheme and Legal Advice Scheme.
15.Provision of child care is another area in which the Government has helped workers with family responsibilities in general and single parents families that have to take care of children in particular. A wide range of day care services is available. As at 30 September 1997, there were a total of 25, 555 Government and aided day nursery places and 1,479 subvented day creche places and 1,149 subvented special child care centres places. Plans to improve the child care services include : addition of 1,874 aided day nursery places, 170 aided day creche places and 15 subvented special child care centre places in 1997/98.
16.In addition, low income families who are unable to provide adequate care for their children during the day as a result of their going out to work will be eligible to receive assistance under the Fee Assistance Scheme to meet the cost of day care for their children.
17.To maximise the use of available resources, more flexible child care arrangements, such as occasional child care services, extended operating hours of aided day nurseries and promoting the establishment of work-based child care centres and mutual help child care centres have also been introduced.
Health Services for Women in Need
18.Government offers a comprehensive range of promotive, preventive, curative and rehabilitative healthcare services for women of all ages to safeguard and promote their health and that of their families. Women have equal access as men to heavily subsidised health care services in hospitals, general out-patient clinics, student health service centres, elderly health centres and specialised clinics. Women in Hong Kong also have ready access to maternal and child health centres, family planning clinics and woman health centres.
19.As regards maternal health services, the Department of Health has made available a range of promotive and preventive programmes, including antenatal, intrapartum and postnatal care as well as family planning advice for women of child bearing age throughout its 50 Maternal and Child Health Centres and six maternity homes. All pregnant women have access to trained personnel throughout pregnancy and drug in delivery. From January to September 1997, 18,214 pregnant women attended these centres and homes for antenatal care, while 16,138 mothers have used the postnatal service. Some 108,443 women of child bearing ages have registered for family planning service.
20.Parents of all new born babies delivered in Hong Kong are contacted by staff of Maternal and Child Health Centres under the Department of Health. Postnatal mothers are interviewed individually by health nurses. Those who are suspected to have symptoms of postpartum depression are counselled and followed-up regularly at the centres. Home visits are made where necessary. Those with symptoms of postpartum depression are referred to the psychiatric units under the Hospital Authority or to hospital Accident and Emergency Departments in urgent cases.
21.The Department of Health also places special emphasis on the prevention of diseases which are specific and prevalent in the female population. Department of Health runs three Woman Health Centres which provide specific health services to perimenopausal women. Similar programmes are also offered in non-government agencies such as the Family Planning Association and public hospitals and private practitioners.
23.A wide range of health education programmes have also been launched to promote health among women. These include Health Ambassador Training Courses run by the Central Health Education Unit of the Department of Health, health talks and workshops run by the Maternal and Child Health Centres and Woman Health Centres, Family Sex Education Campaigns and Family Campaigns run by the Family Planning Association, and health researches run by the Health Care and Promotion Fund which was established by the Government. Some health education programmes target to help the expectant mothers and their spouses to prepare for various physiological and psychological changes during both the antenatal and postnatal period, including the management of postpartum depression.