Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2)1404/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/HA

LegCo Panel on Home Affairs

Minutes of special meeting held on Monday, 7 December 1998 at 2:30 pm in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present:

Hon CHOY So-yuk (Chairman)
Hon Cyd HO Sau-lan
Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon MA Fung-kwok
Hon James TO Kun-sun
Hon Christine LOH
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Hon Jasper TSANG Yok-sing, JP
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP

Members Absent:

Hon Albert HO Chun-yan (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum, JP
Hon Gary CHENG Kai-nam
Hon LAU Wong-fat, GBS, JP
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo
Hon Timothy FOK Tsun-ting, JP
Hon LAW Chi-kwong, JP

Public Officers Attending:

Mr Peter LO
Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs

Miss Helen TANG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs

Mr Philip CHAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Security

Ms Esther LEUNG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower

Dr CHAN Wai-man
Assistant Director of Health (Personal Health Services)

Mr LAU Man-shek
Assistant Director of Education (Planning and Research)

Mrs Cecilia TONG
Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Family and Child Welfare)

Mr LI Kwok-ming
Chief Social Security Officer (Social Security)
Attendance by Invitation:
Equal Opportunities Commission


Dr Priscilla CHUNG
Director - Gender

Hong Kong Council of Social Service

Ms Lilian LAW

Ms Elsa CHIU

Hong Kong Women Development Association

Ms WONG Mo-tei

Ms CHOW Chuen-heung

Hong Kong Federation of Women

Mrs Peggy LAM, SBS, OBE, JP

Miss Elle SHUM Mun-ling
Council Member

Family Planning Association of Hong Kong

Dr Susan FAN
Executive Director

Ms Doris SHU
Assistant Director - Information, Education and Motivation

Hong Kong Federation of Women's Centres

Executive Committee Member

Ms LAM Yuk-kuen
Education Officer

Dr Philip BEH, Faculty of Medicine, University of Hong Kong

Hong Kong Association of Business and Professional Women


Clerk in Attendance:
Mrs Constance LI
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2
Staff in Attendance:
Miss Flora TAI
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 2
I. Opening remarks

The Chairman welcomed representatives of the deputations and the Administration attending discussion on the Initial Report of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Members noted that the following organizations had also provided written submissions to the Panel -

    Harmony House
    [Paper No. CB(2)797/98-99(02)]

    Women Affairs Group of the Democratic Party
    [Paper No. CB(2)832/98-99(01)]

    Citizens Party
    [Paper No. CB(2)832/98-99(02)]

2. At the invitation of the Chairman, representatives of the deputations presented their views to the Panel. The discussion is summarized below.

II. Meeting with the deputations

Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC)
[Paper No. CB(2)754/98-99(01)]

3. The Chairperson of EOC highlighted the principal recommendations of EOC as set out in its written submission. Chairperson of EOC said that it had been suggested in the Legislative Council (LegCo) as early as 1993 that a Women Commission should be set up to develop policy and co-ordinate government services for women matters. Although EOC was established in 1996, it was only given the statutory responsibility for the administration of the three anti-discrimination ordinances which were enacted after 1995. Within the existing legislative and administrative framework, EOC could only fulfill part of the obligations under CEDAW, as EOC was not a statutory body empowered to implement and monitor compliance with the provisions in CEDAW. She considered the existing machinery inadequate, as demonstrated by the imminent temporary closure of the Harmony House caused by the lack of co-ordination among government departments. EOC therefore recommended the establishment of a high-level central mechanism within Government to oversee all women matters, formulate policy for women and co-ordinate government services for women as required under CEDAW. The central mechanism could perform the following functions -

    - deal with issues in CEDAW;

    - formulate policies on women;

    - advise on the impact on women of all Government policies;

    - direct funding into areas based on these policies;

    - address women's problems;

    - compile gender statistics and analyses; and

    - act as a clearing house on training programmes for women.

4. Responding to Ms HO Sau-lan's enquiry about the income disparity between men and women, Chairperson of EOC pointed out that the phenomenon would require careful detailed analyses as it was a compound effect of multiple factors such as education, experience, qualification, age and sex. The Codes of Practice on Employment issued by EOC had re-affirmed the principle of equal pay for equal work, and EOC had also encouraged employers, especially large companies, to adhere to the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. A recent consultancy study commissioned by EOC on the subject had just been completed and EOC would consult concerned parties and finalize its recommendations in early 1999.

5. Ms HO Sau-lan asked whether EOC had observed any trend that female employees were the first to be targeted in recent lay-offs. Chairperson of EOC responded that while the unemployment statistics had not indicated any sexual disparities, it was possible that some unemployed female workers were so frustrated in finding employment that they chose to remain at home. This category of unemployed female workers would therefore not have been included in the unemployment statistics. Nevertheless, EOC had received complaints that some disadvantageous groups such as pregnant employees were targeted in lay-off exercises. In this regard, Chairperson of EOC said that concerned organizations could refer to EOC those cases of sexual discrimination which had come to their attention.

Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS)
[Paper No. CB(2)754/98-99(02)]

6. Representative of HKCSS briefed members on the written submission. Referring to the United Nations Human Development Index of 1998, the representative said that Hong Kong was ranked 132 among 163 countries (even lower than Malaysia and South Korea) in terms of employment earnings of women. Moreover, the CEDAW report had not reflected the fact that although Hong Kong had a large working women population, a substantial proportion of women employees received lower employment earnings than men.

7. Representative of HKCSS informed members that a three-member Commission on Economic Status on Women had been set up in the United States to conduct systematic analysis of statistics relating to women. The representative supported EOC's recommendation that the Administration should set up a central body, with reference to overseas experience, to conduct researches and map out the future direction for achieving gender equality.

8. Referring to the table on "Median monthly employment earnings by occupation of main employment and sex" in HKCSS's written submission, Ms HO Sau-lan observed that there was great disparity between men and women in employment earnings in categories below $10,000 and above $15,000. Ms HO asked whether the statistics indicated a lower earning of women than men engaging in the same type of work or job of the same value. Representative of HKCSS responded that while a large proportion of women received a lower salary than men for engaging in the same type of work, it had been difficult to establish that both sexes were subject to the same job requirements. HKCSS would continue to conduct more in-depth studies in this respect if resources were available. On a related issue, the representative informed members that women received a lower salary (around 80%) than men in all age groups, and the phenomenon was more obvious among older women. She remarked that if the Census and Statistics Department could compile and publish detailed gender segregate data, it would throw more light on the economic status of women in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Women Development Association (HKWDA)
[Paper No. CB(2)754/98-99(03)]

9. Representative of HKWDA briefed members on the written submission. She said that HKWDA had been proposing a Women's Commission since 1989 to co-ordinate women services and deal with complaints, as such functions could not be carried out by EOC in full. HKWDA recommended setting up a Women Services Fund to organize tailor-made activities for women and to provide continuing education to enable housewives to rejoin the labour force. Representative of HKWDA stressed that it would be necessary to have a long-term women policy in order to co-ordinate more effective services for the women from a women perspective.

Hong Kong Federation of Women (HKFW)
[Paper No. CB(2)754/98-99(04)]

10. Chairman of HKFW briefed members on the written submission, emphaisizing the need for a Women Commission and a Women Services Fund. While EOC was mainly responsible for the implementation of three anti-discrimination laws including the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, EOC was not empowered to pro-actively promote gender equality in all aspects of life as required under CEDAW. Representative of HKFW explained that due to the lack of funds, non-profit-making women organisations had to cancel some worthwhile women services such as the women leadership training programme, the legal hot line service and preventive services for women. She pointed out that charitable donations only provided for the capital but not the recurrent costs of these projects.

Family Planning Association of Hong Kong (FPAHK)
[Paper No. CB(2)754/98-99(05)]

11. Executive Director of FPAHK briefed members on the written submission. She stressed that what was missing in the Government's report on CEDAW was the need for universal access to high quality sexual and reproductive health services in Hong Kong. She said that the Government should adopt a hoslistic and gender-sensitive approach to promote the sexual and reproductive health of women, emphasizing prevention and continuous care throughout the life span of women. In line with the recommendation of the International Conference on Population and Development, a comprehensive strategy should be adopted to ensure universal access for all individuals and couples to a full range of affordable sexual and reproductive health services. As regards Article 10 of CEDAW, FPAHK was of the view that sex education should be upgraded to an independent subject in the school curriculum.

Hong Kong Federation of Women's Centres (HKFWC)
[Paper Nos. CB(2)754/98-99(06) & CB(2)797/98-99(01)]

12. Representatives of HKFWC briefed members on the written submission. They echoed FPAHK's view that there should be a wider, holistic definition of health emphasizing on primary health care and community health. Referring to the current health review by the Government, the representatives said that a women perspective must be included in the review as the existing services failed to meet women's needs. At present, there was insufficient awareness among women of reproductive health such as menopause or post-natal changes. The existing health professionals would also require gender sensitive training.

Dr Philip BEH, Faculty of Medicine University of Hong Kong
[Paper No. CB(2)754/98-99(07)]

13. Dr Philip BEH highlighted the unsatisfactory situation in the provision of services to rape victims in Hong Kong, which was not mentioned in the Government's report on CEDAW. Dr BEH pointed out the limitation of the current legal definition of "rape" which referred only to "the penetration of sexual organ". In his view, the definition should be reviewed and expanded. He was also concerned that no female doctors were available for seeing the rape victims, as the Forensic Pathology Service under the Department of Health had not been active in recruiting female doctors. He was also concerned about the lack of supporting services, other than medical services, for rape victims. Dr BEH suggested that there should be a comprehensive range of services for rape victims, and that a high-power policy body should be put in place to co-ordinate the necessary changes and re-arrange the resources in this area.

Hong Kong Association of Business and Professional Women (HKABPW)
[Paper No. CB(2)797/98-99(03)]

14. Representatives of HKABPW briefed members on the eleven recommendations of HKABPW as set out in the written submission. HKABPW considered that it was the responsibility of Government, rather than the non-government organizations, to implement the provisions in CEDAW. The Government should therefore establish an effective machinery within Government for implementation of CEDAW.

III. Meeting with the Administration

Establishment of a Women's Commission

15. Referring to paragraph 19 of the CEDAW report about co-ordination of implementation of the Convention (Article 3), Ms Emily LAU said that the Administration's statement in the report that the policy groups chaired by the Chief Secretary for Administration had already provided the necessary co-ordination among various bureaux for the provision of women services would be misleading, as many organizations including EOC were not even aware of the existence of such co-ordination. Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs (DS(HA)) responded that the Administration and non-governmental organizations (NGO) shared the same objective of development of women and elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. He stressed that the Administration had made continuous efforts to create and promote an environment which was conducive to women development. To ensure that the existing legislation was consistent with the provisions in CEDAW, the Government had completed amending all existing legislation, with four remaining ordinances which would be amended shortly. The Administration also encouraged women development in different fields including politics, economy, society and culture, and had provided a wide range of women services in the areas of welfare, education, employment and security. As the concerns of women had an impact on a wide range of policy areas, the existing mechanism was that the Office of the Chief Secretary for Administration co-ordinated the efforts and suggestions of the relevant policy bureaux.

16. DS(HA) said that the Administration also worked closely with EOC in the implementation of CEDAW. For example, in response to EOC's recommendation on eliminating sex stereotyping, the Administration would step up efforts to increase public education and publicity in this respect. He expressed reservation about the effectiveness of establishing a Women's Commission on top of the existing machinery. Ms Emily LAU remarked that if the existing machinery was effective, the deputations would not have pointed out the inadequacies and problems encountered in the provision and co-ordination of women services.

17. Miss Christine LOH also indicated support of the establishment of a Women's Commission and suggested that the Commissioner for Women Affairs should report to the Chief Secretary for Administration in the co-ordination of women services among government and NGOs. She also quoted the Commissioner for Tourism as an example. DS(HA) responded that the Commissioner for Tourism was mainly responsible to the Secretary for Economic Services while the proposed Commissioner for Women Affairs would have a much wider spectrum of duties involving a number of policy bureaux. He considered that the proposed Women's Commission would only add one more tier above the Home Affairs Bureau or the policy groups led by Chief Secretary for Administration. Miss LOH disagreed with DS(HA), pointing out that the proposed Commissioner for Women Affairs would play a more effective co-ordinating role if given high-level decision-making powers. In this connection, the Chairman referred to the proposed functions of the Women Affairs Commission recommended in EOC's paper [Paper No. CB(2)754/98-99(01)]. She requested the Administration to provide a written response to EOC's proposal, identifying the bureaux/departments responsible for each of the seven proposed functions.Adm

Co-ordination of services for women

18. Referring to Dr Philip BEH's criticism on the lack of co-ordination among government departments in dealing with rape victims, Ms Emily LAU asked what the Government had done to improve the co-ordination of services in this respect. Principal Assistant Secretary for Security (PAS(S)) responded that increased efforts had been made by the Police and relevant departments in rendering services to victims of sex violence. The Police, in particular, had taken the following improvement measures:

  1. The induction training and refresher courses of police officers had included skills to deal with victims of sex violence. Front-line police officers were trained to handle rape victims with sensitivity and sympathy.

  2. Special training was given to over 100 female officers which were deployed to police stations to provide early assistance and support to rape victims.

  3. Legislative amendments had been made to the Criminal Procedure Ordinance and the Evidence Ordinance enabling evidence to be taken in the form of live television link or video recorded interviews which were admissible evidence in the court. The penalty level for sex offences had also been reviewed and increased since 1997.

  4. Rape victims would be referred to the Social Welfare Department for counselling and other services where necessary.
19. As regards the availability of female doctors in the Forensic Pathology Service, Assistant Director of Health said that there was no sex discrimination in the recruitment of doctors for the Forensic Pathology Service. Traditionally very few female medical students chose to specialise in forensic pathology and there was only one female doctor in the field at present. She assured members, nevertheless, that all doctors of the Forensic Pathology Service were professionals who could effectively deal with female clients, and the assistance of female police officers would be enlisted when examining rape victims.

20. In response to the Chairman's enquiry about the reason for the temporary closure of the Harmony House, Assistant Director of Social Welfare explained that the Harmony House was about to be reprovisioned to a new location but there had been some unforeseen delays in the renovation of the premises due to the contractor's problems. She assured members that continued service would still be provided to women in need as there were two other temporary shelters, the usage of which was only about 70%. Contingency arrangements had already been made with these two shelters to accommodate any additional demands arising from the temporary closure of Harmony House if such occured.

(Post-meeting note : The Administration advised subsequently that the reprovisioning of Harmony House was completed in mid-January 1999 as scheduled and the contingency arrangement was not activated.)

Definition of rape

21. Miss Christine LOH asked whether the Administration would consider reviewing the legal definition of "rape" which was now restricted to "penetration of sexual organ". PAS(S) said that he would provide a written response in consultation with the Department of Justice.Adm

Data and statistics on gender issues

22. Miss Christine LOH informed members that she had obtained some gender statistics released by the UN in 1994 indicating the disadvantaged position of women in the field of employment. At that time, the Census & Statistic Department had advised that the Government had yet to ascertain with the UN on how these statistics were derived. Miss LOH asked whether HAB was now in a position to explain the statistics. DS(HA) responded that HAB had discussed with the Census and Statistics Department which was seeking clarification from the UN on the compilation and categorisation of these data. DS(HA) noted that the UN statistics appeared to have focused on non-agricultural skilled workers or operators who were mostly daily-wage workers. However, workers of this kind represented only 20% of the labour force in Hong Kong. He undertook to provide a written response after consulting the Census and Statistics Department. Adm

23. Miss Christine LOH expressed dissatisfaction that the Government had neglected the importance of collecting and publishing sufficient data on gender issues. She was of the view that the Census and Statistics Department should start to compile and publish annual statistics on gender issues in Hong Kong. DS(HA) responded that HAB would consult the relevant bureaux and departments on the feasibility of incorporating a gender impact assessment in the government policy-making and legislative process, as suggested by members at an earlier meeting.Adm

Attendance at the hearing of the CEDAW Committee of the United Nations

24. In response to Ms Emily LAU, Chairperson of EOC said that EOC would send a representative to observe the UN hearing on the CEDAW report of Hong Kong scheduled to take place on 1-2 February 1999 in New York. Chairman of HKFW informed members that subject to availability of funds, HKFW would also send representatives to observe the hearing of the CEDAW Committee.

IV. Any other business

Way forward

25. Miss Christine LOH asked whether the Panel would consider setting up a working group to prepare a report on CEDAW for submission to the UN as in previous years. Ms Emily LAU said that she had no strong views on the suggestion. However, she expressed concern that it would be very difficult for members of different political parties to agree on a common line for the report. She suggested that in view of the time constraint (the UN hearing on the CEDAW report of Hong Kong would be held on 1 - 2 February 1999), political parties and individual Members could submit their own reports to the CEDAW Committee of UN. In this regard, the Chairman undertook to consult other members before taking a decision.Chairman

Special meeting to discuss the proposed post of Information Co-ordinator of the Chief Executive's Office

26. The Chairman informed members that a joint meeting of the Panel on Public Service and the Panel on Home Affairs would be held at 10:45 am on Wednesday, 9 December 1998 to consider the proposal for the creation of the post of Information Co-ordinator in the Chief Executive's Office. The Establishment Subcommittee meeting originally scheduled for that day to discuss the staffing proposal would be deferred to the following Wednesday, 16 December 1998.

27. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 4:30 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
4 March 1999