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Women's Rights In Hong Kong: How Are Feminist Movements Dealing With The Challenges?

AWID interviews Sally Choi from the Association for the Advancement of Feminism, which is based in Hong Kong, about the issues facing women and how women are mobilizing for change. By Rochelle Jones. Resource Net Friday File Issue 250, November 2005

AWID: How would you define and describe feminism in Hong Kong?

SC: In the 1980s, some activists, in particular women, who participated in the social movements in the 1970s or were involved in grassroots organization work, were more aspired to feminist ideology and thoughts and had the mission and vision to kick off a local feminist movement in Hong Kong. A local Chinese feminist organization was founded in 1984, which is the Association for the Advancement of Feminism (AAF).

In the past twenty years, there have been over ten women's organizations founded in Hong Kong with different degrees of identification with feminism. Besides AAF, Hong Kong Women Workers Association, the Hong Kong Women Christian Council, the Hong Kong Federation of Women's Centre, the
Harmony House, Ziteng, Reaching Out, Queer Sisters, Sexual Violence Concerned Group, Kwan Fook Concerned Group of Women's Rights, and F Union have been actively involved either individually on various fronts like politics, the labour market, media, church, sexuality, family; or collectively on common issues like pornography, sexual violence, inheritance rights for women, equal opportunity rights, justice and peace, democracy and so on. Forming an alliance to show solidarity and power among women's organization has been a common practice amongst feminist movements in Hong Kong, but each organization has its own goals, strategies and problems.

Hong Kong in the millennium needs a women's movement with a clear feminist vision that takes into account the pluralities of women's backgrounds and needs, paying attention in particular to those groups of women who are being marginalized in the present system, such as low income women, single mothers, women of sexual minorities, and women of different racial or ethnic backgrounds. We need to intervene into social policies that produce
gender inequalities, as well as the cultural order that reinforces gender hierarchy to achieve social changes that benefit women.

AWID: Tell us more about the work of the Association for the Advancement of Feminism (AAF).

SC: AAF was set up on March 8, 1984. The objective is to eliminate discrimination against women and to eliminate discrimination against women and to fight for sexual equality. AAF is a non-profit organization supported by incomes from membership subscription, annual fundraising campaigns, donations and sales of publications. We currently have about 130 members and a network of supporters. The Aim and mission of our organization is working in collaboration with women's groups and other activist groups to promote the local women's movements. All our programmes aim to fight against sexism and therefore benefit women in general, paying attention to the conditions and needs of different groups of women such as low income women, single mothers, homemakers, lesbian and bisexual women, Asian immigrant workers, and newly arrived women from mainland China.

AAF is a member-oriented organization. That is to say, the organization provides a kind of platform or space for members to initiate projects that suit their interests and concern. The Executive Committee, with the help of the staff members, only plays the role of coordination, facilitation and connection. Therefore members' background, motivation, vision, interests, sense of belonging and specialization are the important leading forces that
keep the organization going. At the same time, who, when and how one joins AAF has much to say about the external environment as well as the internal cohesiveness of the organization.

The AAF incorporates policy advocacy and campaigns, a sex discrimination hotline, research and publications, and resource development. We have
played an active role in successfully campaigning for the legal rights of women, which include the inheritance rights of New Territories indigenous women, the extension of the United Nations Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to Hong Kong, and the enactment of the Sex Discrimination Ordinance. We have produced abundant resources on the exploration of gender issues in Hong Kong, including
research reports, books, education kits, audio-visual resources, and the set up of the Women's Resource Centre. In addition, our Chinese quarterly
magazine Nuliu provides an important forum for the exploration and sharing of women's experiences and the launching of the Women's Directory Website in 2002 represents our efforts to develop cyberspace as an information and resource hub for women.

Our current programmes are to:

- monitor the work of the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Women's Commission;
- conduct research on overseas experiences of sexual orientation discrimination ordinance and relevant legal and voluntary measures (and we will set up a website for this information);
- work with lesbian and gay groups to campaign for the enactment of legislation against sexual orientation discrimination;
- lobby for gender mainstreaming in public policy planning;
- run a free legal advice service for women and provide support services for women who wish to file a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission;
- campaign for women's retirement protection;
- promote understanding of the _expression_ of female sexuality through a project which explores women's experiences in using pornography;
- conduct oral history project on women's experiences in intimate relationships and alternative family forms;
- further analyze the survey on women's sexuality in Hong Kong conducted from 2003 to 2005;
- produce and maintain the AAF and Women's Directory Websites;
- computerize the Women's Resource Centre for online and internet searching;
- conduct research on Sex Stereotypes in Magazine Advertisements.

AWID: From your experience, what are the challenges facing women in Hong Kong today?

SC: The marginalisation of women in Hong Kong is deep-rooted in structural and cultural biases. In recent years, violence against women and the
feminization of poverty have emerged as the major concerns in HK. The economic situation of women has been deteriorating. Economic restructuring
has displaced many women workers from their jobs and they have had difficulties in finding comparable new jobs because of their age and educational background. Many have had to move to low status and low paid jobs to earn a living. Women are therefore more prone to fall in to the poverty trap.

Domestic violence is also a major problem in HK. In 2004, there was a case in which a mother and her two daughters were stabbed to death, just hours
after she sought help from police and social workers. Too often, domestic violence is trivialised as a ''mere family dispute''. Police tend to regard
fights and assaults between couples as family matters unless there are serious injuries and/or one of the parties insists on prosecution. Such a
practice neglects a gender and power imbalance in which it is often hard for the woman to insist on prosecution.

Social workers in this case also showed gender insensitivity and bias. The wife's pleas for help were disregarded. A trained person with a gender perspective should know that she was demonstrating a classic symptom of abused victims - threatened by her husband's violence but at the same time
she wanted to maintain the ''wholeness'' of her family. The stress on family unity only makes it more difficult for women to leave an abusive relationship.

However, the most fundamental concern is the lack of gender perspective in all government policies, including those specifically aimed at women, such
as the family services policy. It is also clear that the government does not conduct gender impact assessments to identify potential discrimination and gender blind spots in the planning and implementation of its policies and legislation.

AWID: What types of change would you like to see then, for women's rights in Hong Hong?

SC: Generally, I would like to see changes in policies like setting up a minimum wage and maximum working hours; a social security system with
contributions from government; employers and employees that can provide basic protection for the beneficiaries. Most importantly, the government should learn that policies and services impact men and women differently, and that without a gender perspective, government policies and services
will continue to be fragmented and continue to discriminate against women. The government should conduct gender impact assessments to identify
potential discrimination and gender blind spots in the planning and implementation of its policies and legislation.

AWID: How are women in Hong Kong mobilising for these kinds of changes?

SC: During the period of the mid and late 1990s, AAF was more active in gender education, research and publication. There were courses, seminars
and other kinds of educational activities organized for high school students, university students, social workers and teachers.

The publication of oral history projects like Tears and Laughter----Oral History of Elderly Women (1998) and 16+----Oral History of Young Women (2002), the research report on New Milestone of Women's Affairs----Gender Mainstreaming (2001), anthology of conference papers on Difference and Equality----New Challenges of Women's Movement in Hong Kong (2001) etc. and the re-vitalizing of the journal Nuliu in 1996 were indicators showing a
gradual cultural turn in the development of the AAF.

This implied that the organization was more conscious of setting the agenda for the movement by that time rather than just reacting to ad hoc issues or
social and political changes. All these moves have attracted more culturally oriented young women, including university students, joining the organization. These young women are less experienced in collective actions but more culturally sensitive and individualistic. The post 1997 political and economic decline in Hong Kong is an external factor that has increased the helplessness of the younger generation in political actions, and attracted more young women to become active in women's organisations.

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