Policy Address: Carrie Lam is all for women

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By Chermaine Lee

Gender equality and women empowerment have been brought to the centre stage again with the #MeToo campaign sweeping across the world with millions of voices to support women’s rights.

As the first female Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Mrs Carrie Lam stresses boosting female employment and enhancing women’s benefits in her concluding remarks of Policy Address 2018-2019 on Wednesday.

“Although more women receive higher education than men do nowadays, the female labour force participation rate is much lower than that of male, and the ratio of women assuming managerial role is still relatively low,” Mrs Lam says.

Four more weeks!

One of the key policies for safeguarding women’s benefits is the extension of maternity leave from the current ten weeks to 14 weeks, providing mothers more time to take care of their newborns. The government will fully reimburse the extra four weeks’ maternity leave pay for female employees with a monthly income of $50,000 or below.

The government has started to extend the maternity leave to 14 weeks for its employees.

Women’s organisations applaud this policy. Ms Sisi Liu, the spokesperson of Hong Kong Federation of Women’s Centre, tells Harbour Times, “We welcome the policy concerning maternity leave and also the push to extend paternity leaves from three to five days, so fathers can also take care of newborn babies.”

And after they’re born…

Mrs Lam is also addressing the sharing of mothers’ responsibility to take care of their children with the enhancement of the Neighbourhood Support Child Care Project. However, Ms Liu says the administration fails to assist the caretakers.

“The government has paid heed to the people being taken care of, but what about the caretakers? They usually work for seven days without a break. The government should also step up a supporting system for them so that they can have a breather… the quotas for childcare services is also largely insufficient,” Ms Liu says.

According to the Social Welfare Department, the daily capacity of Hong Kong’s public full-day or half-day child care facilities for children aged 0 to 3 stands at only 2,719. This number is a far cry from the 277,700 population of the 0-4 age group in Hong Kong, as shown in government data.

Land sales tied to breast-feeding

Mothers will also benefit from the government’s new policy of adding in a new requirement of land sales: they need to have babycare facilities and lactation rooms in support of breastfeeding. All government buildings will also be equipped with these facilities.

Ms Liu gives a thumbs-up to this provision but also suggests it should include not only existing, but also new buildings so mothers can benefit even more.

HPV vaccine for girls only

The government will start providing free-of-charge HPV vaccination to schoolgirls of the right age in the next academic year and is set to review strategies to prevent breast cancer.

Women on boards

With an aim to balance gender proportion in senior job positions, the government said it would monitor the percentage of female members in statutory bodies and advisory committees. Mrs Lam also calls for all Hong Kong-listed companies to appoint more females as their board members.

A gender pay gap still exists in Hong Kong, with the average monthly income of a female lying HK$4,000 below that of a male. Ms Liu says it stems from a “glass ceiling effect” that indicates females are less likely to fight for promotions amidst concerns over taking care of their families.

“Parental leaves can enable male to share the childcare responsibilities and reduce the glass ceiling effect,” says Ms Liu.
She says the root of the imbalance between genders lies in education on gender equality in schools, which she deems highly insufficient.

“The government should enhance gender education concerning the expectations of the sexes, so the conventional gender roles will not affect their occupational choices,” says Ms Liu.

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