Following is the full text of the "Letter to Hong Kong" delivered by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr David Lan,
on Radio Television Hong Kong this (Sunday) morning:
The American psychologist Theodor Reik once wrote : "In our civilisation, men are afraid that they will not be men enough and women are afraid that they might be considered only women." I suppose implicit in what he wrote is that there will always be some men who will always be worried about their masculinity and women who fear that they might be treated in an inferior manner purely because they are women. Mr Reik wrote those words 41 years ago. But I can no longer subscribe to the second part of Mr Reik's observation, at least insofar as women in Hong Kong are concerned. Women in Hong Kong are very much the equal of men in public standing and enjoy equal protection of the law which ensure that they have the same rights as men in their pursuit of happiness and career satisfaction.
Big Strides Made
The fact that such social commentaries saw print in Esquire, a leading magazine in the United States in 1958, put into sharp relief the tremendous strides we have made in just a few years in ensuring that our citizens have equal protection under the law regardless of gender which took many other countries so much longer to achieve. Some, of course, are still a long way from getting there.
Towards this end, representatives of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) took advantage of a hearing before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (which is better known as CEDAW) to reiterate our irrevocable commitments to protect women's rights.
It will not surprise me if our appearance before the UN Committee in February in New York escaped your notice because we have received a much better reception from the Committee than perhaps some of our local critics would have expected.
The CEDAW hearing might not have captured the media's imagination but it afforded us an important international forum to illustrate our commitment to the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, which fits in with our long tradition of respecting and safeguarding human rights. So let me render you a brief and frank account of the proceedings, which took place before a panel of 23 independent experts nominated by State Parties.
Top HKSAR team
UN hearings are a crucial part of the monitoring of State Parties' compliance with the Convention. An indication of the importance we attached to this hearing is the very decent size and seniority of the HKSAR team which comprised ten members under my leadership. It included officials from the Home Affairs Bureau, the Education and Manpower Bureau, the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and the Social Welfare Department. We attended the hearing as part of the Chinese delegation which was led by Ambassador Qin Hua-sun, the Permanent Representative of the Chinese Mission to the UN. The report of the CPG was examined on 1 February, while that of the HKSAR was examined in the morning of 2 February.
On the whole, the Committee was pleased with our, and I quote : "well-structured and informative initial report which was submitted in a timely manner." Unquote. It also commended the Hong Kong representatives on our oral presentation of the report and for the detailed oral and written replies, including statistical information, to the questions posed by the Committee.
The Committee also commended us on a number of positive aspects, including the continuing applicability of the Convention to the HKSAR following the resumption of Chinese sovereignty over Hong Kong on 1 July 1997 under the principle of "one country, two systems"; the dissemination of the Convention by the Government, including through the Internet; the recent adoption and revision of laws to eliminate discrimination against women particularly the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO) of 1995 and the establishment of the Equal Opportunities Commission; the high level of literacy and the universal system of free primary education.
Naturally, the Committee has raised concerns on a number of issues and suggested recommendations, including affirmative actions to enhance women's participation in public life. We welcome the Committee's comments and will carefully consider all their recommendations. But I would like to take this opportunity to clarify one concern of the Committee which is the lack of a national women's machinery to steer and co-ordinate a long-term strategy in Hong Kong.
I'm sure you will understand that women's matters impinge on so many different spheres that they practically touch on the work of all policy bureaux. Mechanisms are already in place at present to deal with women's issues. The Home Affairs Bureau, headed by me, is responsible for the co-ordination on women's matters. The Equal Opportunities Commission is also established to promote gender equality and eliminate sex discrimination, among other things. The setting up of another commission or mechanism on top of the existing ones could lead to criticism of duplication of effort and wastage of resources at a time when the public demand the Government to slim down and streamline its structure.
As I have mentioned before, I believe the HKSAR's first report and hearing under the Convention have successfully demonstrated our commitment to the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. The Committee has praised the HKSARG for having sent a high-level delegation to the hearing.
It was the first time that the HKSAR's report under UN human rights treaties was being examined after the reunification. It fully illustrated the successful implementation of the principle of "one country, two systems" in the HKSAR. The HKSARG was fully responsible for the compilation and the presentation of report under CEDAW, as well as answering any questions that the Committee may have on our report. Our report was also examined in a special session.
The hearing raised the profile of HKSAR on human rights issue in the international arena. The Committee not only expressed its appreciation for the high standard of our report and response to questions raised by the Committee, it also acknowledged the efforts of the HKSARG in guaranteeing to all citizens, women and men alike, their fundamental rights and freedom as entrenched in our constitutional document, the Basic Law.
Nevertheless, our effort to promote equal opportunities to women as well as to enhance their development will not stop with the end of the UN hearing. We must continue our effort to strive for the excellence. In this respect, I would like to invite all of you to join me in working towards a community free of prejudice and discrimination, which in turn will lead to the development and prosperity of Hong Kong, Our Home.
End/Sunday, March 14, 1999