Following is a speech by Secretary for Health and Welfare, Dr E K Yeoh, at the Opening Ceremony of the International Conference on Globalization and Women's Health today (August 30):
Professor Arthur Li, Professor S H Lee, Dr Cheung, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I am most pleased to be invited to this International Conference on Globalization and Women's Health, and the inauguration of the Gender Research Centre at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Both the theme of this Conference, and the objectives of the Gender Research Centre, are timely and are of particular relevance to me. As Secretary for Health and Welfare, I naturally have a keen interest in health issues, not least women's health. Lately I have assumed policy responsibility for women well-being as well.
Following economic, social and technological developments in recent years, people are now living more in a global context. For example, we are no longer confined to conducting business with local corporations, nor are we limited to attending courses offered by local institutions. Assisted by innovation in information technology and telecommunication, we can now contact someone in another part of the world, let it be thousands of miles away, at the touch of a button.
Globalization is most evident in international trade, manufacturing strategies and capital flows. It has brought the world closer by liberalizing and opening up markets, and by sharing of information. Starting off as an economic phenomenon, bringing greater efficiency and convenience to all concerned, globalization has gradually and steadily extended its impact beyond economic activities.
On the one hand, globalization is beneficial as it allows everyone greater access to economic opportunities, thereby bringing higher standards of living and from there, better health for all. It facilitates easier dialogue to promote greater understanding among people and sharing of knowledge and experience. On the other hand, globalization may bring profound changes to work habits and lifestyle, upset the status quo and create uncertainties, allowing unfamiliar cultures to exert their influence unchecked by geographical boundaries.
On the health front, globalization has blurred the distinction between national and international health, as diseases spread more rapidly in line with the globalization process. The increasing volume of people travel and food product movement has posed new challenges to governments, health authorities and health care providers. On the other hand, improved communication network has contributed to the advancement of new ideas and widespread application of new procedures and technologies.
To examine the effect of globalization on health, we must also take into account the role of supranationals. Economy of scale has enabled large health care and pharmaceutical firms to devote huge sums into medical researches on life-saving equipment and drugs and produce them at relatively inexpensive costs for use around the world. On the other hand, globalization has enabled large firms, such as tobacco companies, to keep accessing new markets for the products, unwelcomed in the older markets.
Global problems need global responses and solutions. Discussion in conferences like this is essential in mobilizing opinions and appropriate actions.
Gender equality and women's health
Now, let's turn to the issues of gender equality and women's health. It has been repeatedly pointed out by different organizations that in many places, women are less educated, of lower social status, have less bargaining power and form an overall disadvantaged group. I am happy to say that in Hong Kong, women enjoy essentially the same social status as men. Health care professionals have always been gender neutral when managing and treating a disease or clinical condition.
However, I must emphasize that Government has no intention to be complacent on the gender issue and will continue to do its best to further advance women's well-being.
With the changing economic and social role of women in the community, many women nowadays face new health risks. Let's imagine the everyday life of a typical married female business woman or office worker. Her traditional life at home coupled with her functional life in office will add up to a whole day of consistent pressure on her. Continual exposure to these stresses will affect her physical and mental well being.
Sociologists consider that many women nowadays are disadvantaged because they have incorporated a male standard for achievement in the work world with an old-fashioned female standard for perfection at home. The pursuit of these dual standards has made many women the slaves of their own success. Working women must learn how to handle these dual roles and the inherent stress.
I note that various issues related to globalization and women's health will be addressed in the next two days in this Conference, to be followed immediately by an intensive two-day course on "gender analysis". I am confident that with inputs from world experts, active discussions among the participants, and sharing of each other's experience and strategies, we would acquire new insights into our different problems, helping us to develop appropriate solutions.
Lastly, may I take this opportunity to thank the organizers for their hard work and dedication. I wish you all a most fruitful Conference, and the Gender Research Centre a successful future. To our guests and participants from overseas, I wish you a most enjoyable stay in this dynamic city. Thank you.
End/Wednesday, August 30, 2000