Following is a concluding speech by the Secretary for Health and Welfare, Dr E K Yeoh, at the closing session of Women's Commission Conference 2002 - "Women for a Better Tomorrow" today (May 11):
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
As this Conference is drawing to a close, I wish to congratulate the Women's Commission, especially its Conference Organising Committee, for organising a highly successful and insightful Conference.
On behalf of the Women's Commission, I would like to thank all distinguished guests, plenary speakers who have come from afar, panel speakers, organisations taking part in the Market Place, participants and volunteer helpers who all have contributed to the success of the Conference. I must also thank the organisers of a whole range of community activities focused on women which are being held around the time of this Conference to help create a community-wide atmosphere of concern about women and issues affecting women.
As you may be aware, the Conference seeks to achieve four objectives: (1) to generate discussion on the priority areas of the work of the Women's Commission; (2) to create opportunities for exchange of ideas, experience and expertise; (3) to encourage collaboration among NGOs, government and community groups; and (4) to broaden the perspectives of our community members on issues concerning their own and others' lives. I am glad to say that all of the above objectives have been achieved.
This Conference has brought together most of the women's groups in Hong Kong, a large number of NGOs providing services to women, government departments, academia and experts from overseas and the Mainland. Valuable experiences, ideas and expertise were shared, giving us new perspectives and insights on many of the issues which women care about. I trust that all participants feel that they have been enlightened and inspired to make even greater contributions to promoting the cause of women and gender equality.
Before we close this Conference, let me briefly recap some of the major issues raised and share with you the Administration's thinking on the way forward.
Women in Hong Kong have certainly come a long way in many aspects. However, there are still some hurdles hindering the full development of women's potential and their participation in society. There are gender stereotyping and misconceptions about the ability and role of women and men in the family, in the workplace and in society. There are also women who are more vulnerable than others due to their lack of skills and education, family situation, their new arrival status, and so forth.
The increasing trend towards globalisation, China's entry into the World Trade Organisation, the rapid development of technology and the economic re-restructuring of Hong Kong have brought further challenges and opportunities for women as well as society as a whole.
In this connection, I am much impressed by the efforts of the All China Women's Federation in empowering women in the Mainland at this time of rapid changes. A wide range of training programmes have been organised for women, particularly those from rural areas, to raise their education and skills so that they may take an active part in the economic development. The Federation has also done a lot of work in enhancing women's participation in decision making in society.
To enable women in Hong Kong to meet the challenges ahead, a tailor-made strategy to empower women needs to be mapped out. The Women's Commission has rightly recognised that empowerment involves two levels, viz. capacity building for women at the individual level, and the creation of an enabling environment in society for women to develop their potential. The five priority areas of empowerment identified by the Commission, namely, health, economic well-being, education, safety at home and in public, and political and social participation, have all struck a chord with the participants. Many innovative ideas and valuable experiences were shared at the Conference, giving the Commission and the Government much food for thought. The dialogue built up now will certainly continue. Together I am sure we can make great strides in empowering women in Hong Kong, raising their self-esteem, self-reliance and self-confidence.
To build an enabling environment for women's development, the society needs to be sensitive to their needs and concerns. As Government policies and programmes have a significant impact on women's well-being, we realize the importance of taking into account women's needs and perspectives in the formulation and review of policies, programmes and legislation. Such awareness and sensitivity should be carried through the stages of implementation and evaluation as well. The Women's Commission has already developed an analytical tool for gender mainstreaming in the form of a checklist. It is being pilot tested in five policy areas and gender-related training programmes are being offered to civil servants to raise their awareness. The usefulness of the checklist will be evaluated later this year and input from NGOs and academia will be sought during the process. We shall also draw on overseas experience in this area, and we are very grateful to Ms Helene Dwyer-Renaud for giving us some thoughtful pointers from her Canadian experience. The gender mainstreaming strategy and checklist would be refined, and gender mainstreaming might be introduced in more policy areas on an incremental basis.
Notwithstanding the marked rise in education and qualifications obtained by women in Hong Kong in recent decades, the participation of women in decision making in society is fairly low. For instance, in Government advisory and statutory bodies, women only make up about 19% of the membership. The Women's Commission has been discussing with the Administration and we are actively looking into ways to enhance women's participation.
The Administration's and the Women's Commission's efforts in promoting gender mainstreaming and empowering women will not be effective without tackling society's preconceived notions, roles, and stereotypes of women, which cause stress to women and also restrict the full development of women's potential.
To address the problem, the Women's Commission has launched a large scale media publicity programme to raise public awareness of gender-related issues and reduce gender stereotyping. There are, however, limitations on what public education activities could achieve. As Ms Xu Xi pointed out, children are socialized on gender norms from a young age. Those on women's roles, in particular, are formed, maintained and reinforced through media messages and sometimes even by women themselves. Concerted efforts by parents, families, schools and all sectors of the society are required in order to eliminate gender prejudices.
This brings me to the point about the importance of partnership and collaboration. Women, NGOs, Government, academia and community groups must join hands in advancing the interests and well-being of women. Experience overseas has also demonstrated the importance of partnership among all sectors. I am aware that the Women's Commission is now actively studying different models of collaboration and will be soliciting ideas and suggestions from women's groups and NGOs in due course.
The Government will, of course, continue to provide full support to the work of the Commission. But I wish to join in the Commission's appeal to all sectors of the community to work in collaboration with one another for a better tomorrow, a tomorrow where women will be men's equal partners in the family, workplace and society. The hallmark of an advanced society is one in which both women and men can develop their potential to the full, and it is also one which would be more productive and fulfilling for all. Let us start working together on this now.
End/Saturday, May 11, 2002