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Exhibition to examine the lives and roles of women in Hong Kong

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Women and men are totally equalised today, are they?

It says that the 20th century is a revolutionary era of women's liberation. Many can see the rise of women's right, the gradual elimination of sexual discrimination, the active participation of women in society and the great achievements that women made in certain specialist area. Despite the changes, there are, in fact, a lot of controversial issues on women's affairs which are yet to be resolved.

In view of the changing role of women, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum (Heritage Museum) organises a series of exhibitions and educational activities under the theme of "Women Festival" in 2002 and 2003 with the aims to examine the gender implications from various angles, to celebrate the contributions of women, to search for women's identity and to explore the situations and expectations of women in the new century.

The third exhibition of the Women Festival series is the ""Hong Kong Women's Identities - A Historical Survey", which is jointly presented by the Heritage Museum and the Gender Research Centre, Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The exhibition focuses on three aspects - work, family and leisure to give audiences a chance to examine and explore the changes of lives and roles of women in Hong Kong from the older generations in the 20th century to their modern counterparts. The exhibition also features the challenges that women of today are facing. It is hoped that the exhibition will inspire the general public to concern more about women's issues.

Apart from historical pictures and panel texts, interactive games and audio-visual programmes are also available in the exhibition to give audiences a better understanding of the theme and have a greater participation. The exhibition is currently being staged at the Heritage Museum and will run until May 12, 2003.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the social and economic conditions of Hong Kong were unfavourable. Women had to take up manual work and some were sold as bondservants or prostitutes. The post-war years saw the rapid industrial development which resulted in the booming of the clothing and plastics industries, creating lots of job opportunities for women. With the implementation of the universal and compulsory nine-year education since 1978, women have had better education, and are thus offered with more opportunities in career development. More and more women become professionals and associate professionals, and those who excel in work are named as "strong woman". Nowadays, the traditionally male-dominated occupations such as judges, police, firepersons, pilots, bus drivers, security guards and fresh meat selling workers are taken up by women, reflecting the diversification of women's occupations.

One the other hand, marriage is usually regarded as an important change in women's status in the family and society. Traditionally, a woman, when married, was still duty-bound to produce offspring, to take care of her husband and children, and to attend to housework.@After the implementation of the family planning and birth control programmes in the 1950s, the family structure underwent a great change that helped to release women from the bondage of pregnancy. However, pressure occurs as more and more women take the dual roles in work and in family as well. In the past, the unmarried women and the divorced women were always discriminated against. Relatively speaking, women nowadays enjoy more freedom in getting married and remaining single, and have greater autonomy in family affairs as well.

Social life is an important part of women's life. In the past, women's social life was limited to the family circle. They mainly stayed at home to do the housework. Sometimes they participated in leisure activities, but it was usually with the family and the clan. Traditional women did knitting and embroidery in their spare time, and they also took part in family festivities by performing singing and dancing. The rapid development of the mass media since the 1950s offers the housewives and working women a great variety of entertainment, including films, radio programmes, television programmes and magazines. By taking full advantage of the economic growth, women have become more financially independent, and are able to take part in as many leisure activities as they can. Shopping, travelling, music listening, dancing and playing outdoor sports are among the activities they enjoy most, leading a rapid growing of women oriented market.

Although women have had a great change in their roles and made a great achievement in many areas, there are a lot of issues which are still debatable. Do women really enjoy equal opportunities in work as their male counterparts? When there is change in women's role in the family, have men's family responsibilities also changed? Are resources available for women who face various problems at work and at home? Is it true that all leisure activities are gender free? More attention and discussion on women's affairs are still required.

Located at 1 Man Lam Road in Sha Tin, the Heritage Museum opens from 10 am to 6 pm from Monday to Saturday, and from 10 am to 7 pm on Sundays and public holidays. It closes on every Tuesday (except public holidays) and the first two days of the Chinese New Year. On Chinese New Year's Eve, it closes at 5 pm. Admission fee is $10, with half-price concession for senior citizens aged 60 or above, people with disabilities and full-time students. Admission on Wednesdays is free. Moreover, there are free shuttle-bus services available between KCR Sha Tin Station and the Museum from 10 am to 6 pm on Saturdays and from 10 am to 7 pm on Sundays and public holidays.

Details of the Women Festival series are now available on the Heritage Museum's website: www.heritagemuseum.gov.hk. For enquiries, please call 2180 8188.

End/Tuesday, December 3, 2002

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