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Speech by Acting CS at forum on women's development in Hong Kong (English only) (with photos)

     Following is the speech by the Acting Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at the opening ceremony of a forum entitled "Searching for a New Dimension for Hong Kong Women" today (May 30):

Professor Peggy Lam (Chairperson, Hong Kong Federation of Women), Dr Annie Wu (Forum Convenor, Hong Kong Federation of Women), Mrs Rita Fan (Member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China), Madam Chen (Madam Chen Xiurong, Vice President and Member of the Secretariat, All-China Women's Federation), Madam Yin (Madam Yin Xiaojing, Deputy Director of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR)), Madam Jiang (Madam Jiang Yu, Deputy Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China in the HKSAR), Miss Tam (Miss Annie Tam, Permanent Secretary for Labour and Welfare), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     Good morning. I am delighted to join you all this morning to kick off this high-powered forum with the theme "Searching for a New Dimension for Hong Kong Women". To the overseas delegates, let me extend my warm welcome.

     I consider it a great privilege to have the chance of addressing this distinguished gathering. Mrs Carrie Lam, the Chief Secretary for Administration, should be the Guest of Honour today. However, as she is currently away from Hong Kong, I am acting in her position and hence doing the honour of officiating at this prestigious forum. As you can see, I am heavily outnumbered on the stage: eight ladies to one male, and the balance is clearly in favour of the female. Incidentally, as Secretary for Labour and Welfare, my portfolio does cover the well-being and interests of women.

     Let me start by paying warm tribute to the Hong Kong Federation of Women and congratulating it most warmly on its 20th anniversary. Since its inception, the Federation has contributed significantly to uniting women from all walks of life, empowering low-income women with vocational retraining and skills upgrading, and promoting female leadership in Hong Kong.

     Over the past years, many leaders and members of the Federation have translated their voices and ideas into action. The Federation has over 1,600 members and more than 60 of them are corporate members with a total membership of 100,000. Your members have been contributing significantly to protecting women's rights and fostering the development of Hong Kong.

     The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government attaches great importance to promoting the well-being of women. The Women's Commission, established in 2001, plays a high-level strategic role in advising the Government on policies, legislation and services affecting women. In promoting the interests and well-being of women, we have adopted a three-pronged approach which boils down to what we call the three "Es'" strategy. In a nutshell, this means enabling, empowering and educating women to play a full role in society and to unleash their potential. In this context, today's forum enables us to share experiences in cultivating our understanding of global and international issues on the development of women as well as the efforts of the United Nations and our country in promoting global awareness.

     Allow me to take this opportunity to take stock of our overall performance in advancing women's rights in Hong Kong.

     First comes "enabling environment".

     For our part, with the assistance of the Women's Commission, the Government has since 2002 started to implement gender mainstreaming in a progressive manner, taking into consideration the perspectives and needs of women and men in formulating relevant policies and measures. So far, we have applied the Gender Mainstreaming Checklist to over 45 specific policy or programme areas. These include the promotion of smoking cessation, promotion of breastfeeding and provision of baby-care facilities, as well as the development of gender-specific risks and needs programmes for women offenders, etc. In addition to the application of the Checklist, government bureaux and departments have also applied the concept of gender mainstreaming to their daily work. This year, the Women's Commission launched the Gender Mainstreaming Award to recognise the efforts of government bureaux and departments in promoting gender mainstreaming as well as to encourage them to further apply the Checklist to their work.

     Another example of gender mainstreaming is the introduction in 2004 of a gender benchmark of 25 per cent for appointing members to the many government statutory and advisory bodies. The benchmark was further increased to 30 per cent in 2010. Currently, 33 per cent of all government-appointed members are women.

     In the corporate world, it is encouraging that the Hong Kong Exchange has amended the Listing Rule to promote board diversity including gender diversity earlier this year. I am glad that there is an increasing awareness on the part of local corporations to break the "glass ceiling" and provide more opportunities for women at the management level.

     Turning to social and political participation, there are five female members among all 15 non-official members in the Executive Council. And let us not forget that the "second-in-command" in the HKSAR Government, our Chief Secretary for Administration, is a woman. At the top of the civil service, half of all the 18 Permanent Secretaries are female. Literally, these capable female civil servants are holding up half the sky in the Government!

     We have 11 female elected members among all the 70 members in the Legislative Council. At the district level, 89 of the District Council members are women. This figure is on the low side considering that we have more than 500 District Council members in the territory. Obviously, more needs to be done to achieve true equality for women in political participation.

     Let me now look at how Hong Kong fares in empowering women in joining the labour force, in striving for socio-economic self-reliance and in civil participation.

     It is important to note that two years after the introduction of the Statutory Minimum Wage in May 2011, our female labour force has risen by 6.3 per cent to 1,861,100 and female working population has increased by 6.5 per cent to 1,807,600. The increases were notably higher than those recorded for male workers, suggesting that women have benefited more than men from this landmark legislation. Incidentally, the current rate of Statutory Minimum Wage is $30 per hour.

     Turning to leadership and professional roles in the workplace, the proportions of female managers and administrators, professionals and associate professionals have been increasing over the years. For managers and administrators, the figure has risen from 24 per cent in 2000 to 32 per cent in the first quarter of this year (2013), while that for professionals from 32 per cent to 37 per cent and associate professionals from 40 per cent to 46 per cent.

     Entry into higher professions is no longer off-limits to women in Hong Kong. The proportions of female professionals have increased steadily over the years. In 2011, 48 per cent of certified public accountants (vs 40 per cent in 2001), 46 per cent of solicitors (vs 38 per cent in 2001), and around 30 per cent of medical doctors (vs 24 per cent in 2001) were women. Clearly, more women in Hong Kong are breaking barriers, excelling in their careers and moving up the social ladder.

     As in many other developed regions around the world, women form the mainstay of volunteers in Hong Kong. According to the latest statistics, around 60 per cent of the 1.08 million-strong registered volunteers in Hong Kong are women.

     With Hong Kong facing the dual challenges of a rapidly ageing population and dwindling workforce, we need to seriously consider how best to unleash the potential of women and attract them to the labour market. One in seven of Hong Kong's population is now aged 65 or above and the ratio will rise to one in three in 2041. On the other hand, our workforce will begin to shrink after 2018, from 3.55 million in 2018 to 3.39 million in 2041. The Steering Committee on Population Policy is looking into the ways and means of attracting and facilitating more women to join the labour market through family-friendly measures. To this end, we will work closely with the Women's Commission to identify viable options.

     On education, a wide range of publicly funded vocational training, retraining and continuing education opportunities are in place in Hong Kong to promote the overall quality of our workforce. For the academic year 2011/12, female students account for a significant 53.2 per cent of the total enrolment of all tertiary education programmes funded by the Government.

     Another shining example of promoting lifelong education among women from all walks of life is the Capacity Building Mileage Programme. In 2004, the Women's Commission launched this highly creative programme to encourage women of different backgrounds and educational levels to pursue lifelong learning and develop a positive mindset and outlook on life. Since the launch of the programme, the number of enrolments has exceeded 61,000, not to mention the large network of audience reached through radio programmes. Starting from this financial year (2012-13), the Government has allocated to the Commission an annual provision of HK$8 million to turn the Programme into a recurrent project. Courses conducted in English and Putonghua will be launched for ethnic minority and new arrival women.

     Whilst many women in Hong Kong are excelling in their careers that their mothers and grandmothers believed were far beyond their reach, I think that there is still room for improvement. We need to do more to provide local women with the opportunities of advancement that they deserve. To this end, the HKSAR Government and the Women's Commission will continue to join hands with the Hong Kong Federation of Women and other community organisations to provide more opportunities and encouragement to women to help them live a meaningful, colourful, blissful and beautiful life.

     On this note, let me conclude by wishing the Federation a very happy 20th anniversary and all of you a rewarding conference, good health and a pleasant stay in Hong Kong. Thank you.

Ends/Thursday, May 30, 2013
Issued at HKT 12:24


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