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Speech by SLW at luncheon on women's empowerment in New York (English only) (with photo)
     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Dr Law Chi-kwong, at a luncheon jointly organised by the Hong Kong Association of New York, Asian Women in Business and the International Women's Entrepreneurial Challenge Foundation on "Women's Empowerment: The Experience of Hong Kong" in New York on March 13 (New York time):

Ms Wong (President of Asian Women in Business, Ms Bonnie Wong), Ms Ploeger (Co-founder of the International Women's Entrepreneurial Challenge Foundation, Ms Nancy Ploeger), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     Good afternoon, everyone. It is my honour to meet some of the most prominent women's organisations in New York. While I have lost count of the number of times that I have travelled to the United States, this is in fact my first visit to the States as Secretary for Labour and Welfare. New York is now quite different compared to my last visit here some 20 years ago. I am most delighted to be here again making some new friends and catching up with some old friends.

     To start with, I would like to give a brief overview of Hong Kong's experience in women's empowerment. Hong Kong has a population of 7.3 million, with females accounting for 54 per cent of the population.

     At the workplace, women enjoy equal employment opportunities and are protected by the same labour legislations as their counterparts. Meanwhile, women are playing an increasingly bigger role in various professions. Their share of managerial positions has increased from about 20 per cent in 1996 to 33 per cent in 2016, though there is still a long way to go and obvious room for improvement.

     Similarly, within the HKSAR (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) Government, currently, more than one-third of the civil servants at directorate grade level are women, as compared to just over 15 per cent some 20 years ago. Of course, our Chief Executive, Mrs Carrie Lam, is the good example. Good progress has been made when it comes to empowering women in Hong Kong.

     The Women's Commission (WoC) was established in 2001 by the HKSAR Government, as recommended by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women after its consideration of Hong Kong's report under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

     The mission of WoC is "to enable women in Hong Kong to fully realise their due status, rights and opportunities in all aspects of life". The WoC is to promote women's rights and well-being in Hong Kong.

     To accomplish this mission, WoC has adopted a three-pronged strategy, namely the provision of an enabling environment, empowerment of women through capacity building, and public education. It also seeks to advance women's status and enhance gender awareness of the public through collaborating with different sectors of the community.

     On the advice of the WoC, the HKSAR Government has been implementing gender mainstreaming since 2002. In 2015, on WoC's recommendation, the former Chief Executive instructed government bureaux and departments to make reference to the Gender Mainstreaming Checklist, that is, they need to apply gender mainstreaming when formulating government policies and legislation. In the following year, the Gender Mainstreaming Checklist was further extended to NGOs (non-governmental organisations) in their formulation of policies and programmes.

     Towards the end of 2016, in an effort to further promote the concept of gender mainstreaming and raise the awareness of gender-related issues in the business community, the Government established a Gender Focal Point (GFP) network among listed companies. The network was modelled on a similar set-up among all government bureaux and departments in 2003, 18 District Councils in 2008 and over 110 social welfare NGOs in the social welfare sector in 2016. And I am happy to report that, in slightly over a year, about 160 listed companies have already set up GFPs. This is a good start, but there is still a long way to go, given that there are over a thousand listed companies in Hong Kong.

     These 360 plus GFPs are focal points of communications within their organisations and between their organisations and the WoC. This collaboration with the WoC helps to raise awareness and understanding of gender-related issues, and to promote gender sensitivity in their daily work environment.

     After sharing some key milestones in promoting gender mainstreaming, I would like to bring your attention to an imminent challenge facing Hong Kong. In the next 30 to 40 years, we expect a rapid surge in our ageing population. I described such a rapid surge, particularly in terms of the number of "old-olds" aged 85 or above, as a "tsunami". In 30 years' time, the population of those aged 85 and above is forecast to triple. A huge proportion of workers who make up the bulk of our labour force will be retiring over the next 10 years. One can thus well imagine the possible labour shortage facing us in the years ahead. In fact, our male labour force has reached its peak last year and is expected to shrink starting from this year. Fortunately, our female labour is still increasing and is expected to increase until 2022, but would then start to drop too.

     At present, the labour force participation rate of women is consistently lower than that of men. For example in 2016, the labour force participation rate of females was 50.6 per cent, which was 18.2 per cent lower than that of males. Therefore, initiatives to assist and incentivise women to join the labour market can further unleash their potential and at the same time alleviate our labour shortage.

     To this end, as announced by the Chief Executive in her maiden Policy Address in October last year, the Government has committed to conduct a study on the enhancement of maternity leave currently at 10 weeks, while we are working on the proposal to increase the statutory paternity leave from three to five days.

     On the other hand, we understand that, without child care support, it is difficult for working parents to meet their family obligations while fulfilling their work responsibilities. The Government therefore strives to enhance the provision of child care services amidst constraints in land and manpower resources. In collaboration with NGOs, the Government provides about 7 000 places at some 250 subsidised child care centres and kindergarten-cum-child care centres across the territory. But 7 000 is still a low number. Our policy objective can be said to be "pro-choice" - we believe it is a matter of choice for housewives or "house-husbands" to work or not, and we must achieve that by providing adequate child care services.

     And at the same time, we have engaged a consultancy study on the long-term development of child care services, which would analyse and provide recommendations on the long-term service planning of child care services. The consultancy study is expected to be completed this year. We are in parallel preparing for the policy review with the aim to have any new services in place as soon as possible to address the demand.

     To further empower women by enhancing their employability to join or rejoin the employment market, training and retraining programmes are also offered by the Employees Retraining Board (ERB), an independent statutory body, to meet the market's changing needs. Currently, more than 80 per cent of the trainees enrolled in around 700 ERB courses are women. Courses related to healthcare services and jewellery design are popular among female trainees. In considering the specific needs of female trainees to take up their family commitments, the ERB has relaxed the restrictions on applications for half-day or evening courses to facilitate trainees to concurrently apply for and attend multiple courses according to their own schedules and gain qualifications, with the accumulation of credits to advance level by level.

     Empowering women requires the concerted effort of the community, and the Government certainly cannot do it alone. Like many social welfare initiatives, we strive to collaborate with different NGOs and women's groups to provide services which address the needs of women. Recognising their important contributions to the advancement of the status of women in Hong Kong, we have initiated the Funding Scheme for Women's Development in 2012 to provide funding support of HK$2 million, i.e. about US$260,000, every year for women's groups and NGOs to organise programmes conducive to the development of women. From 2014-15 onwards, WoC has adopted the theme of "women's employment" for the Funding Scheme, inviting women's groups and NGOs to organise various programmes and activities that could help unleash women's potential, enhance their employment prospects and/or create an environment that enables women to work. Since its inception, the Funding Scheme has funded 284 projects amounting to HK$12.7 million, i.e. about US$1.6 million.

     Facilitating women's employment will remain a work focus of WoC in the coming year. We will continue our efforts in ensuring women can enjoy equal access to opportunities, are well equipped to achieve their dreams, and find fulfilment at work and at home.

     We firmly believe that with the concerted efforts of WoC, the local community, the private sector and the Government, Hong Kong can continue to be a frontrunner in enabling women to realise their due status, rights and opportunities in all aspects of life.

     Last but not least, thank you for joining me today to know a bit more about the women's development in Hong Kong. Please feel free to ask any questions you have in mind or share your views or suggestions on issues related to women's development. May I wish you all a good week ahead and a prosperous year of 2018.
Ends/Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Issued at HKT 14:33
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