Women in Hong Kong

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Women in Hong Kong
Kelly chen dec 2010.jpg
Hong Kong Cantopop singer and actress Kelly Chen
Gender Inequality Index
ValueNR (2012)
Maternal mortality (per 100,000)NA (2010)
Women in parliament15.7% (2012)
Females over 25 with secondary education68.7% (2010)
Women in labour force51.0% (2011)
Global Gender Gap Index
ValueNR (2012)
RankNR out of 149

Traditionally, women in Hong Kong have been situated within the context of Chinese family and society, in which they were treated the same as Mainland women or Taiwanese women.[1] However, there are cultural differences between Mainland Chinese citizens and citizens of Hong Kong. During the British colonial period the emergence of Western culture (i.e. "Westernization") created a mix of traditional Chinese culture and Western values. This created a unique culture of Hong Kong. Along with the rapid economic and social development of Hong Kong since the end of the Second World War, there has been a significant improvement in the social status of women, while the male dominant society structure still persists in some aspects of women's lives.

During the past three decades, women in Hong Kong have become more financially independent, assertive, and career-focused. This may make them more prominent when compared with women in other comparable Southeast Asian countries.[2] With the increased number of women in professional and managerial positions in recent decades, especially since the enactment of anti-discrimination laws since the mid-1990s, the terms "female strong person" or "superwomen" are being used to describe women in Hong Kong.[2]

Gender Inequality[edit]

Statistical data from the Hong Kong national census in 2006 shows that the number of women in Hong Kong are increasing, while the number of men in Hong Kong are declining.[3] The figure of single Hong Kong women living alone increased to 43.8 percent comparing with 2001.[3] The numbers were as follows: 103,938 in 1996, 127,001 in 2001, and 182,648, in 2006. The gender ratio between men and women as of 2006 was at 1,000 females for every 912 males, 1000 females for every 852 males in 2016,[4] and is expected to deteriorate further by 2036 (1,000 females for every 763 males).[3] The imbalance in the ratio between Hong Kong women and Hong Kong men was already evident in 2003 when there were 1,000 females for every 998 males.[3] The increase of single women in Hong Kong is significant because it is proven that single women’s employment entry pattern is similar to men’s in nature.[5]


See also Economy of Hong Kong and Education in Hong Kong.

The implementation of compulsory universal education in 1971, following with an extension to nine years in 1978, give rises to an increased number of women elites.[1][6] Besides, the transform of social environment in Hong Kong also contribute to the rise of women education. In the past, if a family does not have enough money to send both their son and daughter to school, they will choose to educate the son over the daughter.[7] Nonetheless, owing to the economic growth since 1960s, Hong Kong has become a wealthy society with a significant change in population at the same time.[8] The birth rate in Hong Kong steadily decreased from 16.8% in 1981 to 8.6% in 2014.[9] It reveals that the nuclear family structure nurturing only one to two children in a family is common, in which girls could receive better education due to the more concentrated resources within the family.[8]

According to the report of Hong Kong Annual Digest of Statistics by Census and Statistics Department of Hong Kong, a trend of universalism for boys and girls could be observed since the 1970s; and girls' enrolment rate in general was higher than the boys' since the 1980s.[6] The gap between male and female enrollment in post-secondary education has narrowed down and female students even outnumber male students in entering University Grants Committee (UGC) funded programmes in recent decades.[10] The percentage of females and male students enrolled in UGC-funded programmes was 53.7% and 46.3% in 2014, which is quite different from 32.9% and 67.1% respectively in 1987.[8][10]

However, when specifically comes to research postgraduate programmes, more male students were recorded since the programmes are largely related to sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).[10] People in Hong Kong have gender bias in STEM fields, perceiving women as less capable of mastering the STEM knowledge and pursuing related careers.[11] Half of the teenage girls in Hong Kong were discouraged to focus on mathematics and sciences during secondary school, which lead to their lessened self-concept in STEM.[11] Thus, the sex ratio of students enrolled in UGC-funded engineering and technology programmes is imbalance, which is 29.5% for female and 70.5% for male in 2016.[4] The situation is not much improved as compared with 14.1% for female and 85.9% for male in 1996.[8]

Career attainment[edit]

External video
Apple Daily – Married Hong Kong women want to work YouTube video

Women were in the workforce as early as the 1920s, but the small population of them often had to fight vigorously for equality of work rights.[12] With the shift of Hong Kong's economy from manufacturing industry to services industry since the 1980s, there is a growing demand for white collar workers. Abundant job opportunities are hence available for both men and women.[2] Employment in Hong Kong can be enjoyed by women, who possess rights, such as maternity protection and sick leave. Nevertheless, women in Hong Kong are aware of the difficulties they face in being a woman in the workforce. For example, when surveyed, both men and women working in Hong Kong stated that they preferred to have a male supervisor over a woman supervisor.[13]

In 2016, there are 49.3% females and 50.8% males in the employed population.[14] In spite of the open-minded and relatively westernised culture in Hong Kong, the seemingly equal and fair workplace still poses obstacles on the way of women’s career paths. 61.8% of females and 51.6% of males agreed that women have to sacrifice more than men for career success.[15] 72.1% of females agreed that an increasing number of successful women is a positive social phenomenon, while only 59.6% of males shared the same view.[15] The data showed that men, having the invisible privilege obtained from unequal gender perceptions, are content with the current situation and are slightly reluctant to the rising status of women, which might pose a threat to their career prospects.

The Hong Kong media clearly reflects the social stereotypes and norms. Performers of authority roles are mostly men, with commentaries and voice overs mainly heard in male voices as well, whereas women are chiefly depicted in domestic roles and gender-specific professions, for example, secretaries and nurses.[16]

Despite the high education level and prospective vision women possess, it is uncommon to see women working on Hong Kong corporate boards and in senior management roles. Women account for only 11% of total director pool of Hong Kong’s listed issuers and 33% of senior management roles, while the number of female participating in the labour force, which is 54% of the entire female population, lags behind many developed countries (67.6% in the US and 71% in the UK).[16] The number of women in politics is also worryingly small. In the legislative council, there are only 12 female members among the 70 elected members.[14] Comparing to 10 female members among the 60 elected members in 1998, women are clearly under-represented in the legislative stage of the city and such inadequacy will lead to prolonged suppression in women’s rights and gender inequality.[14]

Family life[edit]

A woman’s duty within the household is to serve her family, in particular the men, with her role having long been based on the expectation of her serving her father as a child, her husband throughout her married life, and her son(s) when she reaches old age.[17] The traditional role of men is to deal with external matters within the public sphere, whereas that of women is to remain in the private sphere at home and care for their children.[17] Due to the traditional belief of male superiority within Hong Kong, there is a lot of pressure placed upon women to produce male offspring, despite her economic status and level of education. Until recently, women who were unable to bear a son to her family were viewed as defective, and were often divorced.[17]

The necessity of building a family, an important Chinese social value cultivated by the Confucian ideology, have declined in recent years, as a considerable proportion of the population found singlehood comfortable, with 42.3% males and 41.5% females not planning to get married, outnumbering those who disagree (31.4% males and 32.3% females).[15] The survey demonstrated a low desire to have children among the unmarried, with 22.1% females and 21.5% males disagreeing that life was empty without having a child.[15] However, when discussing unmarried cohabitation, opinions diverged between the males and females. Regarding the idea of cohabitation without the intention of marriage, 71% of never-married males found it acceptable, but only 45.1% of never-married females agreed.[15] It indicated that sexual integrity remains a relatively high importance among the women in Hong Kong.

Along with the changing view on marriage and reproduction, the gender division of labor within a family has undergone changes as well. The traditional picture that men are the financial backbones of the family and primarily deal with external affairs is no longer the mainstream perception. More than 50% of the respondents reckoned that males no longer hold a dominant and superior figure within the family.[15] Over 80% of the respondents agreed that contribution to household income should be made from both partners.[15] The unequal division of labour in family affairs has also made a gradual progress towards equal roles. About 50% of the respondents believed men should be more involved in household duties, and 43% of males agreed that men should take on more responsibilities in child-caring.[15] As the society grew acceptance in changing family roles, the number of full time male home makers grew from 2.9 thousand in 1991, accounting for 0.13% of the entire male population, to 19 thousand in 2016, taking up 0.65% of the male population.[14] On the other hand, there was a substantial decrease in the number of full time female home maker dropped from 752.8 thousand in 1991, equivalent to 34.4% of the entire female population, to 628.1 thousand in 2016, downsizing to 18% of the female population.[14] The statistics manifested the moderately reducing gap between men and women in household affairs, slowly liberating the chains on women engaging in family affairs.

Although social phenomenon grew in favour of gender equality in family, the gender stereotypes in division of household work remain disappointingly rooted. According to the survey, half of the respondents considered women’s major job is family rather work, and about 40% of the respondents agreed providing income is men’s work and household work is women’s job.[15] Indeed, women are still largely responsible for household duties, with 70.6% of females accountable for child caring.[15] Chores of daily life are mainly women’s duties, whereas men assume the household duties by handling minor repairs.[15] This reflected that the community persist in gender stereotypes that women are the family carers.

There is a growing number of working mothers in the society. Although career is a kind of financial empowerment for women, the double shift, career and housework, become the serious burden for them to carry. Not only the double burdens do harm to women but also it does harm to the relationship between working mother and their children. Working mother have less leisure time to stay with their children, thus they cannot aware some developmental problems during the children's growth. Especially when their children suffer from mental illness, working mother would not be able to articulate the symptoms of their children.[18] Because so many women feel that caring for their children is strictly their responsibility, they rarely go to their husbands for additional help.[17] This creates issues for women who work outside of their homes. To tackle the problem of domestic burden for working mother, many families would hire domestic helper and the outsourced domestic work would bring changes to the family structure. Some people think that hiring domestic worker would make impact on the marital conflict and marital quality. However, research shows that hiring domestic help make no significant difference to the marital conflict and quality. In Hong Kong, women tend to work outside to focus on their career development and hire domestic helper to ease their double burdens.[19] Ecological systems theory suggest that working and the demand from family can increase the possibility of role strain and role conflict of couple who hire domestic helper. Women would suffer from multi-roles in which they cannot shift to the right role at home and workplace. To deal with those negative effects, the boundary-spanning resources that help to meet the demand of each domain would be helpful to improve overall working families. There are some policies launched before would ease the double burden from "working mother". For example, flexible working hours and a supportive workplace culture can improve the family well-being of employees.[20]

Marriage and the workforce[edit]

A large number of women will enter into the labour force following their education,[21] but traditionally there was a substantial dropout rate after marriage and/or childbearing,[21] due to the sense of obligation that women felt for their families and households, and as a result many women quit their occupations. Also, until the 1970s, the marriage bar was widely applied to women employees in Hong Kong.[22] From the mid-1990s throughout the 21st century, Hong Kong has enacted several laws prohibiting employment discrimination, including discrimination based on sex and marital status.[23]

In Hong Kong, the trend is that both males and females are getting married later in life.[21] This is mainly due to the desire to be more independent, not just in the business world, but in all areas of life.[21] Traditionally, women have been underestimated, and viewed as inadequate members of society. As a result, they have a harder time getting hired by major companies, and are less able to contribute monetarily to their families. By delaying marriage, women are more likely to pursue full-time and higher paying occupations.[21] Hong Kong has one of the lowest total fertility rate in the world, 1.18 children/per woman, which is far below the replacement rate of 2.1.[24] Hong Kong, like other developed nations in Asia, such as Japan and South Korea, has a strong tradition of women being housewives after marriage, but since the 1990s this has been challenged. A of 2011, the labour force participation rate for never married women was 67.2%, while for ever married women it was only 46.8%.[25]

Marriage in Hong Kong is becoming based on personal happiness and romantic satisfaction, as opposed to the traditional marriage based on duty and the expectation to stay with one's spouse, regardless of the situation.[26] Women now have more of a say in who they wish to marry, and if the marriage does not work out according to planned, are able to openly consider divorce.[26] Traditional marriage values are becoming less important. In general, divorce has become more common and socially acceptable.[26] Consequently, more individuals in Hong Kong than ever before are single. However, it is important to note that in China marriage is based on strong family ties and relationships, despite any lack of romance.[26] Therefore, if one were to propose divorce, he or she would risk losing all contact with family.[26] As of 2011, 49.0% of women were married, 8.7% of women were widowed, 4.4% of women were divorced, 0.6% of women were separated, and 37.3% of women had never been married.[25]

Political participation and leadership[edit]

It is a global phenomenon that women always lag behind in political participation and the statistics obtained by Inter-Parliamentary Union in 2016 show that only 22.8% among all national parliamentarians were women.[27] Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) was designed by United Nations (UN) to measure gender equality through looking at women's opportunities in political participation and their economic power.[28] Since there is no parliamentary data in Hong Kong, Women's Commission calculated GEM in 2005 by using the number of female Legislative Council members to replace the number of female parliamentary members. The GEM of Hong Kong was 0.717 which ranked 19th among 109 countries, reflecting that there are greater opportunities for women in political and economic arenas as compared with other Asian countries like Japan (54th) and South Korea (64th).[29]

Although the gender gap still wide in political sector, gradual improvement could be seen. Executive Council is the highest authority in policy-making in Hong Kong, in which female members were slightly increased from 16% in 2007 to 26% in 2015.[30] In 2004, Home Affair Bureau set a target of raising female ratios in Advisory and statutory bodies to at least 25%, which then successfully lead to the increased percentage of female members from 22.6% in 2003 to 32.3% in 2014.[30] As for women being elected in Legislative Council, 22% and 18% were recorded in 2004 and 2012 respectively which shows a small decline.[30] Similarly, female secretaries account for only 20% among 13 policy bureaus in 2012.[28]

Concerning women's leadership outside the governmental sector, the imbalanced sex ratios of leading position in enterprise world is even more serious than in government, where only 1 female can take up the chief executive role among 42 listed companies.[28] In judicial field, judges in the Court of Final Appeal are all male while female judges can only account for 15.2% in the High Court.[31]

Obstacles in attaining leadership position[edit]

In gender division of labor, women are expected to be the homemaker even though some of them are the breadwinner at the same time. It is difficult for them to strike a balance between family and work. However, getting promoted is accompanied by more time devoted to workplace, which place women in disadvantage since they need to fulfill household responsibility as well.[28] The situation might be even worse in finance and business industry where require longer working hours to handle fierce competition. Therefore, many women would give up senior positions to stay balance between family and workplace.[28]

Besides, a lot of people in Hong Kong still uphold the traditional gender ideology that men's status should always be superior than women's. According to the survey conducted by Women's Commission in 2010, 36.8% of female and 32.8% of male reported that patriarchal supremacy still exist in their family.[32] In this case, the role of being female leader might possibly threaten their spouses' power in the relationship.[33] In addition, there are also 46.1% of male and 32.3% of female agreed that male political leader would do much better than female.[32] This gendered perception might possibly discourage women from competing higher positions with men.

Moreover, glass ceiling also hinders women from reaching the top position.[34] The job segregation by sex restrict women in certain types of job like clerical, which limit their work experience and thus making them harder to get promoted. Even though some women are capable enough to move upward, the old-boy network exclude women from decision-making.

Violence against women[edit]

Violence against women is a gender-based violence happen in both public and private life, targeting at women due to their sex or social roles and possibly lead to physical, sexual and psychological harm.[35] International violence against women survey (IVAWS) revealed that the violence rates in Hong Kong is 19.9% which is ranked low as compared with other countries like Australia (57%) and Denmark (50%).[35]

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is the most common form of violence against women, involving harmful behaviors such as walloping and resources blockade, exerted by current or ex-spouse in marriage, cohabitant or partner in dating relationship. Although a number of research have investigated in gender symmetry of IPV by saying that both men and women would have the chance of suffering from violence,[36] obvious gender differences still exist in Hong Kong that there are more reported cases of violence exerted by men than women.[37] According to the statistics from Social Welfare Department, there were 3,917 reported cases of being physically abused by spouse or cohabitant, in which 83% of victims were women while only 17% were men.[38] The abuses were largely come from husband (62.8%), followed by the opposite-sex of cohabit partner (13.4%) and wife (12.6%).[38] In terms of sexual violence, there were 343 newly reported cases in 2010, in which 98.8% were female victims mostly suffering from indecent assault (70.8%).[38]

Under-reporting of victimized cases[edit]

The reported cases of violence against women or men cannot fully reveal the actual situation in Hong Kong because there are still many cases being hidden by victims. Under the influence of traditional patriarchal system, women might internalized their submissive role who are less likely to challenge the status quo, resist against IPV or other forms of violence by non-partners, or seek help from society.[37] Besides, victims of sexual violence are sometimes labeled as shameful and dirty due to the sexual taboo in Hong Kong affected by the Chinese traditional value of chastity, resulting in women's fear of reporting the unpleasant violence.[36][39] Another Chinese value of "Don't spread abroad the shame of the family" also lead to the absence of women's disclosure on their experienced violence by partner or other family members, in order to protect their family reputation.[36]

In 2006, Tarana Burke coined the phrase "Me Too" as a way to help women who had survived sexual violence.[40] It quickly spread on the internet as a movement all over the world and Hong Kong also joined in the movement with the news of a Hong Kong hurdler Vera Lui Lai-yiu accusing her former coach of sexually assaulting her.[41] Her coach, according to Lui, sexually assaulted her 10 years ago during her primary school age.[42] The joining of a public figure into the movement encouraged more victims of sexual harassment to open up on the internet or ask for help from organizations. Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women in Hong Kong reports a rapid rise in number of assistance call from allegedly sexual harassment victims since Lui’s post on Facebook.[43] It is possible that many victims begin to take the case serious and try to ask for help from others. The viral metoo movement to a certain extent helps female to gain right in going against sexual violence.

Nonetheless, the movement is considered a failure in Hong Kong with people speculating whether the case Lui mentioned in her post is true. Many on the internet express disbelieve on Lui’s description and instead think that she is lying.[44] Lui was suspected trying to create story and gain fame. This situation is something happening merely in Hong Kong, under the influence of traditional gender culture.

Risk factors of potential violence toward women[edit]

Women with the lack of resources, such as education and income, are more likely to suffer from IPV. Since they have to rely on their husband or partner to receive financial support for daily expenditure, they tend to tolerate with the violence and not to resist.[37] The situation might be even worse for married women with children, because they have stronger desire to maintain the marriage in order to get stable monetary support and let their children to grow in a healthy family environment. Besides, resourceful women would also be vulnerable to violence if their husband or partner strongly uphold the traditional gender ideology.[45] In Hong Kong, men are expected to be masculine by being the main breadwinner in the family. When the husband own fewer resources and earn less than their wife do, their masculinity will be challenged. Therefore, they are more likely to protect their remaining ego by exerting violence on women to show the other forms of masculinity and power.[45] It shows the interplay between social status, gender ideology, masculinity and violent behaviors.

In addition, new immigrants brought by cross-border marriage, husband's unemployment and economic pressure, pregnancy and extramarital affairs are also found to be the risk factors of potential violence toward women in Hong Kong.[45]

LGBT and Women's Rights Movements[edit]

Since 1991, the LGBT movement in Hong Kong began to the decriminalization of homosexuality.[46] The Women's Coalition of Hong Kong is an LBGT organization that was founded in 2002.[47] This group was responsible for drafting the government's Sex Discrimination bill in 1995.[48] The bill advocated for women's legal, political, and economic rights.[49]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Jackson, S.; Jieyu,L.; Juhyun, W., eds. (2008). East Asian sexualities : modernity, gender and new sexual cultures. London & New York: Zed Books. p. 195. ISBN 9781842778890.
  2. ^ a b c Lee, Eliza W. Y. (2003). "4". Gender and change in Hong Kong : globalization, postcolonialism, and Chinese patriarchy. Vancouver, B.C.: UBC Press. p. 78. ISBN 978-0774809948. Retrieved 3 April 2013.
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  12. ^ Chin, Angela (29 March 2012). Bound to Emancipate: Working Women and Urban Citizenship in Early Twentieth-Century China and Hong Kong. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 213.
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Further reading[edit]

  • Jaschok, Maria; Miers, Suzanne, eds. (15 June 1994). Women and Chinese patriarchy: submission, servitude, and escape. Zed Books. ISBN 978-1-85649-126-6. </bc>

Notes: Several chapters are dedicated to the historical status of women in Hong Kong.

External links[edit]