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Campaigners against gender gap push Hong Kong civil service to hire more women

Campaigners against gender gap push Hong Kong civil service to hire more women

Originally published at the South China Morning Post on January 1, 2016.

Women remain under-represented in Hong Kong’s civil service – and the government needs to do more to close the gender gap, campaigners say.

Females make up just one third of all directorate officers in the Civil Service Bureau.

In 2014, there were 445 female and 854 male officers in director positions, including professional and administrative grade staff, according to a report from the Census and Statistics Department released this year.

“It is definitely not in the right proportion. If women are not represented in the civil service, a lot of the policies formulated will not have the gender mainstreaming idea in it,” said Cyd Ho, legislative councillor of the Labour Party. “It would be very important for the government to establish more family friendly policies to help young career women take up this dual role of a worker in the office as well as a member of the family.”

The number of female directorate officers has doubled since 2001, while the proportion has steadily increased from about 11 per cent in 2001 to about 34 per cent in 2014.

Female civil servants who are not employed as directorate officers also accounted for about 36 per cent of the total in 2014 — only about 3 per cent higher than in 2001.

Mei-lin Wu, coordinator at the Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association, attributes the lack of women in senior positions to sexism.

She said women were often viewed as less favourable candidates for appointment or promotion because it is assumed they will be the primary caregiver at home.

She went on to say the government fails to provide enough support for women to balance any responsibilities they do have at home with their work.

“The mindset is deep that if women have children or family burdens they cannot focus on their work,” Wu said. “So if (the government) do not have policies to help those female civil servants, it means they have to solve the family burden by themselves.”

Rather than focusing on preventing gender discrimination, government policies should focus on providing them with additional support as well as addressing the fact women have a disadvantage when it comes to employment, Wu added.

“[If the appointment] process is the same or equal — it does not solve gender inequality,” Wu said. “The glass ceiling is still there.”

The government is an Equal Opportunities Employer “committed to eliminating discrimination in employment” including gender discrimination, according to the Civil Service Bureau website.

A Bureau spokesman said officers are appointed at the discretion of each department within the bureau, and vacancies are filled “on the basis of merits” regardless of gender.

But although officers receive gender-related training, there are no additional bureau-wide measures geared towards improving gender representation or women support groups.

“We ask the government...to not only give a reminder or educational sessions to civil servants,” Ho said. “[Women] should have the authority to sit on the top of bureaus and departments to see that they will cater affirmative action for women.”

The government raised the appointment rate target of women in government advisory and statutory bodies from 30 to 35 per cent in the 2015 policy address.

All government bureaus and departments are also required to conduct a “gender mainstreaming checklist” — a way of evaluating the “gender impact” of new initiatives — before introducing new policies, programmes and legislation.

A government spokeswoman said regarding the checklist, the Labour and Welfare Bureau “is consulted on the assessment and makes comments, including suggested drafting changes”.

A spokesman from the Equal Opportunities Commission said although these were positive steps, the government could do more to tackle gender inequality more widely.

He said one strategy could be to advocate that non-government organisations also use the checklist.

In terms of the civil service, Labour Party councillor Ho believes the best strategy for boosting the female intake would be to ensure women are hired across all departments.

“The best checklist that could be installed in every bureau...is to have a female worker in that department,” she said.

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