Seven women’s groups are calling on the Equal Opportunities Commission chair to resign after he made “sexist” remarks at an event in celebration of International Women’s Day.
Equality chief Alfred Chan Cheung-ming said last Thursday that women in Hong Kong have two “career lines” – in the workplace and at home, Ming Pao reported. He added that men cannot fulfil women’s roles in the domestic sphere, such as doing house chores.
He made the remarks at an event hosted by the Women’s Foundation, which is running a campaign “My Real Career Line.”
The term “career line” was originally associated with Chinese palm reading. In Hong Kong, the phrase also commonly refers to a woman’s cleavage, implying that a woman’s success is linked to her appearance.
According to Ming Pao, Chan said at the event that – while men do not treat women equally in the workplace – they expect women to take on the important role of looking after the family. However, he said, women are not concerned about equal pay.
Chan added that elderly people tend to be taken care of by women because they are more attentive. He went on to say that not only does his wife look after his parents, he will also be asking his daughter – instead of his son – to look after him when he grows old, because “men need to work.”
‘Reinforce gender stereotypes’
Seven citizen-led women’s groups are running a petition campaign demanding an apology from Chan. They also called for his resignation as equality chief on the basis that “he is completely insensitive to gender issues.”
“We consider Chan’s remarks to be discriminatory against women. The equality chief not only failed to be critical of gender inequality, but he also legitimised and reinforced gender stereotypes and unfair treatment of women,” the groups wrote.
They said Chan was wrong in claiming women do not care about their salaries. In fact, they said, civil groups have long been advocating equal pay for women, but the equality watchdog failed to address the issue.
The groups also criticised Chan’s assertion that women are better at looking after elderly people.
“Women are not born to be more attentive or know how to do housework,” they said. “The proper solution is for the government to provide resources for community care and for society to support women’s autonomy.”
They added that the International Women’s Day is not about “praising” the sacrifices women have made, but rather making commitments to eliminate all forms of gender discrimination.
Raees Baig, assistant professor of social work at the Chinese University, also criticised Chan for lacking gender sensitivity. She said: “What is the point of celebrating the International Women’s Day if our society has such a backward understanding of gender equality?”
The Equal Opportunities Commission told HKFP that Chan intended to highlight the unfair treatment of women, but his remarks “might not have been communicated clearly at the event.”
“Professor Chan has no intention to reinforce the gender stereotyping of both sexes,” it said. “We fully understand the public holds high expectations of the commission, and will be more cautious in our remarks in the future to avoid any unnecessary misunderstanding.”
Chan did not apologise or address the calls for his resignation.
It is not the first time Chan has come under fire following a blunder. Less than a month after he took office last April, he was accused of making offensive remarks related to sexual minorities and asylum seekers. He also apologised twice at the time over an academic scandal.
Chan is a professor of social gerontology at Lingnan University. He previously served on the Elderly Commission, the Minimum Wage Commission, and the Independent Police Complaints Council.