Colony opens women's rights centre

December 1, 1995

The first academic research centre promising to put feminist issues at the top of the political agenda has opened in Hong Kong's most prestigious university.

At the inauguration of the Hong Kong University's women's studies research centre, vice chancellor Wang Gungwu said academic institutions could no longer ignore the prominence of women at all levels of society. "Women's issues are Hong Kong issues, and women's rights issues are human rights issues," said Professor Wang.

"They are relevant in every department in this university and in all other universities in Hong Kong. They cross departmental barriers."

The centre is hailed as a major breakthrough in Hong Kong, where women's rights legislation has lagged so far behind legislation in other developed countries that until last year, land in the New Territories - a major chunk of the colony - could only be inherited by male heirs.

It will promote research in Hong Kong and China, as well as hosting feminist conferences and adding an academic voice to women's concerns in the wider community.

Veronica Pearson, senior lecturer at the department of social work and social administration and one of the centre's founders, said women were a long way from achieving equal status, even in academic circles. Women in gainful employment were expected to continue to carry the double burden of work and housework, she said.

"The family is accepting of a wife and mother working, as long as she continues to maintain her domestic responsibilities."

Benjamin Leung, senior lecturer at Hong Kong University's department of sociology, said that while Hong Kong Chinese women had enjoyed a degree of financial independence since the early 1960s, their status in the family had changed surprisingly little.

Traditionalist husbands and discriminatorily low wages discouraged women from staying in the workplace after the birth of a child, he said.

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