HK summit of global women’s group Zonta International goes ahead despite escalation of violence at weekend

09-Oct-2019 Intellasia | | 2:23 PM Print This Post

The regional arm of global women’s empowerment organisation Zonta International pressed ahead with its advocacy work in Hong Kong even though a high-profile summit at the weekend coincided with an escalation of violence in the city.

The US-based body’s three-day summit did not escape unscathed, however, with about 10 per cent of the 480 delegates from mostly Asian cities not making it to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, an area now frequently engulfed in mayhem as radical anti-government protesters clash with police.

Zonta could not have foreseen such a politically charged atmosphere not to mention tear gas-filled neighbourhoods, paralysed public transport, blocked roads and closed malls when it planned the biennial event 18 months ago.

“Hong Kong is still a safe place at this moment although some people may think otherwise,” said Teresa Lin Lau Shuk-ying, governor of one of Zonta’s largest regional groups, District 17.

“Zonta International and local groups are non-political, not that we are not interested or aware of [politics] … When we have on our Zonta hat, we want to focus on the particular interests in this region and the world in helping women.”

The nearly four months of social unrest, triggered by the now-abandoned extradition bill, intensified on Friday night after the government invoked a colonial-era emergency law to impose a ban on anyone wearing “facial coverings” during public assemblies in a bid to stop the worsening violence.

The new anti-mask law, which critics claimed was unconstitutional, sparked three straight days of violence and vandalism as mobs of protesters rampaged across the city, trashing MTR stations, government property and private businesses.

“Our delegates who flew in from Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines have confidence in Hong Kong and continued the event over the weekend,” Lin said.

Zonta, an international INGO founded in the United States 100 years ago, has been an advocate for women’s equality in society and workplaces through funding and educational support. It has about 30,000 members worldwide, including nearly 2,500 with District 17, which encompasses Hong Kong, Macau, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

“Certain industries in Hong Kong are biased. For example, the financial industry is not diversified enough in terms of gender,” Lin said.

Lin, who has built up her career as a banker since the 1990s, went through the dilemma of working full-time and struggling with her late mother-in-law’s wish for her to stay home. With her husband’s support to pursue her career, she became a senior manager at financial institutions including Citibank, DBS Bank, Dah Sing Bank and CD Finance.

A survey by INGO The Women’s Foundation last year found that Hong Kong was lagging behind other markets on a number of issues. The gender pay gap was 22 per cent, higher than in Singapore, Britain, the United States and Australia.

Maternity leave was raised to 14 weeks at 80 per cent pay last year, still behind Singapore and mainland China. Women filled 29 per cent of management positions in Hong Kong compared with 38 per cent in Malaysia and just 13.8 per cent of directorships of Hang Seng Index constituent companies.

Zonta International president Susanne von Bassewitz said more work on women’s empowerment was needed in Hong Kong and also globally.

“I hope there is no need for Zonta in 100 years but I am not sure,” she said.

On a global basis, Nordic countries such as Finland and Sweden led the world in gender diversity because they placed importance on education, she said.


Category: Hong Kong

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