Following is a question by the Hon Emily Lau Wai-hing and a written reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Raymond Tam, in the Legislative Council today (January 11):
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) is responsible for implementing the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (Cap. 480) (SDO) to eliminate discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status and pregnancy. In this connection, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council:
(a) whether they know the respective numbers of complaints involving discrimination of various types under SDO received by EOC in the past three years and the annual changes in such numbers;
(b) whether they know if EOC has initiated any education, publicity, and enforcement action with specific focuses on different types of complaints, with a view to reducing sex discrimination; and the effectiveness of such actions;
(c) whether they know if EOC and the Education Bureau (EDB) will conduct surveys on whether secondary schools, primary schools, kindergartens and special schools have drawn up and implemented policies for the elimination of sex discrimination (including sexual harassment), in order to find out the number and names of schools which have such policies in place, as well as the situation of their implementation of such policies; if there is any school which does not have such policies in place, how EDB will follow up; in case of incidents of sex discrimination or sexual harassment occurring at educational institutions, of the role and responsibilities of EDB;
(d) whether they know if EOC and EDB will conduct surveys on the application and utilisation rates of the Brief Outline on the Policy on Preventing Sexual Harassment issued by EDB at various educational institutions;
(e) given that Hong Kong has not yet formulated a code of practice on education under SDO, whether they know if EOC and EDB will follow up on a timetable for formulating such a code;
(f) whether EDB will consider listing gender equality and prevention of sexual harassment as compulsory subjects under teacher and principal training programmes; and
(g) whether they have conducted any survey and review on public awareness of sex discrimination; if they have, of the details?
(a) In the past three years, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has handled 344, 303 and 262 cases respectively under the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO). The overall number of cases has been decreasing, and cases relating to pregnancy discrimination account for about 50 per cent of the cases. The figures and the annual changes are listed at Annex.
(b) Under the SDO, the most commonly handled cases by the EOC include pregnancy discrimination, other forms of sex discrimination, and sexual harassment. To enhance public awareness of the issue of gender equality, besides handling complaints, conducting conciliation or litigation under the SDO, the EOC also conducts education and promotion through different channels, including dissemination of the relevant messages to the public through television programmes, radio programmes, the Internet and publications. The EOC also organises different publicity and education activities, training sessions, talks, drama performances and exhibitions, focusing on primary and secondary schools, universities, voluntary agencies, public and private organisations and the media, etc.
Regarding the effectiveness of its work, the EOC conducts questionnaire surveys during its publicity and education activities to assess their effectiveness. The surveys showed a very positive outcome on the effectiveness of the EOC's work. For example, in 2010 and 2011, according to the surveys conducted on participants of the EOC's training activities, about 97 per cent of the participants accept the concept of equal opportunities in the workplace.
(c) and (d) The Education Bureau (EDB) has reminded schools that in formulating and reviewing their policies, they should comply with the various anti-discrimination ordinances and observe the principles of equal opportunities to avoid sex or any other form of discrimination. In response to the implementation of the SDO in 1996, the EDB issued a circular to schools urging them to comply with the requirements in the SDO. In 2003, the EDB also issued a circular with specific guidelines on the principles of equal opportunities and elimination of discrimination. Following the amendment of the definition of "sexual harassment" under the SDO in 2008, by which a conduct of sexual nature was extended to cover educational settings, the EDB correspondingly issued a circular to remind schools of the amended provisions of the SDO, and urged them to take reasonable and practicable measures, including formulating relevant school policies, setting up mechanisms and procedures for handling complaints and arranging training/seminars for teachers and students, so as to comply with the requirements of the law.
Other than issuing circulars and guidelines for schools to formulate relevant school-based policies having regard to their own circumstances and needs, the EDB staff also advise schools during visits and day-to-day contact, or issue letters when necessary, on administrative matters including the need to eliminate sex discrimination in schools and implement relevant measures. As far as the EDB is aware, schools implement the policy on the prevention of sex discrimination (including sexual harassment) in different ways. Some of them have drawn up written policy documents while some have drawn the attention of their staff through daily routines (such as staff meetings) to the requirements of the SDO and the procedures for handling complaints about sex discrimination (including sexual harassment). The EDB does not have statistics on the number of secondary schools, primary schools, kindergartens and special schools which have formulated a policy to prevent sex discrimination (including sexual harassment).
The EOC has been liaising and working with the EDB on matters relating to education under the anti-discrimination ordinances, endeavouring to disseminate information on anti-discrimination (including sex discrimination) and equal opportunities to schools, teachers and students, through "EOC Newsletter", "News from EOC" and a dedicated website on "Preventing Sexual Harassment on Campus" which specifically targets school personnel. To enhance the awareness of the public (including schools) on the SDO, the EOC regularly organises free seminars on anti-discrimination ordinances to raise the sensitivity of participants on the related topics. The EOC also provides different services (such as running workshops for individual schools) on requests of the schools to help them explore relevant prevention measures and procedures. If schools have any questions about anti-discrimination ordinances or during handling of relevant cases, they may seek assistance from the EOC.
The situation of sex discrimination and sexual harassment in the area of education as reported to the EOC was not serious in recent years. The EOC has not conducted surveys on whether secondary schools, primary schools, kindergartens and special schools have drawn up and implemented policies for the elimination of sex discrimination (including sexual harassment), nor on the application and utilisation rates of the Brief Outline on the Policy on Preventing Sexual Harassment at various educational institutions.
If the EDB is aware of an incident of sex discrimination or sexual harassment in an educational institution, it will contact the school concerned for details and provide assistance. With the consent of the victim, the case could be referred to the EOC. If the case is of a criminal nature, the school should report it to the Police. Moreover, any person may seek assistance from or lodge a complaint with the EDB about issues/cases concerning sex discrimination (including sexual harassment) in schools. If the staff of government schools are involved and both the complainant and complainee are serving civil servants or non-civil service contract staff, the EDB will handle the case/complaint in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Civil Service Bureau.
(e) The replies to parts (c) and (d) above have listed out the efforts to promote compliance with the SDO in the area of education, and the situation of sex discrimination and sexual harassment in the area of education as reported to the EOC was not serious in recent years. The EOC does not have a timetable for the formulation of a relevant code of practice on education at present. The EOC will continue to monitor the situation, and, when such need arises in future, will consider the formulation of a code of practice on education.
(f) To enhance the effectiveness of implementing sex education in schools (including topics on the concept of gender equality and prevention of sexual harassment), the EDB frequently organises and commissions educational institutes to run professional development programmes on relevant topics to enhance teachers' knowledge, skills and abilities. The EDB also encourages principals and teachers who have completed the programmes to share and exchange their professional knowledge in this area with other teachers. In addition, starting from the 2002/03 school year, the EDB requires all newly-appointed principals to undergo in the first two years of their principalship a designated professional development programme, which includes inviting EOC staff to deliver a topic on "Equal Opportunities and Education". The topic covers information about the various anti-discrimination ordinances, including the definition of sex discrimination, sexual harassment and the enforcement of the SDO and facilitates the newly-appointed principals to be aware of the need to avoid breaching the ordinances in managing the school and to properly handle such cases when necessary. The EDB will continue to provide appropriate training programmes for school staff according to the development and needs of society.
(g) To assess the attitude of students towards gender stereotyping and sexual harassment, the EOC has commissioned an institute to conduct a "Study on Students' Sexual Attitudes and Views on Sexual Harassment" in December 2010. The study is underway and it is expected that the outcome will be announced in late 2012.
Ends/Wednesday, January 11, 2012