Gender Equality in Hong Kong

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Flag of Hong_Kong
Population (in Mil.) 7.15
Gross Domestic Product (In USD Billions - WB) 262.63
Sex Ratio (m/f) 0.94
Life Expectancy Ratio (f/m) 1.0875
Fertility Rate 1.07
Estimated Earned Income (f/m)
Tertiary Enrolment Ratio (f/m) 59.7
Women in Parliament (in %)
Human Development Index 13/187
Social Institutions and Gender Index /86
Gender Inequality Index 13/186
Gender Equity Index /168
Women’s Economic Opportunity Index 22/128
Global Gender Gap Index /68
More information on variables

Social Institutions

Following an agreement signed by China and the United Kingdom in 1984, Hong Kong became the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (‘Hong Kong’) in 1997.[1] The World Bank classifies Hong Kong as a high income country.[2]

Despite the introduction of measures to improve the status of women, gender equality in Hong Kong is hindered by the persistence of gender stereotypes which prescribe rigid roles of women and men in the private and public sphere. Research conducted by The Women’s Foundation in Hong Kong has found that the advancement of women is being impeded by prejudiced misconceptions on the roles, values, images and abilities of women and men. This includes the widely held view that women and girls do not have the same abilities as men and boys or that women do not have the same leadership capacity as men. Accordingly, women in Hong Kong are over-represented in lower income sectors and casual labour. Further, the gender gap in pay has increased in recent years and women are more vulnerable to poverty.[3]

Article 25 of the Basic Law provides that all Hong Kong residents shall be equal before the law.[4] Further, article 1 of the Bill of Rights provides that the rights recognised in the Bill shall be enjoyed without distinction of any kind, including sex.[5] Hong Kong has also enacted a Sex Discrimination Ordinance that prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status or pregnancy. This prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination.[6] The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women was extended to Hong Kong, at the consent of the People's Republic of China and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and North Ireland in 1996. In 2011, the Human Development Index for Hong Kong was 0.898, placing the country at 13 out of 187 countries.[7] There is no Gender Equality Index for Hong Kong.[8]

Discriminatory Family Code

Article 19 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights guarantees rights to women in respect of marriage and family. The Article provides that the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State; the right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family shall be recognised; no marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses; spouses shall have equal rights and responsibilities as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution and that in the case of dissolution, provision shall be made for the necessary protection of any children.[9] The Marriage Ordinance sets the minimum age of marriage at 16 years for both sexes, but parental consent or judicial approval is required for persons younger than 21 years.[10] The United Nations reports, based on 2006 data that 0.4 per cent of girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed, compared to 0.3 percent of boys in the same age range. In 1971, 3 percent of girls aged between 15 and 19 were married, divorced or widowed which indicates that societal acceptance of early marriage has declined in the last few decades.[11] The data indicates that women and men are both marrying later in Hong Kong. The median age of women and men at their first marriage rose from 26.9 in 1998 to 28.4 in 2008, and from 29.8 in 1998 to 31.1 in 2008 respectively.[12] Bigamy is illegal under the Offenses against the Person Ordinance.[13] Parental authority in Hong Kong is shared by both parents. The Guardianship of Minors Ordinance ensures that men and women have the same rights and obligations towards their children. In 2004 the government reported that in the event of divorce, a court will determine custody. The guardian, be it the mother or the father, has the right to apply for maintenance payments from the other parent.[14]

Equal inheritance rights for sons and daughters was achieved through the implementation of the New Territories Land (Exemption) Ordinance, which exempted land from Chinese customary law which prevented daughters from inheriting land.[15] Prior to the 1994 implementation of the New Territories Ordinance, women were not allowed to inherit land or property at all.[16]

The Women’s Commission of Hong Kong reports that there has been a shift in attitudes towards women’s and men’s role in the family, although some stereotypes that dictate the role of women and men still prevail. A large scale survey found that over 80 percent of women and men agreed that “both women and men should contribute to the household income”. The percentage of females agreeing was only 3 percent higher than males. This reflects a change from the tradition idea that the male should be the breadwinner. However, the survey found that the traditional idea that the female should be responsible for the housework remains entrenched. Only 48 percent of respondents agreed that men should take up a larger share of household duties, with women (52 percent) outnumbering men (44 percent). The survey also found a gender division in the allocation of household duties, with women more likely to be responsible for cooking and caring of children and relatives while men were more likely to be responsible for household repairs. With respect to financial decision-making, 44 percent of respondents said that they had equal rights of using all/a portion of the money. Almost one fifth of the population said that the male spouse was responsible for managing and allocating money, of which 86 percent of these women had no income at all.[17]

Restricted Physical Integrity

Violence against women is addressed under three legal frameworks: the Crimes Ordinance; the Offences against the Person Ordinance; and the Domestic Violence Ordinance. Marital rape is recognised as a crime under the Crimes Ordinance.[18] There is no specific legislation to criminalise violence against women as the Domestic Violence Ordinance is a civil instrument providing injunctions and court orders. Perpetrators of domestic violence can be prosecuted under the Crimes Ordinance however.[19] The Sex Discrimination Ordinance, Chapter 480 of the Laws of Hong Kong, provides that sexual harassment is unlawful in the workplace. Violence against women is reported to be rising in Hong Kong. Reported cases of sexual violence rose from 314 in 2001 to 425 in 2003, based on data from a non-government organisation working with victims of sexual violence.[20] Rape is under-reported to the police. In 2004, there were 92 rape cases reported to the police. However one non-government organisation dealt with 69 rape cases in the first 6 months of 2005 alone.[21] In 2008, there were 105 rape cases reported to the police which represents a slight increase.[22] Woman-blaming attitudes towards rape are indicative of a societal acceptance and normalisation of sexual violence against women. In 2006, the Women’s Commission reported on research that found that 71 of respondents (male and female) agreed that a woman ‘dressing and behaving sexy’ can incite rape.[23]

With respect to domestic violence, data from the government indicates that reports have risen sharply in recent years, from 3153 reports in 2005 to 5575 reports in 2008.[24] Data from services suggests that domestic violence is also under-reported. A non-government organisation that runs a hot-line reported that the number of calls to the hotline has risen from 4836 in 1998 to 8532 in 2004.[25]

In addition to legal protection, the Social Welfare Department tackles the problem through multi-disciplinary co-ordination, public education, coordination of community resources, and early identification and intervention activities. An interdepartmental Working Group on Combating Violence was set up in 2001, through amalgamation of two Working Groups to better address domestic and sexual violence issues.[26]

The government has adopted a “zero tolerance on domestic violence”, however the United Nations Committee on Discrimination Against Women has expressed concern about the low prosecution rate of domestic violence in Hong Kong.[27] Data from women’s organisations indicates that criminal charges are laid in only 14-24 percent of domestic violence cases.[28] Women’s advocates have criticised the government’s response to violence against women, commenting that legislations and policies are fragmented. They recommend that a specialist Domestic Violence court is required and increased funding for rape crisis centres.[29] There is no evidence that female genital mutilation is practised in Hong Kong. Regarding women’s reproductive autonomy, the Offences Against the Person Ordinance provides for medical termination of pregnancy by a registered medical practitioner in an approved hospital if two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or child.[30] Research by the Family Planning Association in Hong Kong found that in 2007 86 percent of women had used a condom and 36 percent had used an oral contraceptive pill.[31]

Son Bias

Gender disaggregated data on infant mortality in Hong Kong does not suggest a son bias, with males having a slightly higher mortality rate than females.[32] With respect to access to education, in 2009 the Women’s Commission reported that gender parity in primary and secondary education had been achieved in Hong Kong, with women outnumbering men in tertiary education.[33] However, despite these advances, the Women’s Foundation reports that gender segregation education is deeply entrenched which may indicate differences in family expectations of sons and daughters.[34] Interestingly, the Education Bureau in Hong Kong is embarking on an “equal opportunities for all subjects” initiative, rejecting the practice of streaming girl and boy students to different subjects, which reinforces gender stereotyping at an early age.[35] Hong Kong has a male/female sex ratio for the total population of 0.94 in 2012.[36] Analysis of sex ratios across age groups shows continued moderately elevated sex ratios for juveniles, indicating that missing women is a problem in Hong Kong.

Restricted Resource Entitlement

There is limited data in the section in terms of women’s ownership of property and land. The law grants women and men above the age of 18 years equal access to land and access to property other than land[37]. Women may also freely enter into contracts and apply for access to bank loans and other types of credit. It is unlawful for anyone who provides banking or insurance facilities to discriminate against a person on the grounds of gender.[38] There has been an increase in women entrepreneurs in recent years. Although the number of self-employed has increased for both women and men, between 1998 and 2003 there has been a much greater increase amongst women (122 percent) compared to men (44 percent).[39] This suggests there may be a growing societal acceptance of women as business owners. However, the Women’s Foundation also warns that this growth may be a result of women choosing to run their own businesses because of the barriers they face in employment in large organisations.[40]

Restricted Civil Liberties

There are no reported restrictions, legal or in practice, on women’s freedom of access to public space. Article 8 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights provides women the right to equally enjoy freedom of movement.[41] In terms of political participation, data from 2008 indicates that women only made up 16 percent of Executive Council Members and 18 percent of elected members in Legislative Council.[42] This data could indicate that social and cultural barriers to women’s political participation remain. Surveys of community attitudes towards women’s political participation highlight the persistence of discriminatory attitudes. For example, one survey found that 17 percent of the public considered women relatively less capable of making decisions than men. The same survey found that 34 percent of the public considered men more knowledgeable about politics than women.[43] A 2010 survey by the Women’s Commission found that 40 percent of people agreed that men performed better political leadership than women and 43 percent agreed that women performed better in community services.[44] With respect to women’s equal participation in employment, Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO), protects women from discrimination in employment on the grounds of sex, marital status or pregnancy. The Ordinance also outlaws sexual harassment and discriminatory practices such as the publication of discriminatory advertisements.[45] Under the Employment Ordinance, women in Hong Kong are entitled to 10 weeks’ paid maternity leave, paid at 80 percent of wages.[46]


  1. Central Intelligence Agency (2011) The World Fact Book: Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China, available at, accessed 31 January 2011
  2. World Bank (n.d.) Online data: Hong Kong SAR, China, available at, accessed at 31 January 2011
  3. The Women’s Foundation (2008) Closing the Gender Gap in Hong Kong: Conversations with the Community 2008, available at, accessed 31 January 2011.
  4. Basic Law, available at, accessed 20 January 2012, Article 25
  5. Hong Kong Bill of Rights, available at, accessed 20 January 2012 , s.8 Article 1(1)
  6. Sex Discrimination Ordinance (Cap 480), available at, accessed 20 January 2012, s.5
  7. United Nations Development Programme (2011) Human Development Report 2011, available at, accessed 29 February 2012 p.127
  8. Reference 7 p.139
  9. Reference 5, s.8 Article 19(1) (4
  10. Marriage Ordinance (Cap 181), available at, accessed 20 January 2012. , s.14 and s.29
  11. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2008) World Marriage Data 2008, available at, accessed 10 October 2010.
  12. Women’s Commission (2009) Hong Kong Women in Figures 2009, available at, accessed 31 January 2011. p.7
  13. Offences Against the Person Ordinance (Cap212), available at, accessed 20 January 2012, s.45
  14. Separation and Maintenance Orders Ordinance (Cap 16), available at, accessed 20 January 2012. , s.5 ; CEDAW (United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) (2004), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: China (Hong Kong only), Combined Fifth and Sixth Periodic Reports of States Parties, CEDAW/C/CHN/5-6/Add.1, New York p.125.
  15. New Territories Land (Exemption) Ordinance (Cap 452), s.3; Sally Merryand Rachel Stern, ‘The Female Inheritance Movement in Hong Kong’ (2005) 46 Current Anthropology 386, 390-391.
  16. CEDAW (United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) (2004), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: China (Hong Kong only), Combined Fifth and Sixth Periodic Reports of States Parties, CEDAW/C/CHN/5-6/Add.1, New York. p.124
  17. Women’s Commission (2010) Survey on “What do Women and Men in Hong Kong Think About the Status of Women at Home, Work and in Social Environments?”, available at, accessed 31 January 2011.
  18. Criminal Ordinance (Cap 200), available at, accessed 20 January 2012., s.117(1B)
  19. Law Society of Hong Kong, Submission on Bills Committee on Domestic Violence Ordinance (Amendment) Bill 2007
  20. The Women’s Foundation (2006) The Status of Women and Girls in Hong Kong 2006: Full Report, available at, accessed 31 January 2011. p.147
  21. Reference 20 p.148
  22. Reference 12 p.51
  23. Reference 20 p.149
  24. Reference 12 p.50
  25. Reference 20 p.152
  26. Reference 16 p.15
  27. CEDAW (United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) (2006) Concluding comments of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW/C/CHN/CO/6, New York CC para.35
  28. Action for REACH OUT et al (2006) Joint Statement by Hong Kong NGOs before the 36th sessions of the CEDAW Committee, available at, accessed 31 January 2011.p.35
  29. Reference 28
  30. Reference 16 p.97
  31. Family Planning Association of Hong Kong (2007) Knowledge, Attitude & Practice (KAP) Survey 2007, available at, accessed 31 January 2011.
  32. Reference 12 p.34
  33. Reference 12 p.14
  34. Reference 20 p.11
  35. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (2009) Highlights of progress and challenges in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action: good practices, obstacles and new challenges, E/ESCAP/BPA/2009/2, Bangkok.p.16
  36. Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Fact Book: Sex Ratio, available at, accessed 29 February 2012.
  37. Reference 16 p.120
  38. Reference 16 p.115
  39. Reference 20 p.37
  40. Reference 20 p.37
  41. Reference 16 p.121
  42. Reference 12 p.40
  43. Reference 3 p.16
  44. Reference 17
  45. Reference 16 pp.11-12
  46. Hong Kong Labour Department (n.d.)

The Women, Business and the Law

Where are laws equal for men and women?  

The Women, Business and the Law report presents indicators based on laws and regulations affecting women's prospects as entrepreneurs and employees. Several of these indicators draw on the Gender Law Library, a collection of over 2,000 legal provisions impacting women's economic status. This report does not seek to judge or rank countries, but to provide information to inform discussions about women’s economic rights. Women, Business and the Law provides data covering 6 areas: accessing institutions,using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, and going to court. Read more about the methodology.

For detailed information on Hong Kong, please visit the Women, Business and
the Law Hong Kong


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