Thursday, October 29, 2015

[Pakistani Culture Workshop] Policy and Legal Issues Regarding Ethnic Minorities in Hong Kong

Multiculturalism in Action 2015-16
Pakistani Culture Workshop: Making a Change for the Better

Session 2: Policy and Legal Issues Regarding Ethnic Minorities in Hong Kong

Ms. Pearl Tang and Ms. Niru Vishwanath
(Ethnic Minorities Unit, Equal Opportunities Commission)

On 10 October 2015, Multiculturalism in Action Project visited the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), to learn about the policies and institutional efforts in fighting race discrimination in Hong Kong. 

What image(s) can you see? A duck or a rabbit? Is it right, or wrong, if we see the picture one way or the other?

Ms. Niru Vishwanath first invited us to think about the concept of “being open-minded” as a key to the creation of a multicultural environment in Hong Kong as it allowed us to see others’ perspectives. “Stereotypes” is another big word in ethnic relations, as it led to assumptions and discriminations which should be avoided.

If you were the man in the orange T-shirt and did not understand Cantonese, what would you feel when you saw a group of people talking about you?

Human psychology, Ms. Vishwanath said, usually made us feel excluded when we could not understand the local language. This role play helped us to feel and rethink why misunderstandings occur.   

The second speaker, Ms. Pearl Tang discussed the Racial Discrimination Ordinance (RDO), the role of EOC in executing the Ordinance as well as some case studies.  

The RDO has come into operation since 10 July 2009, which aims to protect people from being discriminated against based on their race / colour / descent / nation or ethnic origin. According to Ms. Tang, religious and linguistic groups were not included in the RDO, except the Sikhs who were defined as an ethnic group based on case law. Ms. Tang explained that as a statutory body, EOC has handled complaints, as well as carried out investigation and conciliation. EOC also offers legal assistance if conciliations fail.

One of the challenges about race discrimination, as mentioned by Ms. Tang, was the issue of empowerment among the ethnic minorities. The number of enquiries and complaints regarding race discrimination has remained the lowest compared with other anti-discrimination laws. Not only because RDO was the latest ordinance, but also because ethnic minorities seldom complained since their first priority was to find a job to secure their livelihood in Hong Kong.

Ms. Tang giving a presentation

Some of the participants questioned the effectiveness of complaints and conciliation process as these were seen to be passive action in combating race discrimination. Ms. Tang admitted that while EOC depended on people bringing complaints forward, to a certain extent it has helped to fight discrimination. EOC, she explained, was an advisory body which helped to facilitate conciliations, but it was not their authority to give orders to people on what they should do.

Q and A session

In the Q and A session, Ms. Tang and Ms. Vishwanath discussed some discriminatory cases found in real-life situations, giving examples such as opening bank accounts, renting flats, applying for public housing, and seeking medical services. To deal with these problems, EOC provided training service for the public and private sectors, including provision of guidelines on how to comply with the anti-discrimination ordinances, and how to promote racial equality. Ms. Tang shared with us that one of challenges in Hong Kong was that though many companies were aware of the laws, they seldom made extra efforts to do more than what the laws required.  

This seminar ended with a second role play that highlighted the importance of communication. Dialogues should be built before imposing your own assumptions about people from different cultural backgrounds.

Participants acted as a Muslim employee and a Chinese employer to highlight the importance of communication.

Lastly, Prof. Tam, Director of the Multiculturalism in Action Project, reminded participants that legal rights were an important part of social and cultural harmony. Although Hong Kong people have got more used to a more culturally diverse society, as we all have minority neighbors or schoolmates etc., we still need to be much more proactive in tackling discrimination problems. 

(From left) Ms. Niru Vishwanath, Ms. Pearl Tang, Mr. Madhav Khanal and Prof. Tam.

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