By Poyi (Natalie) Leung
There is no doubt that Macau is a modern society and has been developing rapidly in recent years. However, aside from the “in-depth” problems concerning social stability, government administration and people’s livelihoods that have arisen during the development process, the level of gender equality is also not quite improving at the same pace with everything else in Macau.
Candice Chio Ngan Ieng, president of the Macau Women’s General Association (AGMM), told the Macau Daily Times in an interview, that while local people may be treating men and women equally superficially, they are not yet taking that step ideologically.
Yet, Chio is confident that the situation will gradually improve now that there are more and more women joining the labour force, thereby proving their capabilities and “irreplaceable power” to society.
Nevertheless, she stressed that women also have the responsibility to make themselves “decisive, strong, independent and confident”, otherwise she said without the inner quality it is hard to persuade others to respect them.
Reporter: How will you describe the level of gender equality in Macau nowadays?
Chio Ngan Ieng: It seems that it is [equal between men and women] but deep down in people’s hearts it’s not quite yet. For example, top positions in a company, leadership positions in the Government – how many bureau directors are women? –, job promotion opportunities and family roles…women are stereotyped to stay home and prepare meals. Macau is still under the influence of traditional concepts, but the problem is people don’t recognise it as a problem.
R: Is it possible to achieve absolute gender equality?
Ms Chio: I don’t think gender equality has to be in an absolute state, as it still has to depend on the physical quality of men and women. It’s not like men can carry metal and women also need to follow. But if Macau wants to achieve gender equality in people’s thoughts and ideologically, I think there is still quite a long way to go. With the constant development and more working women in society, I believe this trend will move forward faster and faster as people start to witness the capabilities of women and their irreplaceable power.
But more importantly is that women have to be decisive, strong, independent and confident, and also at the same time to upgrade themselves constantly. If you don’t have the inner quality you can’t expect people to respect you.
R: As far as your association is aware, what are the major problems that Macau’s women face in their daily lives?
Ms Chio: According to the “2008 Macau Women Status Report” compiled by the Women’s Affairs Advisory Committee, the eight main concerns are: emotional problems caused by pressures from families, children and work; lack of family services; lack of leisure facilities especially general sports facilities, community centres, art and cultural venues and parks; insufficient health care services – a survey showed that in 2006 every 4,947 women had to share only one gynaecologist/obstetrician; work on shifts that affects their time spending with families; worsening unemployment situation in recent years and a notable median wage gap comparing to men; difficulties in getting job promotion opportunities; and also the hardships of low-income women – a survey found that 7.7 percent of the local women made less than MOP 3,000 a month.
R: Human trafficking is also a problem chiefly affecting women. How effective is your anti-human trafficking hotline so far?
Ms Chio: As a community organisation we can only help the victims, who usually come from the mainland and are sold into the sex trade, by providing counselling. At the end of the day it still has to rely on the Government to help them return home. When we get a call we will usually encourage them to seek help from the Government. Thus almost all of the women who came into our shelter could go back to their place of origin eventually.
In 2008 [from July when the hotline was launched], 2009 and 2010 [as at the end of June], the numbers of people under 18 years old who have stayed in our human trafficking shelter were respectively six, one and two, while those above 18 were respectively 16, two and nine.
Some of the victims thought they were coming to work but didn’t know that they had to engage in the sex trade industry, some planned to come here only to accompany customers to sing in night clubs, or some were being physically abused when working here. Macau certainly needs more outreach social workers to help find these victims.
R: Why are there so many women’s associations throughout the world but similar ones for men aren’t as common?
Ms Chio: We can say that women are a vulnerable group and therefore draw concerns around the world. In Macau, women’s status is comparatively quite well though.
R: What is the role of the Women’s General Association in Macau?
Ms Chio: After the 1999 handover we launched two family services centres, as families are the cornerstone of a society and influential to social development and progress. During the implementation of the services, we discovered some of the women were victims of domestic violence. But at that time we could only help relieve their emotions, cheer them up and provide psychological counselling, and eventually we had to tell them to go back home, as we didn’t have a shelter for them.
R: Why didn’t these women go to the police?
Ms Chio: A majority of the women that came to us were affected by the Chinese traditional thinking that they didn’t want to really do this [to go to police and complain] and they just wanted to be away from the situation temporarily. They usually thought that their husbands had always been very good to them and thus after both of them could calm down their relationship could be restored.
From there we realised the need to have a midway shelter for both the abusers and the victims to calm down and think about how to solve the problem and save the marriage, and that’s how Lai Yuen was set up.
R: What other women’s issues has AGMM discovered?
Ms Chio: Research our association conducted a few years ago found that cervical cancer and breast cancer were the top two killers among the women in Macau, but a patient can be fully recovered from cervical cancer if it is discovered early. In 2009 we established a gynaecological health centre, which provides free cervical cancer tests. Over the past year nearly 6,000 women had received the service, and of which over 2,000 middle-aged women went through the Pap tests (a screening test used in gynaecology to detect premalignant and malignant cancerous processes for the first time). This helped double the local women’s cervical cancer examination rate from some 20 percent to 40-plus percent.
After the AGMM integrated services building in Rua da Barca is reconstructed, we plan to open the second gynaecological health centre mainly for mental health. Apart from work, women have to face pressure from marriage, prenatal and postnatal stress, or stress from menopause, which can all affect their psychological state.
In the past if a Chinese family didn’t have enough financial ability, most of the time the son rather than the daughter would be given the chance to go to school. But nowadays we can already say that the level of education between men and women is keeping pace with each other, and we can see more female students in some local tertiary institutes. However, some middle-aged women or new migrants may still remain in the low educational qualifications group. The third floor of the new integrated services building will be used as a base for training courses in the hope to enhance women’s quality and help them find a job. There are a lot of opportunities available in society, but if you don’t have the skills and qualifications you won’t even be able to grab it.
R: This year is the 60th anniversary of the founding of AGMM. What does it signify?
Ms Chio: We’ve gone through 60 years and it was not easy. Looking to the future, I think we need to work even harder to fulfill our objectives and to better serve society. This year AGMM will conduct a larger-scale research investigation aiming to find out what local women need and we’re currently training the researchers. We hope to study more in-depth into the problems and find out what women truly need us to do for them.