The Outcast: Ethnic Minority Women in a Discriminative Global City
Ditya, a Nepalese housewife in Hong Kong, walks her daughter to school every day as other local mothers do. Once she sets foot into the public area, however, her visage is tinged with an unusual air of vigilance and dread.
Many women in the city can probably relate to her: when she walks along the pavement, lascivious gazes are constantly showered on her; if she sits at the bench alone, her body might be deliberately rubbed by some loitering old men who would glaringly ask her “how much a night”.
This is the reality for the 370,000 ethnic minority ladies in Hong Kong, a city priding over its status of an international financial hub. Subject to racial profiling and sexist assumptions that are prevalent in the Hong Kong society, ethnic minority women are much more vulnerable to sexual violence than people would like to believe.
Credits to: Shutterstock
Hong Kong has a liberal immigration policy which gives rise to a multi-racial population with 450,000 non-ethnic Chinese. Filipinos and Indonesians, accounting for over half of the population, are the largest. Most of them work as domestic workers due to the labour importation policy in the 70s which has allowed over 300,000 local mums to work, an often-ignored source of Hong Kong’s prosperity. South Asians, notably from India, Pakistan and Nepal, make up a little over 80,000.
While white people in Hong Kong are characterized by high-paying jobs, coloured minorities arrive here amidst poverty and work from the bottom of the job ladder, doing blue-collar work such as construction and delivery.
The experience of Sylvester, an African who has lived here with his Hongkong wife for 12 years, attests to the hidden discrimination towards ethnic minorities. His proposal of a community center for his African community was constantly struck down by townspeople on the absurd ground that Africans are “more undisciplined” and “likely to cause crimes”. “We want to be together, but some people don’t want to give us that chance,” he said.
This speaks a lot about the undertone of conservatism and xenophobia in Hong Kong, where racist epithets like “Chai Tsai”, a derogatory term referring to Indian policemen in colonial times, fly around unapologetically on a daily basis.
A normal life, necessitating a home and a job, is much more unobtainable for the minorities, among which one-fifths fall below the poverty line.
Lebo Mhlongo, a South African kindergarten teacher, reveals that facing three times of rental refusal is hardly surprising for the coloured minorities.
At the workplace, racist labels also hinder job prospect, as a survey commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Commission, a public body responsible for implementing the various anti-discrimination laws, found that almost one in four people agreed that “South Asians are not suitable to do office work because they have only attained low educational level.”
In local media headlines and heated legislature debates, the relation between race and crime is often blown out of portion. This causes local citizens to attach people of darker skin with labels of “rob resources” and “create crimes”.
Despite local and international calls to revamp the 10-year-old Race Discrimination Ordinance, the scope and implementation of legal protection remain limited.
Similar to western society, objectification of women is rife in the community through local advertisement and many other occasions. According to the Hong Kong-based Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women, one in seven women in Hong Kong has been victim to sexual violence.
Despite the MeToo movement during which star athletes and celebrity call out the perpetrators, these sexual violence cases are but the “tip of the iceberg” since many victims choose not to report to the police due to shame, as RainLily, a local-based women protection group, told a local news agency South China Morning Post in December 2017.
Sexual violence is a much more ghastly reality for minority females: According to the research done by the same group, up to 85% of Indonesian, Nepali and Indian girls experienced Gender-Based Violence with 13% being stalked and almost 10 % unwantedly touched for up to 10 times.
Credits to: Edward Wong, SCMP
Where Does the Fault Lie?
Embedded racial assumptions might have propelled such flagrant acts. Deriving from fragmental understandings of sexual abuse and Islamism in South Asian countries, some locals generalize and reduce South and Southeast Asian women to being “submissive” and “less likely to fight back”, a bias that is taken advantage by perpetrators of sexual violence.
Institutional loopholes of ethnic minority policies could also be a hidden culprit. Many of the ethnic minority women, especially housewives, came here knowing no languages apart from their native tongue. Having to stay at home for further eliminates their opportunities to learn at the workplace or school through daily communication as their husbands and children do.
Communication barriers, added with the insufficiency of translation support, has led to a lower report rate in case of sexual violence, which further hides the shoddy deeds of perpetrators, perpetuating a vicious cycle.
Credits to: Edward Wong, SCMP
The irony lies in the fact that, while Hong Kong has flaunted its economic prosperity and cultural diversity for decades, the ethnic minorities who made this brand possible remain marginalized and muted by the society and government. With such dismal prospect, Ditya could only wish the best for her 6-year-old daughter, who is brimming with big hopes of the city.
Vicky Liu is a sophomore year undergraduate of Business Administration and Laws at the University of Hong Kong. She is interested in analyzing changes in the law and business environment, how they relate to contemporary social issues and politics and especially the impact on minority groups.