Historically, Macau has been a safe haven for men, women and children fleeing conflict and persecution in neighbouring countries. Within this small community, mutual respect has always been fundamental.
Around the world, the idea that women are inferior has deep roots in our cultures, in both the west and east. It has been woven over millennia not only into our social, economic and political fabric but also into our language. Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle once wrote, “The female is, as it were, a mutilated male… the female, as female, is passive… and the male, as male, is active.” The impact of these attitudes has varied in different societies, making a “one size fits all” approach to changing them impossible.
Agnes Lam, University of Macau Department of Communication assistant professor, has been working on gender equality in Macau for years.
For her, the biggest challenges to equality are ideologies rooted in tradition and culture. “Culture and tradition are often the primary source of suppression. Although many women in Macau are free to decide their own path, when it comes to raising a family, some women abandon their careers as they deem it necessary to ‘abide’ by a tradition that frowns upon mothers who do not stay at home. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Women in Macau have grown up in a tradition where they are expected to be caretakers to the family and the home. But culture is not written in stone; it is ever changing. Our customs develop and ideologies adapt to the times. In some places this has happened more slowly than others.
Law and policy
Macau was forward-thinking in its approach to gender equality before it became a Special Administrative Region of China in 1999. Portugal ratified the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discriminations against Women in 1980 by way of Law No. 23/80, which was then extended to the Portuguese administration of Macau by Decree No. 25/98. After Macau’s return to China in 1999, the law was made applicable to the city via the Chief Executive Notice No. 3/2001.
The Convention seeks to understand how gender equality can be achieved. Every four years, it expects state parties to “submit a national report to the Committee, indicating the measures they have adopted to give effect to the 30 articles of the Convention.” The latest report published by the Macau government was in 2012.