New Territories Female Indigenous Residents’ Committee – Hong Kong, China

They are proposed as a group for the 1000 women’s Nobel Peace Price 2005.

Formed in October 1993, the New Territories Female Indigenous Residents’ Committee NTFIRC was active in the 1994 campaign to abolish the discriminatory ordinance on women’s rights to inherit property in the New Territories. Along with other groups, they encouraged their sisters to fight for their rights, using peaceful means, like signing petitions and singing songs, to lobby for public support.

They say: “The women are brave to form the (New Territories Female Indigenous Residents’ Committee) NTFIRC and to exercise their political rights in the face of violent reaction from conservative patriarchal powers”.

Excerpts of the books:

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New Territories Female Indigenous Residents’ Committee – Hong Kong, China

There were six core members in the Committee, including Tang Ying, Cheng Lai Sheung, So Ngan Shing, Tang Mui, Tang Yuen Tai and Wong Shui Lai.

They work with the Hong Kong Federation of Women’s Centres.

The success of the campaign has not only guaranteed their civic rights, it has also contributed to the women’s and civil society movements.Indigenous women living in the New Territories of Hong Kong have long been deprived of the right to inherit land and were subject to the discriminatory New Territories Ordinance. Many became poor and homeless on the deaths of their fathers because their relatives seized their properties after their fathers died. In 1993, indigenous women formed the New Territories Female Indigenous Residents’ Committee (NTFIRC) to fight for their rights.

All of them had suffered because of this discriminatory custom. Apart from Madam So Ngan Shing and Madam Cheng Lai Sheung who have received primary education, the others members are illiterate. And they live in poverty. Here are two stories of the committee members: Madam Cheng Lai Sheung (52) and single, is a villager of Ma Tin Tsuen in Yuen Long. She has two brothers and she is the eldest daughter. All her life she was told that she had to work to improve her brothers’ living conditions.

She had wanted to marry a particular man when she was young. But her father refused to give her permission to do so until her brothers were married and had their own families. Madam Cheng’s father died without leaving a will. Although her father left a flat for her to live in before he died, she had no right to inherit any family property as a female member. Her brothers decided to sell the property and drive her out of the house. She became homeless.

Madam Tang Ying (59) is indigenous to the area of San Lung Wai in Yuen Long. She is the only daughter in her family. When her father died, she was not granted permission to carry his photograph to the funeral because of being a woman. She could not inherit any land or property, and custom stipulated that the one who did inherit thus should look after relatives of the deceased. It was Madam’s Tang’s uncle who inherited her father’s land and property and who was supposed to look after Tang’s mother as well as pay the funeral expenses. This agreement had been reached under the customary law and witnessed by the village head. Madam Tang’s uncle transferred her father’s property to his own family and he broke the agreement. He did not give any financial support to Madam Tang’s mother. Madam Tang and her mother could do nothing because Hong Kong law did not have the power to enforce the family duty under customary law. As a result, Madam Tang had to work very hard to take care of her mother. When she had used up all her money, she applied for public assistance to support her living.

Gradually, other similar cases in the New Territories began to come to light. Many indigenous women did not have access to their family property and were forced to live in poverty. Their brothers or male relatives without their consent sold off their homes or properties. But they dared not speak up. At that time, the Hong Kong Government still upheld the New Territories Ordinance because they denied their obligation to rectify some of the discriminatory malpractices and customs in villages. Deprived of land rights for centuries, the above-mentioned indigenous women organized themselves to claim their rights.

Under the principle of equality between women and men, the NTFIRC, with the help of a former Legislator Christine Loh, proposed to amend the New Territories (Land) Exemption Bill in March 1994 in order to safeguard the land inheritance right of the indigenous women of the New Territories. They held peaceful negotiations with the Government, legislators and the conservative faction of the New Territories. To gain wider support from the community, they mobilized the indigenous women in the walled villages to strive to abolish the discriminatory legislation. They organized a signature campaign in the indigenous community and got support from 124 indigenous inhabitants from forty walled villages. With the support of the indigenous community, the New Territories’ men could no longer say that indigenous women were satisfied with their custom.

To arouse public attention, with the help of feminist and women’s organizations in Hong Kong, indigenous women organized demonstrations, seminars, exhibitions and dramas. They used their own Hakka dialect to write traditional songs and dramas to demonstrate how indigenous women suffered under the discriminatory custom. They also put their stories in the media to bring the essential messages of the campaign to the public.

However, their actions faced strong reaction from the conservative faction, the most established administrative body of the New Territories – Heung Yee Kuk. One of the most serious incidents happened on March 22, 1994, when a gang of around 1,000 New Territories’ residents, mostly men, was mobilized by Heung Yee Kuk to provoke the peaceful demonstrators from the women’s movement who gathered outside the Legislative Council when the amendment bill was under debate. Members of the NTFIRC and the women’s rights campaigners were surrounded by the mob and attacked. They were beaten and had bottles, cigarette ends hurled at them. Actually NTFIRC members had earlier received threats of being beaten. Some of them had even received threat calls. However, these violent acts could not stop them from fighting together for their rights.

Moreover, these acts demonstrated to the public how indigenous women lived under the patriarchal system. As a result, the campaign gained more and more support from various community groups and citizens.

The New Territories Ordinance, passed in 1900, was finally abolished on June 22, 1994. Now both indigenous men and women enjoy equal rights to inherit land and property. The courageous action of the NTFIRC members benefitted more than half of the female population in Hong Kong who are living in the New Territories.

This campaign for the equal inheritance rights of women in the New Territories is also considered a significant historical event in the Hong Kong women’s movement. It is a milestone in the struggle for gender equality through legislative means. It also demonstrates the possibilities of a coalition among different social forces in fighting for justice and human rights, thus raising the civil consciousness and solidarity of people in Hong Kong at large. (1000peacewomen).

Community Sustainable Development Workshop – Promoting Community, Sustainable Development by Women and Youth.

ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMISSION FOR ASIA AND THE PACIFIC, ESCAP/OSAGI Asia-Pacific Regional Symposium on Gender Mainstreaming, 10-13 December 2001, Bangkok.

Unpacking Adaptation: The Female Inheritance Movement in Hong Kong, Rachel E. Stern, University of Califonia, Berkeley.

links:

CENTRE OF ASIAN STUDIES, THE UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG, POKFULAM ROAD, HONG KONG, Past Activities of the Women’s Studies Research Centre, 22 May 1993 Conference;

Community and Professional Networks;

The Women’s Commission Visits Local Women’s Groups;

Appendix 5, Training Bodies;

Hong Kong Association of Business and Professional Women HKABPW;

Collaborating Women’s Groups and Service Agencies, on page 4/5.

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