SCMP Wednesday, March 7, 2001

Women facing hi-tech hurdles


Women must be given better access to computer technology or they will face further isolation in the community and the workforce, unions warned yesterday.
A Federation of Trade Unions survey of 706 women between December and January found that 13.6 per cent of those questioned were out of work - four times the official jobless rate among women, which stands at 3.2 per cent.
The problem was most serious in the manufacturing sector, which accounted for 29.7 per cent of the unemployed women surveyed. It was followed by retailing and wholesaling (23.4 per cent), and catering (10.6 per cent). Among the jobless, about 60 per cent had been unemployed for at least six months. Some 26 per cent wanted to go to work but had to look after their families.
Of women in work, 78.6 per cent said their pay had been frozen over the past year and 30.4 per cent had experienced a rise in their workload and hours. In addition, nine per cent earned less than $5,000 a month.
The federation said that as Hong Kong evolved into a knowledge-based economy, older and less-educated women were facing difficulties finding work. Their lack of hi-tech knowledge also meant they had lost touch with their children, it said.
"A lot of women have realised that they need to learn computing in order to adjust to this new era of information technology, but only a small proportion of them have actually taken the initiative to equip themselves," a spokesman said.
"The majority remain very passive because they either lack the economic ability or simply do not have the chance to come into contact with such courses or are afraid of learning new technology."
The federation also claimed the rich-poor gap had widened because of advances in technology, leaving more women, especially those at the grassroots level, marginalised.
It called for more resources to set up free or cheap computer courses. It also demanded anti-age discrimination laws and an increase in family assistance.