Oct 29, 2009|
Yuen Long has the highest number of spousal abuse cases of any district in Hong Kong. According to the latest figures by the Social Service Department, 14 percent of the 2,735 cases logged citywide in the first six months of this year occurred there. Yuen Long also experienced the fourth highest rate of sexual assaults in 2008. It’s unsurprising then that the Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women should want to set up an education center promoting awareness of the issue there. The association has already been running workshops in other social service venues throughout the district for years.
However, after being filed two years ago, their request was recently turned down due to local objections. It was intended that the education center would be located in Yuk Ping House in Long Ping Estate, but the House’s Mutual Aid Committee opposed it. According to Linda Wong, executive director of the Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women, they did so on the bizarre grounds that it might attract “perverts or molesters” to the area. “They’re threatened by the very term ‘sexual violence,’” she says, “because so many myths have developed around it. They’re also worried that it will give the estate a reputation as a place where a lot of sexual violence happens, even though we’ve explained that we won’t make any mention of it on our signs.”
Winning over local opinion is crucial when it comes to renting out such venues. Under the current policy, the Housing Authority regularly provides vacant non-residential flats at estates to the Social Welfare Department, so that NGOs can set up centers and offer social services in them. But any objections from the residents override the decision of the authority. That said, what in this case is taken to constitute the opinion of the residents is really just the opinion of the building’s Mutual Aid Committee. Set up by the Home Affairs Department, a Mutual Aid Committee is a voluntary body to supposedly represent the residents, and act as a channel of two-way communication between the government and the residents. However, according to local district councilor Wong Wai-yin, it has lost its intended function is recent years. “Whoever is willing to sep up [a Mutual Aid Committee] can get a seat,” he says. “A lot of times any decision made is merely about the chairman’s preference.”
And the Mutual Aid Committee chairman in question here is Chan Siu-kei, who is a former district councilor, a DAB member and now represents Yuk Ping House. He refused to comment on the matter to HK Magazine but has admitted earlier to local press that he has never launched a consultation on the matter before denying the education center approval to set up. It was impossible to ask everyone, he reportedly said, but he felt the Committee nonetheless “represented the residents.”
He also repeated the claim that it was possible the center would attract violent sexual offenders, and said it wasn’t worth the risk. According to Wong, the same view has been spreading throughout the estate.
At the end of the day, this is just one of numerous examples of NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) incidents in Hong Kong. Just a couple of months ago, Christian Zhen Sheng College, a drug rehab school for teenagers, faced strong opposition from Mui Wo residents who opposed the college’s move to their district. In the early 90s, residents in Richland Garden in Kowloon Bay opposed the idea of setting up an Aids clinic in their neighborhood. Legislator Albert Chan encountered the same opposition when he tried to help the Lantau Buffalo Association in 2002. “We found a parcel of land in Pui O where the stray cows could be kept, and wanted to have an education center there to teach people about their historical ties to Hong Kong,” he says. “The Lands Department was not against it, but in the end the project didn’t come through because it was opposed by locals in the neighborhood.”
According to Albert Chan, once representatives of the residents object in such cases, the application cannot be approved. To change that, he suggests that the matter should go to the District Council instead.
Dr. Chan Kin-man, director of the Centre for Civil Society Studies at Chinese University, believes while it is rare that the setting up of an education center would be denied, it shows that these mutual aid committees rarely reflect the view of most residents, and that there is a lack of oversight from the Home Affairs Department, which is supposed to supervise such resident representative bodies. In this particular case, the Home Affairs Department has not coordinated any meetings and forums with the Mutual Aid Committee to conduct direct communication between all of the local residents and the Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women.
Dr. Chan suggested that the government could look into solving this problem on the legal side. “In the United States, they have a law called ‘LULU’—Local Unwanted Land Use—which allows for all such facilities to be spread out evenly in all districts,” he says.
“But on the community side, we should also have more public hearings about the matter, requiring those who are against the services to present solid arguments against them, instead of merely making angry objections.”