Feminism is going through a critical cultural moment. Whether it’s to address gender equality, the wage gap or reproductive rights, women around the world are creating alternative movements and spaces away from mainstream constraints and increasingly raising their voices.
Hong Kong is no exception. It counts a strong, outspoken community of women and men advocating for parity, though it does lag in some areas. Studies by resources consultancy Willis Towers Watson and the non-profit organisation Community Business show Hong Kong women earn an average of 22 per cent less than men, a gap wider than in Singapore, the US, Britain and Australia, and occupy only 13.8 per cent of seats on the boards of Hang Seng Index companies.
So there are plenty of issues to be addressed this month at Hong Kong’s first Women’s Festival, which runs from September 1 to 9 at the Eaton hotel in Jordan.
The festival, and the Eaton, are the latest ventures from Langham hotel scion Katherine Lo, whose new global brand, Eaton Workshops, merges hospitality and progressive social change.
“Gender issues have always been really important to me,” she says on the phone from Washington DC, her second home after Hong Kong. “Hosting the first Women’s Festival at Eaton is something I hope will make a big difference in the city.”
The venue, which serves as a hotel, social club and co-working space, caters to a liberal-leaning professional crowd through its gender-neutral facilities, thoughtful design and interdisciplinary programmes that go beyond the standard hotel experience. It’s the perfect location to host the festival’s stimulating range of talks, workshops and performances.
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There will be meditation classes and seminars on relationships, beer tastings conducted by women in the craft beer industry, film screenings and talks on motherhood and ageing. Sexuality, too, is very much on the agenda. At the time of writing, a bondage workshop had already sold out.
The same goes for the Vagina Monologues, the 1996 episodic play featuring performers reciting vulva-centric storieson anything from childbirth to pap smears and sexual assault, which makes its debut in Cantonese during the nine-day event.
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In a city that is relatively conservative, the programme is undoubtedly pushing boundaries.
“We wanted to combine and include the many aspects of womanhood,” says Vera Lui, founder of intimate lifestyle store Sally Coco and a co-founder of the festival. “Celebrate self-love, self-care and self-expression, and exploring them from different angles. After all, there are many layers to being a woman.”