About 40 migrant domestic workers protested outside the office of Executive Council member Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee's office on Thursday, demanding an apology for her comments accusing Filipino maids of sleeping with their foreign bosses.
Regina Ip's remarks appeared on her website as commentary on the suicide of a teenage girl, whose father is British and mother is Filipina. Ip criticized foreign media for depicting Hong Kong as a exploitative city while neglecting the sexual relationships between maids and their expat employers:
Apart from reporting on the inappropriate behavior of employers, shouldn't the foreign press also keep a closer eye on why a great number of Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong have become sexual resources?
In response to her comment, the Philippine Consulate General issued a statement on April 20, expressing concern on her “unfortunate choice of words” and stressing that “discrimination should have no place in any society, most especially Hong Kong”.
The politician refused to apologize and insisted that she had actually received complaints from wives of foreigners about migrant maids stealing their husbands while she headed the Security Bureau (she resigned in 2003).
Eman Villanueva, one of the protest organizers, posted protest photos on Twitter and said:
On Regina Ip: Intentional or not, her statements reek of racism and sexism, so unbecoming of a public authority. pic.twitter.com/6mUaCH7JeN
— Eman Villanueva (@emancv) April 23, 2015
Another protester wrote on Twitter:
Protest against big-mouthed small-brained no-heart Regina Ip for her comments on ‘domestic help stealing our men’. https://t.co/Mp1udgRN5J
— daaitoulaam (@daaitoulaam) April 23, 2015
While local migrant communities called her “racist, anti-women and anti-migrants”, Ip received backing from a pro-Beijing current affairs commentator Lau Nai-keung. He hit back on her behalf in Chinese government mouthpiece China Daily, calling her critics “politically correct bigots“.
Blessed by Beijing, Regina Ip is a potential candidate for chief executive, Hong Kong's top leader, in 2017. In an interview with South China Morning Post in February, she hinted that she would run for the position and believed that “she has an edge over men as a politician because women are more used to taking a ‘soft’ approach.”
There are about 300,000 migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong, mainly from Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand. Many don't believe that Ip “meant no offense” as this is not the first time she made discriminatory remarks about them. WK News, a labour news site, compiled her comments on working conditions of foreign maids in Hong Kong since 2011, including:
- She took a stance against foreign domestic workers being able to apply for residency even though they have lived in Hong Kong for more than 7 years. She claimed that “Hong Kong could not afford to feed them” disregarding their contribution to local communities.
- She claimed that foreign maids abused early contract termination compensation by acting like princesses to force employers to discontinue the contract.
- In response to the survey indicating that foreign maids had to work 17 hours per day and endure employers’ abuse because of the compulsory live-in requirement, she argued that enduring long working hours was just part of the nature of the job.
Ah Lei, a columnist at citizen media platform inmediahk.net, theorized that Ip's comments on foreign maids are meant to project an image of statist feminist in defense of family values. She called such a political orientation as “good-wife authoritarianism”:
Reviewing Ms. Ip's previous comments and behavior, we can deduce that she is in favor of “good-wife feminism” and “statist feminism”. However, the way how she comments on current affairs betrays a kind of “good-wife authoritarianism”. On the one hand, she establishes her authority and [political] capital by supporting equality between man and woman (physically defined), while on the other hand, her attitude towards woman's sexual autonomy, racial equality and equal distribution of resources has been rather negative. Moreover, she is not supportive of a more equal and open election system. On the contrary, she advocates for “rule by law”. Her position reminds me of the Chinese Communist Party's socialist doctrine on “equality between men and women” in order to mobilize women to join the labour force in accordance with its economic policy. But it did not address the oppression of women in other domains including family, society and culture.
Given the protest over Ip's latest remarks, more than a few Hong Kongers would likely share this sentiment expressed in newspaper The Manila Times’ editorial (via media worker Galileo Cheng):
The Manila Times：We hope Mrs. Regina Ip does not become HK SAR’s Chief Executive http://t.co/vNKPd2Hcfz
— Galileo Cheng (@galileo44) April 22, 2015