Sunday, January 22, 2012

Invited Seminar: Hong Kong-Mainland Couples’ Reproductive Rights

Hong Kong-Mainland Couples’ Reproductive Rights: 
Initial Findings and Implications
20 January, 2012

Leah Cheung, Dr. Ho Sik-ying, Dr. Sealing Cheng,
Dr. Nicole Constable, Melody Li Ornellas & Doris Lee
One of the most debated topics in Hong Kong public discourse is that of Mainland Chinese women giving birth in China. There is a perception that the growing number of mainland women giving birth in Hong Kong is one of the biggest problems facing public health. What if these mainland women are married to Hong Kong men? On January 20th, Pittsburgh University PhD Candidate Melody Li Ornellas gave a seminar on this topic based on her initial research findings. The talk focussed on Ornellas’s research on the experiences of Mainland Chinese women married to Hong Kong men, who are labelled as “visiting” wives, as they are not yet permanent residents of Hong Kong, and their experiences with giving birth in Hong Kong. Despite having Hong Kong husbands, these women are not permanent residents of Hong Kong, and are therefore not eligible for priority treatment from public hospitals.

Ornellas shed light on the historical background that lead to the policy problem with the landmark decision in 2001 to allow children born in Hong Kong to mainland mothers to be entitled to citizenship in Hong Kong. Ornellas also outlined policy measures designed to block the access of mainland women to obstetric health services such as the different costs of obtaining obstetric health services $100 for Hong Kong women or women married to public servants and $39,000 for the rest. This difference in the cost is a product of policy to discourage mainland women from giving birth in Hong Kong. The presentation also covered the tactics that these mainland women use to secure hospital beds to give birth, in the face of a policy that blocks their access. These tactics include the use of agents to gate-rushing (arriving at the hospital in labor), to negotiating with an occasionally hostile public health system.

Ornellas successfully gave voice to the difficulties and frustrations that these women and their husbands and in-laws face in Hong Kong using the cases of three of her informants she illustrated various difficulties. These include the poor treatment that these women receive at the hands of public health officials in Hong Kong, which treats them with contempt and the rejection of cases of high risk pregnancies such as having twins by the public health system. Ornellas successfully ties her ethnographic data to the tactics used by these women in the face of challenges that they face with the case of a couple that were not permitted to give birth in the mainland because of reproductive controls of the there. In such cases the women have little choice other than to “gate-rush” Hong Kong hospitals to give birth.

Ornellas contextualises their experience within the hierarchy of obstetric health policy in Hong Kong with the top tier consisting of affluent Hong Kong and Mainland women who could afford the best care in private hospitals. The second tier consists of ordinary Hong Kong women (including those married to Mainland Chinese men), migrant wives and mainland wives married to Hong Kong civil servants. Mainland wives married to Hong Kong men, who have not yet obtained permanent residence, are in the third tier, with risky pregnancies in the bottom.

The seminar concluded with a vigorous discussion during the Q and A session about the factors that have lead to the difficulties that these women and their in laws face in Hong Kong. Points were raised about the issue of the discrimination faced by Mainland Chinese people in Hong Kong and how it has shaped government policy towards Mainland Chinese women giving birth in Hong Kong, the strain on the public health budget in Hong Kong. Ornellas’s talk showed the importance of the role of anthropology in giving voice to those who struggle to be heard in public discourse. In doing so, she has shown that anthropology has a strong role to play in public policy debates.

Leo Pang, M.Phil Candidate
Public lecture by Laurajane SMITH, "All Heritage is Intangible". 
Click here for details.