Extraordinary Equality Leaders – Part 1: Devi Novianti, EOC

Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it


Extraordinary Equality Leaders – Part 1:Devi Novianti, Corporate Communications Officer, Equal Opportunities Commission, Hong Kong

Devi Novianti is the Corporate Communications Officer at the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and also an Access Consciousness Practitioner. She graduated from Hong Kong University’s L.L.M. Human Rights Programme in 2007 and worked as the Manager of Christian Action's Domestic Helpers and Migrant Workers Programme and Chungking Mansions Service Centre, a centre for refugees and asylum seekers. In 2006, she received a commendation from the Chief Executive of Hong Kong SAR, Mr. Donald Tsang for her work in serving the city's ethnic minority communities. In 2010, she facilitated the “Conversation of Change” at the Opportunity Collaboration at Ixtapa, Mexico and in 2014, her contributions were also recognized in The List Magazine’s “Women of Hope” profiles in Hong Kong.

We interviewed Devi about her thoughts around International Women’s Day, role at the EOC, proudest achievements, source of inspiration and 3 things people can do to make a positive impact on women’s rights and to promote gender equality. 

1) This is our 1st in a series of interviews profiling exceptional people in Hong Kong who work towards promoting women’s issues and forwarding positive change for women. Today also marks International Women’s Day 2015. What are your thoughts on the occasion?

I think it's wonderful because International Women's Day (IWD) gives us the time to reflect on: how far women have come in terms of gender equality, what is the pathway, how far we have to go, what is the strategy, and what is the priority. Considering how much women have experienced discrimination in the past, and still continue to now, having this International Women's Day to promote women's rights is very wonderful.

2) Tell us more about your role at the Equal Opportunities Commission and what motivates you in your work?

It's something that has evolved because I never thought I would be working at the EOC, I thought I would be working in a private company, but life brought me to Hong Kong, and I worked in a charity organization for 12 years. From that, I realized that we cannot do things alone – because the most powerful stakeholder in terms of rights' protections is actually the government.

The government has all the resources, all the means, executive power to come up with policies that protect women. So when the position in the EOC opened, I didn't think twice (I was so excited), and I applied. That was 6 years ago.

It has become a personal passion to me because I realized if we are going to move forward, if we work on an individual basis we will get there but it will take a long time. So I was thinking where can I go where I can have all the resources and all the access to all the big fishthat we can influence to provide betterment for a lot of women in Hong Kong?”

At the EOC, I am the Corporate Communications Officer. I provide education programmes for women and ethnic minorities to raise their awareness of their rights and protections under our discrimination laws including the Sex Discrimination Ordinance.

3) Tell us about some of your proudest achievements in the fight for gender equality? What’s next?

Actually, I don't think there is a proudest achievement. In 2006, I got a commendation from the Chief Executive, someone nominated me for The List HK Women Magazine in 2014, but I don't think these are my proudest moments. They are when I can a small equality battle in a conversation with someone who says,Oh, I don't think women can do that or don't think a pregnant woman can do that job”. By having this conversation, I am able to enable this person to open their mind and to look at the possibilities and say: Oh¦ actually, women can do that job. So, those are my proudest moments.

And I think there is kind of a misconception to think that promoting human rights is a big thing, is an occasional thing, because every single person can promote human rights on an everyday basis by giving other people a way to see things from a different perspective.

And what's next? Well, I will continue. I will continue, yes, because I still think there is a long way to go.

4) I’m sure you’ve met some amazing women in your work and travels. Can you share a story about someone who has touched you the most?

Well, this is a story of the resilience and generosity of a woman.

I went to Jakarta a couple of years back and I bought this fan from a street vendor, who was just walking around. I haggled – I really haggled, because I wanted to see how much I could get. We made a deal, for something less than 10HKD, and I thought that was really cheap. I was very proud of myself but at the same time, I wondered how much could she have made from this sale. Even so, she was so generous, she said “thank you very much for buying this, I hope God will give you double prosperity – she kind of gave me a blessing.

She was just very just generous, very resilient, and very gracious about it.

And I thought, WOW. There are a lot of women who struggle everyday in their life, trying to make the best for themselves, their families, and yet they are so humble, so happy and so grateful. And I think with this kind of attitude, and if they had the right education and the right opportunities, they might get far. These are people who have, I think, high emotional intelligence, but unfortunately, they are not in the best position in life.

5) Who inspires you?  

This is a short question and with a long answer!

Of course, Anson Chan, an amazing woman, who became the Chief Secretary just after the handover.

Fermi Wong, who worked years and years without payment, setting up the NGO UNISON just because she felt there was a lot of injustice in the community.

Angelina Jolie: movie star, beautiful, has lots of money. Doesn't have to do what she does, being an ambassador.

There are a lot of women who inspire me and I think it's great to see women from different backgrounds highlight and show other women what the possibilities are and what they can achieve in life.

6) This year's International Women's Day theme is Make it Happen. What are 3 things that people can do to make a positive impact on women’s rights and to promote gender equality? 

Number one: I think everyone needs to be aware of their own behavior.

Are we open-minded enough? Are we stereotyping other people? Do we raise our children properly? How many of us tell our son, for instance, you cannot cry. You cannot be a nurse because it's a girl's job. You cannot be a director because then you won't have time for raising your family. Everyone has to be aware of their own gender bias and their own behavior in life.

Number two: For women especially, is to not easily give up. Many of us think: Oh well, I don’t want to rock the boat.Or, I don't want to fight for my right to get equal pay or to get promotions, or even to make decisions in the family towards finance, housing, children. I think we should be able to say, “I have this opinion, would you please consider it This is what I'd like to see happen, and then you can negotiate based on that.

Just because you have a different opinion from other people, don’t just give in or give up. You don’t know – maybe other people do not see the way you see, maybe once you show it to people, other people will be able to see it. And if you don’t do that, then you have lost a lot of opportunities.

Number three: Always use every opportunity, and always show successful women as role models, and of course invest in girls (that's more than three!) You can talk about women's rights in everyday situations. You can talk about it when you have discussions with your colleagues about what women should or should not do. We need to talk to the woman and talk to the man as well – both, because we need to work hand in hand.

In my work, I do a lot of talks on sexual harassment, for instance. A lot of women blame the victim and say, “she should not go out too often, she should not dress like that. I think women should be really aware of their prejudice, and their own belief systems. They have to be aware that if a woman gets assaulted, or harassed, most likely she will talk to other women instead of men, and if other women aren't open-minded and have their own biases, it will not help. The victim will not come to us, because she will feel like she will get blamed, and then we will perpetuate all this violence against women, sexual harassment, and things like that.