Between 23rd and 25th March 2022 a workshop took place in Vang Vieng to discuss various gender-related topics. Organised by the Faculty of Law and Political Science of Vientiane (FLP) of the National University of Laos (NUoL) and supported by LuxDev’s Project LAO/031, this workshop convened 59 participants from the FLP, NUoL, the Faculty of Law and Administration of Champasak University and the National Institute of Justice.
Ms. Thatsanalone Sisounonth, Head of the FLP’s Grassroots Lao Women's Union, first thanked all participants for their time and presented the objectives of the workshop, namely:
- the enhancement of women’s understanding of Lao PDR’s diplomatic protocol procedure;
- the strengthening of the knowledge and skills of FLP lecturers and teachers; and
- the empowerment of women in academic research.
Dr. Lone Lindholt, Chief Technical Advisor of Project LAO/031, emphasised that it is everyone’s responsibility to render the texts on “women empowerment” in international treaties and Lao law and policy documents a reality by using the terms and guidance offered. During the COVID-19 pandemic the level of violence against women has further increased, and many women in Lao PDR face an uncertain future. Project LAO/031 so considers it its own responsibility to create a solidary work environment, where teaching and research on gender, both in itself and mainstreamed through other subjects, is carried out. The project aims to establish a network around “Gender in Academia” within the different academic institutions in Lao PDR, as a platform where meaningful discussions can take place that will motivate further change.
The workshop included presentations on topics such as the “Convention on the elimination of discrimination against women” (CEDAW) by Ms. Manyvone Luangsombath, Head of Cabinet Office of the National Commission Secretariat for the Advancement Women and Mother-Children. The overall idea of CEDAW is to ensure the respect of fundamental rights of women on all levels, whether these are political, personal, social or economic. The Lao Constitution already encompasses “gender equality” in its principles but more efforts can still be made. The biggest challenge faced in Laos is the lack of understanding and knowledge of the existence of CEDAW and of the concept of gender equality. Awareness-raising on CEDAW must increase both in terms of speed and effectiveness as women and girls continue to face unequal opportunities and their self-development is therefore hindered. Furthermore, many traditions which are still reflected as a normative force in peoples’ daily lives are harmful to women and girls, more strongly so in rural areas and in particular in ethnic minority communities. The “consensual” marriage of underage girls is common in Laos, and although it is considered an illegal act, some parents and families consider it to be a tradition that should not be “judged” by the outside world. This means that a mindset change must happen, by informing local leaders about the harm caused, rather than solely by criminalising the act.
To promote gender equality in Lao PDR more efficiently in the future, the present challenges must be overcome, which include a lack of expertise on the subject, logistical and human resource challenges, and a lack of funding. Through the 4th National implementation plan on gender equality (2021-2025) women in leadership positions are promoted by offering women more positions and easier access to trainings. Moreover, the 2nd 5-year national action plan on preventing and eliminating violence against women and children (2021-2025) aims to uncover the perceptions and behaviours that support violence against women, to enable victims to receive the necessary assistance, and to manage and coordinate the action taken.
Another topic that was discussed at the workshop was “the access to information to enhance women's research capacities”. Dr. Sypha Chanthavong explained that research opportunities exist for female teachers at the FLP but that balancing administrative and academic tasks constitutes the biggest issue.
An absence of opportunity unarguably leads to an absence of experience over time. Dr Lindholt expressed that imposing quotas is not easily doable, but that the equal access to opportunities and the fair treatment of every candidate, regardless of their gender, will be ensured by imposing transparency requirements (such as a neutral jury) to ensure that women as much as men can do research if they prove their skills.
In the final presentation on “Leadership” by the FLP’s former Vice-Dean, Mr. Phouvong Vilayseng encouraged the women (and men) present to feel empowered and comfortable when reaching for leading positions, as “everyone can be a leader”, it only takes practice and courage. Dr. Lindholt noted that one can be appointed to a leadership position, but it can also occur naturally by taking matters into one own’s hands when one knows what to do. This is a fundamental challenge that needs to be addressed in the Lao context: the willingness to step forward in a situation and to take the lead.
The overall impressions from the workshop was that the female participants were courageous to speak their minds, to discuss difficult topics and that they were eager to gain new knowledge. The male participants, on their side, were open-minded and willing to further women’s cause in Lao PDR.
LAO/031 project is financed by the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, and implemented by LuxDev, the Luxembourg Development Cooperation Agency.↑ To the top