Women's Empowerment in Laos

Lao People’s Democratic Republic is a country in Asia with a total area of 236,800 square kilometers. Poverty has been steadily decreasing in Laos, with a 25 percent reduction in the poverty rate since the 1990s.

With this reduction in poverty, one would expect for women to be able to enjoy the benefits of development on equal terms with men. Despite laws that are supportive of women and what appear to be objectives in place to promote women’s development, economic opportunities and participation, the reality is far different than it originally seems.

In government meetings, while there may be women present, they are mostly not participating. Instead, they are assigned menial tasks like serving tea and cookies. Even though there are some strong women making bold points occasionally, this is far from the norm in Laos. Additionally, it is more difficult for women to obtain credit. They also have more difficulty becoming managers and are usually in lower paying jobs.

Women living in remote and rural areas of Laos are the most disadvantaged, as they are often not allowed to fully participate in village activity processes. Men are usually considered the head of the household and represent their families at official meetings. Many women in Laos are illiterate and do not speak the national language used for education. This, along with the prevailing social and cultural norms, means that women are not comfortable sharing their opinions, and as a result rarely speak out.

There are many struggles faced by women-headed households due to problems such as child marriage, low secondary school attendance, the burden of agricultural and domestic work and limited access to credit. Therefore, women often have more difficulty providing for their families than men.

The situation is not all negative, however, with several programs in place to help improve women’s empowerment in Laos. The first of these is from Oxfam, supporting the Gender Development Association to involve women in income generation activities and the management of savings groups in one of Laos’ poorest areas.

The Women’s Empowerment Program in Laos has been in place for over two decades. Over the course of the program, The Asia Foundation has worked with local partners in Laos to ensure women’s ability to access their legal rights, increase their presence in leadership roles and provide greater opportunities for future generations of women and girls.

Lastly, there is the Women’s Empowerment Project in Laos, which is managed by GVI, one of the most prominent international volunteering organization in the world. The aim of the project is to contribute to sustainable, long-term women’s empowerment initiatives in Laos, with volunteers contributing to GVI Laos’ objectives such as promoting gender equality, improving equal access to education and empowering local women to achieve increased employment opportunities and self-determination. These steps will assist with women’s empowerment in Laos, breaking the cycle of poverty and inequality.

– Drew Fox

Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in LaosMore than half of the population in Laos lives below the poverty line. This is one of the highest statistics of poverty in the world. Unfortunately, a massive proportion of these individuals are children. Children living in poverty in Laos frequently do not have access to healthcare or education. This is one of the biggest humanitarian issues facing Laos, but, of course, there are also many others. Here is how to help people in Laos, especially children:

Firstly, you can donate or contribute to a variety of organizations that do work in the region. SOS Children’s Villages International is an organization that works to protect the rights of children in Laos and other countries. They focus on providing quality emotional and physical care to children who have lost their families or are not in a position to stay with their families. You can sponsor a child or a village, or make a one-time donation.

Care is another organization that works in Laos, among many other countries. Care’s goals are to cut poverty off at the root by providing substantial and sustainable change to those who are most vulnerable to poverty, hunger and disease. They also provide emergency relief when necessary. Care accepts donations.

ChildFund Australia is another organization that works to secure children’s rights and promote community development. They work in a variety of countries, including Laos. ChildFund Australia puts 78 percent of all funds towards program expenditures in the countries they work in. They accept donations and allow you to sponsor a child.

There are a lot of other nonprofit organizations that work to protect children’s rights in Laos, but these are a few of the largest. Whichever of these organizations you donate, volunteer, or contribute to, the people in Laos need all the help they can get. Now you know what to say the next time someone asks how to help people in Laos.

Liyanga De Silva

Photo: Flickr

Laos Poverty Rate
Poverty in Laos, formally known as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, has been on the decline for the last decade. Despite improvements, the poverty rate in Laos rests at 23.2 percent, meaning that more than a fifth of the seven million Laotians must survive below the poverty line in poor living conditions.

Poverty in Laos tends to manifest itself in underdeveloped, mountainous areas. Those that live in these isolated areas are often left without access to electricity, schools and even roads. Many of the ethnic minorities in Laos live in these underserved, rural areas.

These minority groups are further isolated by barriers in language, customs and religion. This, combined with geographic isolation, contributes to a higher rate of poverty for those who live in rural communities.

In comparison to the rest of Southeast Asia, Laos has one of the highest poverty rates, behind only Myanmar. Malaysia and Vietnam both have significantly lower rates of poverty as well as some of the lowest in the region. There is even some indication that the poverty rate in Laos is declining at a slower rate than other countries in Southeast Asia.

This is not to say that all news regarding poverty in Laos is bad—there are many positive signs that indicate Laos will continue to move away from poverty as it has in the past decade. While the poverty rate in Laos is now at 23.2 percent, nearly a decade ago it was at a staggeringly high 33.5 percent. This shift is due largely in part to economic growth that is expected to continue in the future.

Laos has one of the fastest-growing economies—not only in the East Asia and Pacific region but also in the world. This growth can be attributed to the fact that Laos is home to a bounty of natural resources that include water, minerals and forests. Additionally, construction and services have expanded and contributed to an increase in tourism and foreign investment.

By capitalizing on this economic growth, much can be done to improve living conditions in this country. Focusing on educational attainment and teaching skills to workers—especially in rural areas—can have a drastic impact on the lives of many in Laos.

Jennifer Faulkner

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Laos
Although Laos is one of the poorest countries in Asia, it has rich natural resources. More than 85 percent of the land lies within the Mekong River Basin. About 80 percent of Laotians work in agriculture and live in rural areas. Water quality in Laos is an essential part of life and development in the country.

The usage of water in Laos is 82 percent agricultural, 10 percent industrial, and 8 percent domestic. Agriculture uses water for irrigation, fisheries, plantation, and livestock. There is approximately 270 billion cubic meters of available water, of which 5.7 billion is used and the remaining 264.3 billion remains in the rivers.

There is currently a hydropower boom in Laos. The country has the potential to produce 23,000 megawatts of electricity. Currently, it only utilizes 5 percent of that capacity. By selling electricity to neighboring countries, Laos is seeking to become the “battery” of Southeast Asia.


Hydropower and Water Quality in Laos


Hydropower, however, has had problematic effects on the water quality in Laos and neighboring countries. In 2013, villagers in Cambodia complained that dam-building on the Mekong River in Laos was ruining the water downstream. The villagers couldn’t drink the water anymore because it was muddy and full of silt.

In 2016, the Malaysian company Mega-First and the government of Laos launched the Don Sahong dam. Work began without approval from the Mekong River Commission, and in spite of protests by regional NGOs and the downstream communities in Vietnam and Cambodia. The Laotian government plans to build nine more dams on the Mekong River, and hundreds more on other rivers and tributaries in the region.

Scientists contend the dams pose an environmental threat to fish migration and food security. The delta of the Mekong River already experienced significant sediment loss, and a dam will make it worse. The Mekong Delta is crucial to the Vietnamese economy, as it produces 50 percent of the country’s staple crops and 90 percent of its rice exports.

Ecology specialist Nguyen Huu Thien, a scientist based near the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, contends that “if the delta cannot support its population of 18 million, then people will have to migrate– migrate everywhere. The dams are sowing the seeds of social instability in the region.”

The condition of the Mekong River will define the socioeconomic framework of entire communities in Laos and its neighboring countries. Laos may get an economic boost from its dams for now, but in the long term, the health of Laos and its rivers are intertwined.

Hannah Seitz

Photo: Flickr

Laos is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia. The Mekong River runs through the mountainous terrain of the county and provides food, a means of transportation and hydroelectric power. Many areas of the country have poor sanitation and lack accessible healthcare. Four common diseases in Laos are Dengue Fever, respiratory infections, ischemic heart disease and diarrheal diseases.

  1. Dengue Fever
    Dengue fever is a mosquito-transmitted virus. The Aedes Aegypti mosquito transmits the disease and breeds in stagnant water, often in man-made containers. Symptoms of dengue fever are a high fever, headache, muscle and joint pain and eye pain. Around two percent of cases advance to dengue hemorrhagic fever which can be fatal. The number of dengue fever cases and deaths is increasing as a result of urbanization and lack of adequate sanitation. Dengue is the fourth leading cause of death in Laos. The government has run many campaigns to encourage people to remove standing water from their land. This eliminates the breeding areas of mosquitoes that spread the disease.
  2. Respiratory Infections
    Lower respiratory infections are also very common in Laos. Influenza and pneumonia cause 13 percent of deaths in Laos. These diseases are most prevalent in June and July because of the rainy season and subtropical climate. Many people in rural Laos do not have access to vaccines. Pregnant women and children have a higher risk of dying from these illnesses. Household pollution contributes to the prevalence of these diseases in Laos. Alternative stoves and heating appliances could help reduce pollution in the home and prevalence of respiratory infections.
  3. Ischemic Heart Disease
    Also known as coronary heart disease, ischemic heart disease is another of the most common diseases in Laos. The primary causes of this disease in Laos is dietary risks, high blood pressure, smoking and household air pollution. The number of ischemic heart disease cases is increasing as a result of increasingly poor diets in urban areas. The incidence of heart disease has increased by 33 percent from 1990 to 2010. There is high mortality for this disease in Laos because people do not recognize warning sign of danger or seek necessary medical care. In order to decrease the mortality of the disease, Laos needs to first increase education so that people know when to seek help. Then Laos needs more small health clinics which people can access easily when they feel symptoms.
  4. Diarrheal Diseases
    A variety of diarrheal diseases is also very common in Laos. Diarrhea is most deadly in children under five and can be fatal because it causes extreme dehydration. Children can face impaired physical and cognitive development if they survive. Ingesting contaminated food or water causes children to contract this disease. Risk factors for these diseases in Laos are air pollution in the house, being underweight as a child and suboptimal breastfeeding. Research recommends education campaigns in elementary level schools; these will reach a large number of children and these kids can share what they learned with their families. In addition, mothers should breastfeed their children up to two years to improve their children’s nutrition.

The common diseases in Laos are caused by some overlapping features. Laos’ health infrastructure is very small. During the rainy season, roads become inaccessible and people become isolated in their villages without any medical attention. In addition, household pollution contributes to both respiratory infections and diarrheal diseases. Finally, education campaigns focused on transmission and early warning signs are very important.

Sarah Denning

Photo: Flickr

Hunger In Laos
Laos is a small country populated with mountains and more than 10,000 rural villages, situated on the Asian continent. It is not hard to understand why the people of Laos have a hard time with nourishment, as many of the rural villages lie in remote areas of the country that have trouble getting access to healthy food and clean water.

Hunger in Laos is a problem for the varied communities living in the country because of the threats it poses to health. While the country has worked on improving the state of malnourishment, the Global Hunger Index reports that the country has a high percentage of hungry people.

The high level of hunger in Laos is attributed to factors like the lack of access to food sources and properly sanitized water. In fact, around one-fifth of the population of Laos consumes less than the minimum dietary requirements set by the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

The U.N. reports that malnutrition in Laos illustrates the inequality in the country, especially when one takes into account the regions and groups who demonstrate the most need.

Rural communities are common in the mountainous region, but the areas that lack road access are typically those hit hardest with hunger in Laos. Furthermore, many of these areas report children with stunted growth and insufficient weight gain, both common results from undernourished communities.

In conjunction with the U.N.’s MDGs, Laos has halved the proportion of hungry people living in the country. However, more than 11 percent of rural households still report a lack of a food source, resulting in poor consumption habits.

There is still hope. With help from the U.N., the government is steadily moving towards the goal of decreasing the percentage of people who experience hunger in Laos. In recent years, rapid economic growth and agricultural prosperity have had great effects on the population, contributing to the notable decrease in the proportion of undernourished people.

Success has been slow but is expected. With help from the U.N. and programs like the National Zero Hunger Challenge, which works to end hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition, Laos can decrease the number of hungry people in the country and ensure the population is living a healthy lifestyle.

Jacqueline Nicole Artz

Photo: Flickr

Laos Refugees
Laos is one of the poorest countries in Asia and one of the last remaining communist nations. The Indochina War, which lasted for over 20 years, displaced about a quarter of the entire population resulting in major refugee migration.


Top 10 Facts about Laos Refugees:


  1. They are ethnically diverse. Laos has approximately 100 ethnic minorities. Many of these groups were cultivators who moved around regularly. They were disproportionately affected by the war.
  2. They come from the most heavily bombed country in the world. Between 1963 and 1974, the United States dropped two million tons of bombs on the Michigan-sized country. This is more than the amount dropped on Germany and Japan combined during World War II.
  3. They are the victims of a “secret war.” The conflict in Laos was the CIA’s largest paramilitary operation. It was conceived as a way of “bypassing” the Geneva Accords. The Indochina War thus set the precedent for future large-scale secret wars.
  4. Many were first relocated to Thailand. When the U.S. removed military support in May 1975, it transported thousands of refugees into Thailand. By the end of that year, more than 40,000 other refugees had also fled to Thailand.
  5. Some have been living in Thai camps for over a decade. Many have chosen to make Thailand their new home, while some are still waiting for assurance of safety to return to Laos. Others are anticipating a reunion with family members before moving on to finally resettle in another country.
  6. Some were forcibly repatriated to Laos. Thailand began instituting increasingly restrictive measures for people to claim refugee status so that many would be obliged to return to Laos.
  7. They constitute the majority of Hmong refugees in the United States. Many of the Hmong were recruited by the CIA to serve as spies against the communists. As a result, when the communists seized control, many of the Hmong were forced to flee the country for their anti-communist involvement. Approximately 90 percent of Hmong refugees have resettled in the United States following the Indochina War.
  8. Most speak White or Green Hmong. White Hmong is considered more proper and is the basis for Hmong writing, but it is understood by Green Hmong speakers.
  9. They are traditionally animistic. Hmong religion centers around the Txix neeb or shaman. They believe that the body is home to a number of souls.
  10. Most have resettled in California and the Midwest. Approximately 40 percent of Hmong refugees are living in California, while another 45 percent reside in either Minnesota or Wisconsin.

These 10 facts about Laos refugees are a useful starting point for learning about refugees, but every individual has a unique story. Meaningful understanding of Laos refugee problems only comes through building relationships with them.

Rebecca Yu

Photo: Flickr

Why Thailand's Measures Against POlio are IntensifiedIn 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that “the spread of polio is an international public health emergency.”

The polio virus is transmitted through contaminated food and water and it multiplies in the intestine. It can also invade the nervous system and cause spinal and respiratory paralysis in one in every 200 infections. The disease is capable of causing death within hours.

On Feb. 18, Thailand stepped up its precautionary measures against polio, when Laos, a neighboring country, declared a public health emergency as a result of the virus.

The director-general of the Department of Disease Control (DDC) stated that “though Thailand is declared free of polio, Thais are still at risk of contracting the disease particularly in provinces close to Laos.”

In these border areas, residents are required to receive polio vaccines. Acute flaccid paralysis patients and patients from Laos in border hospitals are advised to be kept under close surveillance. According to the DDC, authorities in Laos have also rolled out two measures against polio, including residents in Laos being required to receive polio vaccines one month before leaving the country and having the vaccine administered to people planning to stay in Laos for more than one month.

The main concern for the intensified measures against polio is the spread of vaccine-derived polioviruses (VDPVs) in Laos and Myanmar recently.

According to authorities, the VDPVs are “strains of the polio virus that have genetically mutated from the strain contained in the oral polio vaccine.”

In April, Thailand and other countries are expected to simultaneously switch from using the trivalent oral polio vaccine, “which contains three poliovirus serotypes, to bivalent OPV in an effort to eradicate wild poliovirus type 2.”

Here, unlike the previous vaccine, when digested by the body, this one replicates in the intestinal tract, providing immunity from subsequent polio infections.

Polio has caused many disabilities and deaths around the world. Thailand is making great efforts to minimize the spread of this disease locally and subsequently helping save the lives of others from this deadly disease.

Vanessa Awanyo

Sources: BBC, Bangkok Post
Photo: Flickr

On August 17, the World Bank signed an agreement with the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to finance three projects aimed at increasing the efficiency and reliability of electricity, facilitating quality health and nutrition for women and children and building necessary infrastructure, such as roads, health clinics, schools and drinking water systems.

The World Bank has approved a US$68 million loan, which will be divided among the projects. The Power Grid Improvement Project will receive the greatest sum, US$30 million, with the Health and Nutrition Development Project and Poverty Reduction Fund II Project endowed with US$26.4 million and US$11.6 million respectively.

Although Laos has successfully provided most citizens with electricity, there are still problems. After a distribution loss in 2014 of 24 percent, greater than the 13 percent national average, Laos’s Xaythany district of capital city Vientiane has become the target area for the Power Grid Improvement Project.

The experience of increasing electricity efficiency will provide a building block, serving as a jumping off point for further improvements across the country.

With the Health Governance and Nutrition Development Project, the Lao PDR government aims to bolster women and children’s healthcare by providing free services. If successful, the project will reduce the instances of stunted growth and wasting from lack of nutrition. In order to accomplish better childhood nourishment, the program will promote breastfeeding.

Also on the agenda is developing a communication strategy that will effectively promote healthy child and infant feeding practices. Along with nourishment, maternal mortality will be targeted by means of providing better access to family planning resources and antenatal care.

The project also hopes to increase the number of births facilitated by a skilled health worker.

Through the Poverty Reduction Fund II Project, the Lao PDR government will work to establish infrastructure that serves the country’s marginalized communities. Schools are of particular note, as UNICEF reports that of Laos’s poorest 20 percent, only 5.3 percent are able to attend early childhood education.

Construction of drinking water systems is also important. At present, nearly 40 percent of rural inhabitants don’t have access to improved drinking water sources.

These projects are expected to substantially contribute to Laos’s development, building upon the country’s past poverty reduction success.

Emma-Claire LaSaine

Sources: World Bank, UNICEF

Photo: Flickr

education in laos
As a developing country in southeast Asia ruled by a communist government, Laos has a very limited education system. The country is populated by several ethnic groups but only the Lao Loum, or “lowland Lao,” have a tradition of formal education and written script.

Buddhist temple schools called wat schools were the main source of education until the mid-twentieth century and the subjects covered were rudimentary. Buddhist monks would teach their pupils basic arithmetic and reading skills as well as social and religious subjects. At the time, only ordained boys and men had access to further education.

The French had an influence on Laotian education during the colonial period but, unfortunately, the secular system it established had little relevance to the vast majority of rural citizens. Most students never exceeded secondary school studies, and the few that did had to travel to larger cities in Vietnam. The elite minority who reached university level studies usually traveled all the way to France to continue their education.

Recently, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, or LPDR, has shifted its focus toward constructing an education system that will encourage broad ideological thinking and mobilize potential. With goals to build a well-rounded development in areas such as economy, technology and culture, the LPDR sees education as a way forward for the nation. It wants to strengthen the national education system by improving its overall quality, increasing relevance and ensuring equitable access.

These goals are specifically listed in Article 19 of Lao’s Constitution that states that “educational, cultural, and scientific activities are the means to raise the level of knowledge, patriotism, love of the people’s democracy, the spirit of solidarity between ethnic groups, and the spirit of independence.” In Article 22, the Constitution asserts that “the State and society shall endeavor to improve the quality of national education system, to create opportunities and favourable conditions for all the people to receive an education, particularly the inhabitants of remote and isolated areas, ethnic minorities, women, children, and disadvantaged persons.”

The Decree on Compulsory Primary Education of 1996 was a milestone in these endeavors by making primary education free and compulsory for all children whether by public or private institutions. All schools were mandated to comply with a national curriculum, thus standardizing minimum requirements of education for all schools.

The national program currently consists of primary schools where students learn for five years and can then move on to two periods of secondary education—four years in lower secondary and three years in upper secondary. Although girls are allowed to attend primary and secondary schools, they are still underrepresented along with cultural and language minorities. This is reflected in Lao’s literacy rates, where 86 percent of females between the age of 15 and 24 were surveyed to be literate in 2011, whereas 92 percent of males of the same age group were confirmed to be literate.

The Education Law enacted in 2000 and amended in 2007 reasserts the claim made in the Laos Constitution that “all Lao citizens have the right to education without discrimination” and establishes that the government has a duty to expand education for “the development of Lao citizens’ necessary knowledge and capacity for their occupation or further study.”

Although education in Laos is still not up to speed with that of developed nations, it is clear that the LPDR government has prioritized education improvement as a means of both modernizing the state and safeguarding the future of its people. It understands that education is an important means of national development and has strongly invested its interests in expanding education to reach that end.

– Shenel Ozisik

Sources: Library of Congress, State University, UNESCO
Photo: AWS Asia Pacific