Laos became a full member of the World Trade Organization this year, a solid indicator of the nation’s growing engagement in the global economy. Our office in Vientiane encourages effective and responsive governance and legal systems; reductions in the negative impacts of development on the environment; expanding access to information and international engagement; and protecting women’s rights and well-being. Read country overview.
CRITICAL ISSUE: EXCLUSION OF WOMEN FROM POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC LIFE
Laotian women and girls migrate annually for income but are often lured by false promises and forced into prostitution or labor exploitation. We empower women through legal awareness, education, and new economic opportunities. Recently, The Asia Foundation and The Chong-Moon Lee Foundation embarked together on an effort to address this issue. Intensive vocational training scholarships for survivors and those at risk, and a public awareness campaign, were launched as pilots last year. As of this writing, a group of trafficking victims have received marketable skills training at the Lao Women's Union and the Center for Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances. The Laos Women's Union also trained other young women from the National University of Laos and technical schools to be peer educators. These volunteers have reached out to nearly 400 at-risk high school students are factory works on the reality and dangers of trafficking, and provided suggestions for how to help those in need. Ultimately, our goal is for the peer educators to positively influence more than 10,000 young women.
ENCOURAGING WOMEN TO LEAD
Building skills and confidence in Laos
Men and women enjoy equal rights in Laos, yet in many ways the culture remains patriarchal. Especially in rural areas, girls are burdened with most domestic tasks, and are significantly less likely to attend school. Loans for a small business are difficult to come by for women, and although women are represented in government, it is usually men who speak up and make key decisions. In response, our local office is working with women from village councils to national government, and all areas in between, to build leadership and decision-making skills. For example, we supported the Lao Businesswomen's Association, part of the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to host a leadership and networking workshop for 50 Lao businesswomen. The businesses represented were wide-ranging, from wood furniture and handicrafts producers to restaurants, hotels, and a mulberry tree plantation. We also supported leadership workshops hosted by the Lao National Commission for the Advancement of Women and the Lao Women's Union, and we continued a three-year program for women leaders conducted by the Gender Development Association focused on the importance of women officials at the village level. In total, this year 267 women from business, government, civil society, and education were trained. Additionally, we were able to support 50 young women from 13 different provinces with full four-year scholarships at the National University of Laos.