International Women’s Day - 8 March 2020 How are opportunities being maximized for Lao women?

8 March 2020

What do we see from the picture? We see a glass that is half empty or half full. What’s important is how we can get the glass filled.

On the International Women’s Day, an occasion to celebrate progresses in promoting gender equality in every corner of the world, let us focus our discussion on how we can collectively fill the glass for Lao women and girls so that they can realize their full potential and contribute fully to the prosperity and growth of Lao PDR.

In Lao PDR there are issues that affect women disproportionately such as access to information and services to enjoy safe motherhood, to ensure every pregnancy is by choice not by chance, and to live a life free from gender-based violence, including practices like child marriage.

These issues have limited Lao women’s potentials and opportunities.  For instance, Lao DPR has one of the highest rates of early marriage in the region. Among girls aged 15-19, nearly 1 in 5 girls are married, and more than 1 in 10 have begun childbearing. In employment, women are more excluded from formal sectors, while men account for the majority of civil servants, professionals, technicians and other sectors. In education, the secondary school completion rate is lower among girls than boys.

Lao delegation @ the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25
Lao delegation @ the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25

However, endeavors are being made to fill the half-empty glass by tackling the disparities hindering Lao women’s opportunities.  At the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 attended by world leaders in November 2019, the Lao Government pledged strong commitments to end zero maternal deaths, to end unmet needs for family planning, and to end gender-based violence, including harmful practices such as child marriage by 2030. Fulfilling these commitments, supported by policies responding to population dynamics, will unleash Lao women’s potentials.

So, what steps are already taking place to put the Lao Government’s commitments on ICPD25 into action?

Using population data for 9th National Social and Economic Development Plan (NSEDP): The Government of Lao PDR will use updated population projections in the formulation of the 9th  Five-Year Development Plan to ensure responsiveness to the emerging needs of the population. Supported by UNFPA, the upcoming Lao 2030 Study on population dynamics will present sex-disaggregated data to guide development investments to ensure so that no one, men or women, boys or girl, is left behind. The Ministry of Planning and Investment through the Center for Research is leading this work.

Increasing investment in health and well being of the bulk of the Lao population—young people: The National Strategy for Reproductive Maternal Child Health Care now includes adolescents aged 10-19, who will grow up to be in prime working-age by 2030. This is particularly important for Lao DPR because it has the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy in ASEAN. The Lao Government is committed to addressing this challenge by making high-quality youth-friendly sexual reproductive health services more available and affordable. Multiple sectors are engaged in this area.

Placing at least one midwife per health centre by 2025: Midwives are skilled personnel who assist women during pregnancy and childbirth. The presence of trained midwives in communities is highly relevant in Lao PDR because of its low population density. Investing in midwives is the right approach to deliver quality skilled maternal health services in Lao rural settings. Ministry of Health is leading the effort.

Increasing availability of modern contraceptives to at least 7 out of 10 women: The Ministry of Health will increase domestic resources and expand youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health information and family planning services among women, men, and unmarried youth. The work will contribute to achieving the indicator of 45 per cent of Modern Contraceptive Prevalence Rate for young people aged 15-19 years by 2025.

Integrating age-appropriate, comprehensive sexuality education in school curriculums nationwide in primary, secondary, technical and vocational education as well as training institutions. This work is led by the Ministry of Education.

Ending gender-based violence and child marriage through the implementation of the National Action Plan for Prevention and Elimination of Violence Against Women 2021-2026 and the Essential Service package for women and girls subjected to gender-based violence. Monitoring and reporting on these plans will also be supported by the 2030 Noi Framework.  Lao Women’s Union, multiple government agencies and civil society are engaged in this work.

These are impressive commitments and actions that can help fill the glass for Lao women’s well being and opportunities. Will you join UNFPA in supporting national partners, to increase collaborations and partnerships, including public-private sector partnerships, for fulfilling women’s rights in the quest of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals?

UNFPA is the lead agency supporting the Lao government in the delivery of the above commitments and we invite partners to join us!

Written by Mariam Khan-UNFPA Representative in Lao PDR

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