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LWU, UNFPA and Provincial Leaders call on Lao PDR to respect, uphold and advance women’s rights in the new generation for International Women’s Day

23 March 2021
LWU, UNFPA and Provincial Leaders call on Lao PDR to respect, uphold and advance women’s rights in the new generation for International Women’s Day

Bolikhamxay, Lao PDR. 18 March 2021. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) joined the Lao Women’s Union (LWU) event “Women’s Leadership in the New Generation” to celebrate International Women's Day, honoring women leaders and recognising their role and contributions in the workplace, politics and decision-making positions. The event was attended by Her Excellency Inlavanh Keobounphanh, President of LWU; Mr Khamvaev Panyavong, Vice-Governor and President of Provincial NCAWMC of Bolikhamxay province; provincial department representatives from parliament, health, education and youth union; and approximately 130 LWU personnel.

 

The event marked the first ever celebration of International Women’s Day in Boulikamxay province, and aligned with this year’s UN International Women’s Day theme: “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”. This theme celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and encourages women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

 

With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, progress made towards achieving gender equality in the past decades are at risk of being rolled back. COVID-19 is deepening pre-existing inequalities, and whilst Lao PDR has shown excellent leadership in containing the spread of the virus, the economic fallout will be significant, and women and girls will be most impacted. Women workers are more likely to lose their source of income due to COVID-19 than men, have increased caregiving and household responsibilities, and be at a heightened risk of violence and exploitation.

 

Her Excellency Inlavanh Keobounphanh, President of LWU, noted the importance of gender-responsive initiatives as part of the COVID-19 response and recovery efforts:  “On this occasion of International Women’s Day, we consider how to empower women in rural areas to increase their income for their wellbeing, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

 

Against this backdrop, the IWD event emphasised the importance of both men and women being aware of the legal rights available for protecting, respecting and advancing women and girls. Mariam A. Khan, UNFPA Representative in Lao PDR, called upon attendees of all seniority levels to take action on these rights in all spheres of life - in the home, on the streets and in the workplace - to make those rights a reality. Ms Khan observed that this was already happening at the provincial policy level: “Women’s Day is about women’s rights, and an example of practically advancing these rights is the provincial Vice-Governors’ integrating women’s rights into provincial plans through the Noi framework and Lao PDR’s ICPD commitments. The next steps are about implementing and monitoring these plans”.

 

 

Representatives from provincial parliament, women’s union, health, education and youth union also spoke at the event, explaining the challenges for women leaders in their specific sectors and how to overcome these challenges, in particular how to support and empower women through building their capacities and providing them with opportunities in the workplace. The importance of promoting gender equality at the foundational level - the family unit - was also acknowledged, and it was recognised how changes to social norms and expectations was critical to enable women to thrive and succeed in all domains, including the reduction of violence against women and girls.

 

 

Ms Khan and H.E. Mdm Keobounphanh also took this opportunity to engage in bilateral discussions about establishing coordination and referral mechanisms at central and provincial level for women and girl survivors of violence, to ensure they receive multi-sectoral quality services, and that women in all villages have access to safe shelters if they experience violence.
 

As Laos manages the setbacks of COVID-19 and actively works towards peace and prosperity inside the house and in broader society, speakers at the IWD event encouraged attendees to think about what they can collectively do to improve the situation for women in Lao PDR. Practical next steps were contemplated, including integrating national action plans on gender equality and violence against women and children into provincial sectoral plans, promoting women to take up leadership positions, and then encouraging these women leaders to pave the way by ensuring that the rights of both men and women are equally respected, protected, upheld and advanced in the new generation.

 

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UNFPA, the UN's sexual and reproductive health agency, works in over 150 countries including Lao PDR, to achieve zero maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning and zero gender-based