Let’s Break Down Stereotypes in Laos: Australian Volunteer


Gender stereotypes have resulted in serious impediments to the social, political and economic empowerment of women in Laos, an Australian volunteer has said.

Women living with a disability are one of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups due to the many forms of discrimination they face in their homes and communities, and within society as a whole.

When I worked in the Philippines at a community run micro-finance organisation (MFI) providing micro-loans for women living in poverty, I was exposed to the daily hardships faced by people living with disabilities. I became aware of the stigma directed at people with disabilities, Australian Volunteer Ms Zena Van Bemmel said.

Ms Bemmel observed that the experience empowered her to train MFI staff about disability so that they could advocate within their MFIs to ensure that people with disabilities could also be considered for micro-finance loans and livelihood trainings.

There are many attitudinal and environmental barriers which can prevent the full and effective participation of people with disabilities in society on an equal basis with others, and contribute to gender stereotyping.

I now work as a Social Enterprise Support Officer at the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre (LDWDC), where I have been working as a volunteer with the Australian Volunteers for International Development programme, an Australian Government initiative, Ms Bemmel said.

According to the results of the National Population and Housing Census 2015, an estimated 2.8 percent of the population of Laos has a disability. Disability is both a cause and consequence of poverty that impacts boys, girls, women and men differently.

During her short time at the LDWDC, Ms Bemmel said she has heard many stories from the staff about their struggles in accessing and securing education and employment because of constant barriers at different stages of their lives.

The inspiring Founder and Director of the centre, Ms Chanhpheng Sivila, was home-schooled herself whilst supporting her 11 siblings to attend school.

Another one is Ms Boualiphan Hatsady, who was a child of 10, born into a very poor family and with a congenital impairment in both of her legs. She was only able to study in her village until Year 3, after which it became impossible for her to continue her schooling because of the long journey to school each day, without the support of any assistive devices.

Now Ms Boualiphan is a sewing trainer and wheelchair user at the centre, and defeated all odds by competing and winning a bronze medal in the 100 metre swimming competition at the 7th ASEAN Para Games in Myanmar.

Each employee at the centre brings a unique life experience of being a woman with a disability. This gives the LDWDC a great opportunity to take an active role in advocating bringing change for the rights of women living with disabilities.

Through the LDWDC’s core activities, it is helping to shatter misconceptions about women and disabilities by empowering disenfranchised women.

Through its vocational training programme, young women with disabilities from rural areas are being provided with vocational, literacy and life skills training.


Source: Vientiane Times