International Women’s Day Reflects Progress, Challenges of Women’s Rights in Laos

Lao women with ethnic groups' traditional clothing (Photo: Explore Laos)

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day on 8 March, Lao women are voicing the progress made in women’s rights amidst the ongoing struggle for gender equality. This commemoration reflects the historical challenges faced by women, who have been marginalized in areas such as labor, education access, and more.

“In the past, women’s roles were unequal to men’s in various aspects such as education, career, labor, and others, with societal norms often overlooking women’s leadership potential,” said Payengxa Lor, former Miss Universe Laos 2022, who’s actively engaging in empowering women’s activities.

“Therefore, this International Women’s Day holds significant importance as it signifies women having equal intelligence and capabilities as men, making them equally capable of leadership roles,” she added.

Payengxa pointed out that countries with female prime ministers during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as New Zealand with Jacinda Ardern, showed effective crisis management. She believed this was due to women’s empathy, influenced by their roles as mothers, which shows women’s capabilities of leadership as men.

Spanning from 1910 to 2024, this year marks the 114th anniversary of International Women’s Day, carrying immense significance for women worldwide and particularly in Laos. It serves as a reminder of the ongoing effort to address the challenges of gender equality and women’s empowerment in Laos.

Laos has achieved significant progress in gender equality, securing the fifth position in the Global Gender Gap Index 2023 for “economic participation and opportunity.” 

“The role of women in Laos is highly developed, as evidenced by the presence of a female Vice President and numerous female ministers in key ministries. This surpasses the representation seen in many Western countries,” Payengxa stated.

Despite progress, the country struggles with educational achievement, ranking in 107th place. Early marriage is one of several factors influencing gender equality in Laos. 

Among individuals aged 20–24 years old, 6.1 percent of women were married or in union before the age of 15, and 30.5 percent before the age of 18. Conversely, for men in the same age group, only 1.1 percent were married or in union before age 15, while 10. percent were married or in union before age 18, according to the Lao Social Indicator Survey in 2023.

While progress has been made in advancing women’s roles towards gender equality, further empowerment is necessary to effectively address existing gender gaps.

As part of empowering women and gender equality, Plan International Laos organized an event in Vientiane on 4 March to discuss the future girls aspire to through dialogues and activities.

Additionally, the Lao Women’s Union also celebrated International Women’s Day on 5 March with an event themed “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress,” showing commitment to women’s development and gender equality. The Lao Women’s Union is also supporting women’s participation in leadership and decision-making roles for sustainable development through 65 projects from 2021 to 2025.

Moving forward, to further address the challenge, Payengxa said that social media influencers can also play crucial roles in advancing women in Laos, particularly for the younger generation.

“I believe that influencers can play a crucial role in promoting the empowerment of women by serving as role models to a [younger generation],” the former Miss Universe recalled.

“For me, I will continuously strive for personal growth, never ceasing to acquire knowledge and create impactful works to inspire young girls to understand that achieving gender equality requires a relentless pursuit of education and self-development,” she added.

In terms of influencers, however, challenges persist, as in recent incidents, most Lao influencers have not been seen to speak out for women’s rights, especially in a rape case in Xieng Khouang Province involving the rape of a young girl by three men. In response to this matter, Payengxa declined to comment on why influencers are not speaking out, noting that the case is complex and delicate, particularly when it involves rape.

As 8 March marks International Women’s Day worldwide and in Laos, it serves as a reflection of the historical challenges faced by women. Looking ahead, continued efforts are required to further empower women, foster gender equality, and amplify women’s voices in Laos and beyond.