Strengthening the Lao
Preparing for a National Women's Machinery
UNIFEM support for the
women of Laos has led to the creation of the country’s first national
machinery for women. The National Commission for the Advancement of
Women in Lao (NCAW Lao), formally approved by the Prime Minister in
early 2002, will be the focal point for gender mainstreaming in
government. It will work alongside the Lao Women’s Union, a mass
organization that supports women across the country as well as with
government line ministries in Laos.
The Lao Women’s Union (LWU)
was originally established in 1955 to mobilize women for the Lao
People’s Revolutionary Party. Over forty years later, it has a
membership of some 600,000 women nation-wide. In 1991 the LWU was
recognized under the Constitution of the Lao People’s Democratic
Republic (Lao PDR) as having responsibility for:
- responding to women’s
- promoting the status
and role of women; and
- promoting unity amongst
women of different ethnic groups and social strata throughout the
As the only institution in
Laos then formally recognized as having responsibility for advocating
for women’s rights and gender concerns, the LWU had a unique opportunity
to influence policies, plans and practices of both government and
non-government organizations with respect to the needs and status of
women in Lao PDR.
UNIFEM’s involvement with
the LWU spans 13 years (1990-2003) starting with support for Lao Cotton,
the marketing arm for cotton and silk garments produced by women.
Sensing new opportunities in 1991, UNIFEM started the first of two
projects to strengthen the LWU’s capacity as an advocate for women’s
issues, to influence policies and programmes of the government. In
preparation for the drafting of the first Development Plan for Women,
training workshops were held in 1994.
The Development Plan for
Women of Laos (1995-2000) was completed in 1995 and became the Lao
women’s contribution to the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA). One part
of the DPWL stated that there should be a national women’s machinery.
UNIFEM and LWU together worked through an inclusive process to make this
women’s machinery a reality. In fact the process itself was an exercise
in gender mainstreaming, where senior male members of line ministries,
together with the women, formed the Ad-Hoc Committee for the
Establishment of the National Commission for the Advancement of Women of
Laos. A third UNIFEM project, approved in 2000, sent 40 senior members
of the LWU and other government agencies to study the role and functions
of the different types of women’s machineries in Viet Nam and the
Philippines. The follow-up workshop recommended the establishment of the
National Commission for the Advancement of Women in Lao PDR.
NCAW Lao became a reality
in early 2002, when the Office of the Prime Minister of Laos announced
its approval. An official decree is expected to follow once members of
the Commission have been finalized. NCAW Lao will then be the focal
point for gender mainstreaming in government, and also to monitor
implementation of CEDAW, the Beijing Platform for Action, and other
government commitments on equal rights between men and women. The LWU
continues its work on behalf of Lao women.
Details of the three
Capacity of Lao Women's Union
This project strengthened
the LWU through a participatory process of strategic planning.
During the project, the
senior management of the Union identified the main issues confronting
the women of Lao, defined the main business of the organization and its
specific objectives for the next five years, and produced a draft
The first project activity
was a study tour by members of the LWU to Bangkok. Following the study
tour, the LWU undertook a comprehensive review of the status and role of
the LWU in light of the New Economic Mechanism (NEM), with the
assistance of a management consultant, Kathy Tannous. The study entitled
‘Strengthening of the Lao Women’s Union: An Economic Review’ was
completed in December 1994.
The next phase of the
project was the drafting of a Strategic Plan facilitated by a Thai/Lao
speaking international organizational management consultant and a
national management consultant, Dr. Bounthavey. This was followed by a
series of drafts, with the LWU taking a stronger role each time in its
preparation, until they were confident enough to present a final draft
to the Lao Government in 1997.
The project had a marked
impact on the capacity of the LWU to identify appropriate and feasible
objectives and strategic interventions for their work in advancing the
status and position of Lao women. A major outcome of the participatory
approach of the project was that the Union gradually took over the lead
of the project from the international consultant. While the consultant
was largely responsible for the preparation of the first draft of the
Strategic Plan, the LWU was able to prepare the final draft. In claiming
ownership of the Plan, the LWU produced a document that accurately
represented both LWU priorities and concerns, and the LWU’s
understanding of, and capacity to, undertake strategic planning.
A main focus of the Draft
Strategic Plan was the establishment of a new, national machinery for
women with a clear mandate to lead mainstreaming within government.
It was felt that the
creation of a national machinery would clarify the role of the LWU,
which had been essentially a collaborative one, representing the
interests and needs of women and assisting mainstream agencies and
programmes to effectively meet these needs. As a mass organization, it
has often been described as an NGO which has led to confusion over its
role in mainstreaming women and gender within government.
Strengthening the Lao
project provided assistance to the LWU in revising and submitting the
Five Year Strategic Plan to the Lao Government for approval, and
negotiating with mainstream government departments to identify specific
areas for joint implementation.
The main objectives were
to develop gender responsive analytical and policy development skills
among senior staff from the LWU and key ministries; and develop a
project proposal incorporating an action plan to implement the Five Year
Representatives from the
LWU and potential government partners attended a series of four
workshops focusing on:
- problem solving skills;
- developing an
understanding of basic economic principles related to women’s economic
roles in Lao PDR;
- negotiation and
communications skills for policy development; and
- gender mainstreaming.
The Problem Analysis
Skills Workshop was led by international organizational management
consultant Annie Kennedy. Participants formed Advisory Groups to
identify and prioritize programmes within the Union project proposal
that would support the implementation of the Strategic Plan. The
workshop proposed that the new project focus on building
transformational leadership capacity in the LWU, and promote
mainstreaming in two key areas; women’s economic empowerment, and
women’s participation in political decision-making.
The proposal was finalized
and submitted to UNIFEM for funding, forming the basis of LAO/00/W01
(see project description below).
Gender Mainstreaming workshop was facilitated by a mainstreaming expert,
Rosa Linda Miranda. The workshop clarified the concept of gender
mainstreaming, demonstrated how it works, and how the LWU could apply it
in their policy, planning and programmes, as well as in the
implementation of the Strategic Plan. The Gender Mainstreaming workshop
also assisted the Union to identify the key partners within government
whose support would be needed to establish the National Commission for
the Advancement of Women (NCAW) in Lao PDR.
The results and
recommendations of the Gender Mainstreaming Workshop were later
presented to a national Orientation workshop held in May 2001, as part
of the project to directly support the establishment of NCAW Lao
This series of workshops
enabled UNIFEM, through a participatory process, to help the LWU develop
the skills and understanding needed to identify the specific areas of
focus in the following UNIFEM project that would oversee the
implementation of the key elements of their Five Year Plan.
for Capacity Building and Gender Mainstreaming in Lao PDR
Under previous projects
UNIFEM assisted the Lao Women’s Union to develop a Five-Year Strategic
Plan for 1998-2002. The Strategic Plan recognized the need for a new
national machinery for women, with a clear status and mandate to
directly participate in national policy making.
This project responded to
that need by sending 22 senior women and 18 men from a national task
force to study the national women’s machineries in the Philippines and
Viet Nam. The task force included representatives from the LWU and many
government bodies including the International Relations Committee, Lao
National Front, Lao Youth Union, State Planning Committee, National
Assembly, National Statistics Office, and others.
Viet Nam was chosen
because of its similarities with the Lao system of government. The Viet
Nam study tour examined the role and functions of the National Committee
for the Advancement of Women (NCFAW). The Philippines was selected
because of its extensive experience in gender mainstreaming and the
strength of the national machinery. The Philippines study tour examined
the role and functions of the National Commission on the Role of
Filipino Women (NCRFW), particularly the role of the Commission in
supporting gender mainstreaming in other government agencies.
Following the study tour,
an Orientation Workshop was held to allow members of the study tours to
present reports on the lessons learned from other national machineries,
and explained the rationale for a similar machinery for Lao PDR,
highlighting the different structure and functions of the LWU and the
proposed NCAW Lao PDR. During this workshop the LWU presented their now
approved Five Year Plan (1998-2002), as well as the outcomes of the
earlier Gender Mainstreaming workshop. The Orientation Workshop
developed the recognition that, since the LWU is a mass organization
funded by the government yet not part of it, Lao needed a specific
national machinery with a mandate to promote gender mainstreaming within
The value of the
participation of senior men from the various mainstream agencies in the
study tour was evident during the workshop. For example, one senior
official (a man) suggested that there was no need for the new national
machinery because its functions overlapped those of the LWU. Since it
was for the advancement of women, the LWU was the appropriate body.
Immediately, another senior official (also a man, who had joined the
Philippines study tour) from Foreign Affairs leapt to his feet. His
response provided a clear explanation of: first, gender mainstreaming as
the responsibility of the government; second, why the LWU as a mass
organization could not lead mainstreaming in government; and third, the
benefits of mainstreaming for both women and men, as well as the
government by improving the effectiveness of policies and programmes.
At its close, the workshop
recommended the establishment of the National Commission for the
Advancement of Women in Lao PDR. This would be an official women’s
machinery headed by the Prime Minister and located within the Prime
Minister’s office. An Executive Committee was established to design and
obtain official endorsement for the new body which will become the focal
point for gender mainstreaming in government, and also monitor
implementation of CEDAW, the Beijing Platform for Action, and other
government commitments on equal rights between men and women.
This outcome was a
milestone in the work undertaken by UNIFEM in supporting the capacity
building of the Lao Women’s Union. The National Commission was formally
established in January 2003 upon approval by the Prime Minister. The
Commission will begin activities once final membership has been