Header image for news printout

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviews the report of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

GENEVA (2 November 2018) - The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined eighth and ninth periodic report of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Presenting the report, Alounkeo Kittikhoun, Minister to the Prime Minister’s Office and Deputy Chairman of the Lao National Commission for the Advancement of Women, Mothers and Children, informed that all previous recommendations of the Committee had been translated into Lao and disseminated to Government officials, stakeholders and the general public.  Many of them had been integrated in the five-year National Socio-Economic Development Plans for the period 2011-2015 and 2016-2020.  In order to enhance the level of coordination, monitoring and reporting on the implementation of the recommendations, the Government had established the National Commission for the Advancement of Women, Mothers and Children in 2003 and it played a key role in the promotion of gender equality and the elimination of discrimination against women.  The rights of women, children and persons with disabilities were protected and promoted through the implementation of relevant provisions of the Constitution, laws, national strategies and action plans.  That included the Law on the Development and Protection of Women, the Law on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Children, the Law on Anti-Trafficking in Persons, the amended Law on Labour, and the Law on Civil Servants.  

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts commended the fact that the State party had passed 22 new pieces of legislation since its previous review, and for having involved women in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  However, they pointed out the imbalance in the property ownership in the country and that inheritance rules favoured men.  The Experts inquired about the steps taken by the State party to ensure that women lodged complaints without fear, and efforts to regularly inspect village mediation units to ensure that women’s rights were upheld and not compromised.  Reminding that 67 per cent of the population lived in rural areas, the Experts also wondered how the Government managed to remove barriers in access to information.  They further inquired about the national gender machinery, the situation of women from ethnic groups, the possibility for the establishment of a national human rights institution, space for civil society, violence against women and gender stereotypes, the prevalence of the patriarchal mind set, trafficking in women and girls, the effect of unexploded ordinance on women, and the rights of migrant female workers.  

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Kittikhoun noted that the Government remained ready to continue holding further dialogue and engagement on gender equality and the elimination of discrimination against women.  The Government would continue to ensure that the country maintained peace, stability and social order because they were fundamental conditions for the full realization of women’s rights.  

Dalia Leinarte, Committee Chairperson, commended the State party’s efforts and encouraged it to take all possible measures to address the Committee’s observations.  She reminded that the Committee would select a number of recommendations for immediate follow-up.

The delegation of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister’s Office, the National Commission for the Advancement of Women, Children and Mothers, the Lao Women’s Union, and the Permanent Mission of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public on Thursday, 8 November, at 10 a.m. to hold an informal meeting with States.

Report

The combined eighth and ninth periodic report of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic can be found here: CEDAW/C/LAO/8-9.

Presentation of the Report

ALOUNKEO KITTIKHOUN, Minister to the Prime Minister’s Office and Deputy Chairman of the Lao National Commission for the Advancement of Women, Mothers and Children, informed that following the review of the State party’s sixth and seventh periodic report in 2009, all recommendations had been translated into Lao and disseminated to Government officials, stakeholders and the general public.  From the very beginning, the Government had assigned line ministers and State organizations through the National Commission for the Advancement of Women, Mothers and Children, both at the central and local levels, to implement the Committee’s recommendations.  Many of them had been integrated in the five-year National Socio-Economic Development Plans for the period 2011-2015 and 2016-2020.  In order to enhance the level of coordination, monitoring and reporting on the implementation of the recommendations, the Government had established the National Commission for the Advancement of Women, Mothers and Children in 2003 and it played a key role in the promotion of gender equality and the elimination of discrimination against women.  In preparing the current report, the National Commission had taken the lead role in terms of coordination with all relevant Government agencies.  In collaboration with UN Women, it had organized consultation workshops with stakeholders, including mass organizations, development partners, and civil society organizations.  

The Government attached great importance to the rights and interests of specific groups in the country.  The Lao People’s Democratic Republic was a multi-ethnic nation, consisting of 49 ethnic groups living in harmony.  The Constitution, policies and laws had always encouraged solidarity, non-discrimination and equal treatment of all ethnic groups.  Any acts of division of solidarity among ethnic groups were prohibited and punishable by law.  The rights of women, children and persons with disabilities were protected and promoted through the implementation of relevant provisions of the Constitution, laws, national strategies and action plans.  These included the Law on the Development and Protection of Women, the Law on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Children, the Law on Anti-Trafficking in Persons, the amended Law on Labour, and the Law on Civil Servants.  The country had continued to improve its governance and public administration to be more effective, transparent, accountable and participatory with the aim to provide better services to women.  Some of the most important developments were two national studies and surveys on violence against women.  The authorities had integrated most of the indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals into their five-year National Socio-Economic Development Plan.  

Questions by the Committee Experts

The Experts commended the fact that the State party had passed 22 new pieces of legislation since its previous review.  What measures had the State party taken to ensure that those new laws were well implemented in practice?  How many complaints had been received under the law that prevented discrimination against women?  Did women receive compensation under that law?  What steps had the State party taken to ensure that women lodged complaints without fear?  Had it conducted an assessment of the complaint mechanisms?

Did the Government regularly inspect village mediation units to ensure that women’s rights were upheld and not compromised?  Did village mediation units receive the necessary training on gender in order to successfully resolve the issues at hand?

The Experts reminded that 67 per cent of the population lived in rural areas, which posed some barriers to accessing information.  What measures were in place to allow women in rural areas and women belonging to ethnic groups to access relevant information?

The Experts commended the State party for having involved women in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation clarified that the Government prioritized the dissemination of laws in order to make women aware of their rights and obligations under the law.  The authorities disseminated such information through a legal website, television broadcasts, and the country’s official gazette.  The Penal Code clearly stipulated the prohibition of discrimination against women in all spheres.  The Penal Code contained an article on discrimination against women; it was not a separate law.  The Government had improved its monitoring mechanisms at the provincial level.  

As for the complaint mechanisms, the delegation explained that provincial-level people’s assemblies and the Parliamentary women’s caucus were tasked to monitor the handling of women’s issues.  Turning to access to information, there were difficulties, but the authorities, in cooperation with the United Nations and the European Union, had opened 11 offices throughout the country, focusing on disadvantaged groups.  The Government conducted assessment and training for village mediation units with the support of many international organizations.  Those village mediation units handled minor disputes and disseminated national laws.  

As for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, the Government had done its utmost to integrate relevant indicators in its national socio-economic development plans.  With respect to the involvement of women, their role was particularly important in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals in the field of education and health.  

In terms of gender equality and women’s empowerment (goal 5), the National Commission on the Advancement of Women, Mothers and Children had incorporated the Committee’s recommendations and passed many laws in line with those recommendations.  Some of the achievements included women making up more than 20 per cent in civil service, 27 per cent in Parliament, and entrepreneurship training for women.

Questions by the Committee Experts

On the national gender machinery, the Experts inquired whether the merger of the department dealing with the advancement of women, and the department dealing with mothers and children was effective.  What was the percentage of the national budget that was dedicated to the gender field?  

Experts raised concern that women from ethnic groups, such as Hmong women, faced constraints in accessing their rights due to cultural traditions.  How did the State party deal with that issue?  Experts noted that the caring for children was not the exclusive work of women.  
 
Turning to the promotion of space for civil society, the Experts inquired about the possibility for the establishment of a national human rights institution.  Would the State party consider amending the decree on civil society associations?  Were temporary special measures applied in a manner that was in line with the Convention and did they address both horizontal and vertical discrimination against women?  

The Experts pointed out the imbalance in the property ownership in the country and noted that inheritance rules favoured men.  The quota of 20 per cent of women in decision-making was too low.  What temporary special measures existed in other fields?  What would be the transformed role of women in village water and sanitation committees?  

Replies by the Delegation

The mandate of the National Commission on the Advancement of Women, Mothers and Children dealt with many interrelated issues, but the work was still divided into two major sectors: the advancement of women, and mothers and children.  The Lao Women’s Union was a mass organization that aimed to develop and protect the rights of women.  The National Commission received the same budgeting as line ministries.  As per the decision of the National Parliament, the national budget should promote the goal of gender equality.  

The Government was of the view that the national steering committees in various fields, such as the National Steering Committee for Human Rights, were independent enough to perform the work of a national human rights institution.  With respect to temporary special measures, the delegation explained that the Government planned to monitor their implementation through defined indicators in national sectoral action plans on gender equality.  The authorities also organized annual discussions on how to proceed with achieving gender equality in different sectors.

In terms of land ownership, the law stipulated that land titles would be issued in the name of both the husband and wife.  It was time consuming to change traditional attitudes, but the Government nonetheless worked on achieving change.  Water supply was a priority for rural women which was why the Government had chosen to increase the role of women in the sector of water and sanitation at the village level.  

The Government did not place any barriers to civil society associations playing a role in society.  According to the relevant decree, they had to have partners in the sector and proper documents in order to register, as well as to follow the rules on receiving funds from external development partners.  The Constitution protected the freedom of speech, press and assembly as long as they were practiced in accordance with the national law.    

Questions by the Committee Experts

Turning to combatting violence against women and gender stereotypes, the patriarchal mind set was very much embedded in the Lao society and most women who had experienced violence from their spouses had not turned to the authorities.  Would the State party come up with a comprehensive strategy to eliminate harmful practices and stereotypes?  Had teachers been trained on that issue?  

How many ethnic leaders were women?  What was the percentage of women in the media?  Would the State party amend the legislation on distinguishing between minor and major offences against women?  Did the State party plan to establish systematic collection of disaggregated data on victims of violence?  Were there separate shelters for women victims of violence?  

Trafficking in women and girls for forced labour and sexual exploitation remained a concern in the country.  There was also a problem of trafficking of babies under concealed child adoption and of international surrogacy arrangements targeting poor women from rural areas.  What measures did the State party envisage for inter-ministerial efforts to combat trafficking?  Were anti-trafficking measures gender sensitive?  Was there systematic training for law enforcement officials, judges and prosecutors?  Did the State party take measures to ensure that international surrogacy arrangements would not lead to trafficking in children?  

What guarantees were in place to ensure that women in prostitution were not criminalized?  What steps had the State party taken to reduce the demand for prostitution?  What measures were in place to support women and girls who wanted to leave prostitution?  

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation noted that the Government had adopted a national strategy on domestic violence and that it had organized public awareness campaigns both in Lao and the languages of ethnic communities.  In addition, the authorities included the issue of domestic violence in school textbooks and they had disseminated the Law on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Children.  However, due to the lack of funds, the Government could not organize many outreach activities at the same time.  Working with male leaders was very important in fostering a culture of gender equality.

Village mediation units offered advice on cases of violence against women; women were not forced to go to village mediation units.  Alternative dispute settlement was not mandatory.  Because conducting surveys was expensive, the Government had selected some key indicators on violence against women in order to implement monitoring.  There were four shelters for victims of violence and trafficking with specialized treatment services.  The definition of rape contained a clear provision on consensus.  

There was strict monitoring and labour inspection in order to uncover potential cases of trafficking.  The Government pursued international efforts in combatting trafficking within the framework of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).  According to the Penal Code, surrogacy for the purpose of trafficking was a criminal offence.      

Questions by the Committee Experts

Moving on to women’s participation in political life, the Experts commended the fact that women made up 27.5 per cent in the National Assembly and that the speaker of Parliament was a woman.  What were the main reasons for women’s low representation in leadership positions at the local level?  What measures did the Government plan to take to realize the set targets?  What was the percentage of female judges?  What measures had been taken to prepare more women to work in diplomacy?  Did political parties have a quota for women’s representation?

Replies by the Delegation

The low representation of women in leadership positions at the village and local level was due to the generally low education level in rural areas, poverty, and traditional views about gender roles.  The authorities, nevertheless, tried to foster women’s participation in local elections and to provide training to elected women.  Even though there were few female judges, there were more female law students.  Currently, every Lao delegation had at least one woman.  Political parties did have quotas for women, but women’s capacity had to be increased.  The Government attached great importance to granting favourable bank loans for female entrepreneurship.

Questions by the Committee Experts

The Law on Nationality of 2003 contained an article that potentially accepted child marriage.  Another problem was birth registration, which stood at 67 per cent in rural areas.  What was the level of birth registration among ethnic groups?

Reminding that the State party had the highest rate of early marriages in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Experts stressed the importance of carrying out public awareness campaigns on birth registration.

Replies by the Delegation

In the case when one of the parents was a foreigner, the child had the right to choose his or her nationality at the age of 15.  Birth registration was less important than the family book registration.  Village chiefs attested that children were born in rural areas, which often lacked a birth registration office.  

The Penal Code clearly stipulated that no marriage under the age of 18 would be recognized, the delegation clarified.

Questions by the Committee Experts

The Experts inquired about the cost of education and the fact that many schools charged fees.  What was the rate of enrolment and retention among girls?  The rate of school dropout among girls stood at around 20 per cent because girls took up house work.  

Had the recommendations on school instruction in minority languages been implemented?  What were the literacy rates in ethnic communities?  How many schools in rural communities had been built and how many had girl students?  Were there adult education programmes for illiterate women?  What efforts had been made to synchronize the minimum age of employment with the end of mandatory education?  

When would the State party ratify the Convention on the Rights of All Migrants and their Families?  What was the roadmap for the ratification of the remaining conventions of the International Labour Organization?  What was the official gender pay gap in the country?  How did labour inspectors ensure that migrant women were not paid lower wages?  What jobs were not allowed to be performed by women?  

Was there any statistical data on sexual harassment in both the private and public sector?  What sanctions were in place for perpetrators?  Maternity leave was granted for 100 days.  Would the State party consider amending legislation so that employers did not push pregnant women out of the labour market?  Would the State party amend the law to make the retirement age the same for women and men?  

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that the Government was currently assessing the results of education for all.  There was a concern and discussion about schools charging fees to cover the costs of maintenance of buildings and administration.  Each school received a budget line for administration costs.  As for the dropout rate for girls and school retention, the authorities had statistics for both girls and boys.  There was ongoing training of teachers to expand school instruction in minority languages.  

In terms of vocational training, the Government had set up the target of 20 per cent of girls as a realistic one.  The new amendments to the Law on Education defined compulsory education as the end of the secondary school.

Combatting sexual harassment at the workplace came under the Law on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Children, and it included physical and psychological aspects of the offence.  So far there had been no recorded complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace.  

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had established a commission for the advancement of women in diplomacy and for the promotion of gender equality.  There were five female ambassadors, two director generals, and four deputy ministers.  Overall, women made up 15 per cent of the Ministry’s personnel.

The country was party to five out of 11 conventions of the International Labour Organization, and it would continue studies on the possible ratification of additional conventions.  As for the retirement age, both women and men could retire at the age of 60, but women also had the option of retiring at the age of 55.  Maternity leave lasted five months, while paternity leave lasted one week.

The law guaranteed equal pay for women and men, and labour inspections were carried out by trade unions at the central, provincial and local levels.

Questions by the Committee Experts

The Experts commended the State party for its efforts to provide primary healthcare services in rural areas.  What were specific causes of women’s mortality and morbidity?  Were there special programmes for the prevention and care for breast and cervical cancer?  What did the State party intend to do to accelerate reducing women’s mortality, especially in the most far flung regions?  

Did abortions affect the rate of female mortality?  Was there any statistical data on abortions and clandestine abortions?  Did the State party intend to decriminalize abortions in case of rape or incest?  

With the high maternal mortality, the State party should improve its comprehensive sexuality education, the Experts noted.  It seemed that the HIV/AIDS prevalence in women was high.  Was the State party able to continue its programme on HIV/AIDS?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that regional inaccessibility during the rainy season was one of the main causes of the high rate of maternal mortality.  In cooperation with international development partners, the Ministry of Health was working to increase the number of midwives in district hospitals.  The authorities did not have detailed statistics on women’s mortality.  Abortion was not allowed for any reason, unless the pregnancy endangered the life of the mother.  

The authorities had not been able to gather detailed statistics on abortions.  In terms of HIV/AIDS prevention, the Government had established mobile clinics for treatment, testing and counselling.  Comprehensive sexuality education was disseminated to the youth through the national radio station, and there was also free provision of contraceptives.     

Questions by the Committee Experts

Noting the adoption of a new Social Security Law, the Experts remained concerned that women working outside of the formal economy or who were too poor to contribute to social security, largely remained without social protection.  What measures had the State party taken to raise awareness in all areas of the country about the new law?  Had it considered to expand social protection coverage to women in the informal and rural economies through the introduction of cash benefits?  

The Experts further asked about the State party’s measures to extend social security to women in agriculture who were not able to voluntarily contribute to the social security programme.  What measures were in place to facilitate access to and ownership of land to disadvantaged women and access to credit?  Would the State party use temporary special measures to get more young and rural women into competitive markets?  

What steps had the Government taken to recognize, reduce and redistribute unpaid care and home-based labour of women?  Had the Government considered reforming the current system for the approval and management of all land leases and concessions in order to increase transparency and accountability?

How was the State party addressing environmental damage caused by mining and logging operations that depleted the country’s natural resources causing irreparable damage to the environment?  What measures was the Government taking to address the problem of social protection for female migrant workers?

What was being done to empower women and girls with disabilities? Did they receive assistance and compensation when they were victims of unexploded ordinance?  What kind of bilateral agreements did the State party have with Thailand concerning migration and re-migration?  What was the situation of HIV/AIDS positive sex workers?  How were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex women treated by the police and other State authorities?      

Replies by the Delegation

The Government had in place awareness raising campaigns on the rights of migrant workers.  It urged migrant workers to register and migrate in a legal manner in order not to fall into the hands of traffickers.  The Government worked within the framework of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to convert migrants’ illegal status to a legal one.      

The social protection schemes for poor rural families consisted of free-of-charge healthcare and education services.  Funds and loans were available to vulnerable women at the community level, including for income-generating activities, from the Agricultural Development Bank.  Most of the Government-promoted projects were investments in rural areas through poverty reduction funds.  There was also training and capacity-building for women with disabilities.

There were still some 30 per cent of unexploded ordinance, covering about one third of the territory and posing serious problems for people working in agricultural fields.  Many of the people working in the fields were women.  The Government had created favourable conditions for attracting foreign direct investments and for ensuring that local communities were adequately compensated for land leases and concessions.  Nevertheless, the national interest would prevail over individual interests.  Some positive examples were development projects done in cooperation with China.  As for deforestation, the Government was currently carrying out intense efforts to prevent illegal logging.

Questions by the Committee Experts

The Experts observed that there was no real partnership between wives and husbands on an equal footing, and that polygamy and child marriages still prevailed.  What was being done to abolish polygamy in practice and to effectively prohibit early marriages?  

How would birth registration in rural areas be improved?  Was gender-based violence taken into account in child custody and visitation decisions?

Replies by the Delegation

The Government was in the process of implementing mobile units for birth registration in rural areas.  According to the Family Law, the minimum age of marriage was 18 and polygamy was not allowed.  However, early marriage was still common in rural areas.  The Government was carrying out public awareness campaigns to prevent early marriages and early pregnancies.    

Concluding Remarks

ALOUNKEO KITTIKHOUN, Minister to the Prime Minister’s Office and Deputy Chairman of the Lao National Commission for the Advancement of Women, Mothers and Children, noted that the Government remained ready to continue holding further dialogue and engagement on gender equality and the elimination of discrimination against women.  In the years to come, the priority for the country was to continue efforts in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, most notably to reduce poverty.  The Government would continue to ensure that the country maintain peace, stability and social order because they were fundamental conditions for the full realization of women’s rights.  The State party was firmly committed to the universality, indivisibility, interrelatedness and interdependence of all women’s rights.  Gender equality was best achieved at the grass-root level and through the aspirations of the people.  

DALIA LEINARTE, Committee Chairperson, commended the State party’s efforts and encouraged it to take all possible measures to address the Committee’s observations.  She reminded that the Committee would select a number of recommendations for immediate follow-up.

 __________

For use of the information media; not an official record