Women in Laos
For the women of Laos roles and status vary significantly depending on their ethnicity, but it’s fair to say that whatever group they come from they are seen as secondary to men. As you travel around Laos the evidence is overwhelming. While men’s work is undoubtedly hard, women always seem to be working harder, for longer, with far less time for relaxing and socializing.
Lao Loum women gain limited benefits from bilateral inheritance pattern whereby both women and men can inherit land and business ownership. This derives from a matriarchal tradition, where a husband joins the wife’s fan on marriage. Often the youngest daughter and her husband will live with and care for her parents until they die, when they inherit at least some of their land and business.
However, even if a Lao Loum woman inherits her father farmland, she will have only limited control over how it is used. Instead, her husband will have the final say on most major decisions, while she will be responsible for saving enough money to see the family through any crisis.
This fits with the cultural beliefs associated with Lao Buddhism, which commonly teaches that women must be reborn as men before they can attain nirvana, hence a woman’s spiritual status is generally less than that of a man. Still, Lao Loum women enjoy a higher status than women from other ethnic groups, who become part of their husband’s clan on marriage a rarely inherit anything.
Women in Laos face several other hurdles: fewer girls go to school than boys; women are relatively poorly represented in government and other senior positions; and although they make up more than half the workforce, pay is often lower than male equivalents. If a Lao woman divorces, no matter how fair her reasons, it’s very difficult for her to find another husband unless he is older or foreign.
In the cities, however, things are changing as fast as wealth, education and exposure to foreign ideas allows, and in general women in cities are most confident and willing to engage with foreigners than their rural counterparts. Women are pushing into more responsible positions, particularly in foreign-controlled companies.