Gender Equality in Lao PDR

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Flag of Lao_PDR
Population (in Mil.) 6.65
Gross Domestic Product (In USD Billions - WB) 9.39
Sex Ratio (m/f)
Life Expectancy Ratio (f/m) 1.045454545
Fertility Rate 3.14
Estimated Earned Income (f/m) 0.73
Tertiary Enrolment Ratio (f/m) 13.4
Women in Parliament (in %) 25
Human Development Index 138/187
Social Institutions and Gender Index 49/86
Gender Inequality Index 138/186
Gender Equity Index 110/168
Women’s Economic Opportunity Index 109/128
Global Gender Gap Index 60/68
More information on variables

Social institutions

Modern-day Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) had previously been under the rule of Siam (Thailand) and French Indochina. The government of Laos, one of the few remaining one-party Communist states, began decentralizing control and encouraging private enterprise in 1988.[1] Lao PDR is one of the world’s most ethnically diverse countries. The country has 49 official ethnicities that can be grouped into four broad language families: the Lao-Tai (66.7 per cent) in lowland areas; the Mon Khmer (20.6 per cent) and the Hmong-lu Mien (8.4 per cent) in midland areas; and the Chine-Tibet (3.3 per cent) in highland areas.[2] The World Bank classifies Lao PDR as a lower middle income country.[3] Equality in Lao PDR is promoted through laws and programmes, most notably the 2004 Law on Women’s Development and Protection.[4] The Lao National Commission for Advancement of Women had been established in 2003.[5] More than one-half of Lao women are economically active, most often in agriculture or the informal sector. However, the status of women in Lao PDR is undermined by high levels of illiteracy, gender-based violence and persistent traditional gender stereotyping. These issues particularly affect women in rural areas. Women are more vulnerable to poverty, particularly women from specific ethnic groups such as the Mon-Khmer group.[6] Article 35 of the amended 2003 Constitution of the Lao PDR guarantees the principle of gender equality. Lao PDR ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1981. In 2011, the Human Development Index for Lao PDR was 0.524, placing the country at 138 out of 187 countries.[7] For the Gender Inequality Index Lao PDR received a score of 0.513, placing the country at 107 out of 146 countries with data.[8]

Discriminatory Family Code

Under the Lao Family Law of November 1990, ‘men and women have equal rights in all aspects pertaining to family relations’. Article 9 states that “Men and women have the right to marry starting at the age of eighteen. In special and necessary cases, this limit may be lowered to less than eighteen years of age but no less than fifteen years of age. Marriage must be based on mutual consent and will from both sides without coercion from any side or individual.” [9] According to 2005 data, the United Nations reports that 20 percent of women between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed, compared to 6% of men.[10] Early marriage is particularly common amongst girls in rural areas who often marry at the age of 16 or 17 years. In some remote midland villages, Lao girls are sometimes married before they reach the age of 14 years. Generally both the young woman and the community expect that she will become pregnant soon after marriage. The average age of marriage for girls in urban areas is slightly higher, usually 17 to 18 years.[11] The practice of paying a “bride price”, where the groom’s family presents gifts and money to the bride’s family is widespread. According to one survey conducted in 2000, about 85 percent of the brides’ families receive bride price upon marriage, although there are variations among the different ethnic groups.[12]

Article 4 in the Family Law holds monogamy as the governing principle of marriage.[13] However, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) reports that polygamy remains customary among some Hmong mountain tribes.[14] Further, the Ministry of Public Health reported in 2000 that in one district there was a practice of older men purchasing girls as young as three to five years of age as second or third wives. The girls would live with the man’s family until they are “ready” for sex and marriage.[15] Under the Family Law, parental authority is granted equally to both parents, and men and women have the same right to be appointed guardian of their children.[16] In the event of divorce, the courts award custody rights based upon the best interests of the children.[17] Despite being legal, divorce is socially frowned upon. Marriage is considered a core value within society and there is pressure placed on Lao women to marry and remain married, no matter the circumstances. This is confirmed by the Lao saying, “A woman without a husband is like a ring without a stone - there is nothing of worth in it.”[18]

Men and women are treated equally under the 1990 Inheritance Law.[19] However, there is still some discrimination in inheritance rights in that land inheritance tends to follow customary practices, which vary amongst ethnic groups and is related to traditional residence patterns after marriage – matrilocal, patrilocal or bi-local.[20] The Lao-Tai, who comprises over 60 percent of the population, mainly practice matrilineal inheritance where land (homestead land and/or rice fields) is inherited by daughters from their parents. Among the Chine-Tibet and Mon Khmer groups, who comprise 3 and 21 percent of the population respectively, land and other assets are mostly transferred to the sons.[21]

Restricted Physical Integrity

The Penal Code criminalises rape with punishment between three to five years’ imprisonment. Sentences are longer and may include capital punishment if the victim is under 15 or forcibly raped, gang-raped or seriously injured.[22] Current legislation does not recognise spousal rape.[23] The Law on Women’s Development and Protection was introduced in 2004 and one of its objectives is to combat domestic violence.[24] However, the 1992 Penal Law does not specifically address domestic violence. In cases where physical violence occurs between close relatives and does not result in serious injury, the 1992 Criminal Law provides an exemption from penal liabilities.[25] Although sexual harassment is not specifically illegal, "indecent sexual behaviour" toward another person is illegal and punishable by six months to three years in prison.[26]

Violence against women is a problem in Lao PDR. According to a 2003 survey of 1000 women, 17 percent had experienced physical violence, 35 had experienced mental violence and 2 percent had experience sexual violence from their husbands.[27] A key challenge in Lao is the silence, acceptance and stigma around violence against women. Violence is often seen as a private matter or not serious. A 1998 survey of young people found that 53 percent of girls and boys agreed that it is ok for a man to hit his wife if she makes mistakes.[28] A 2006 survey found that 81 percent of women believe that a husband is justified in beating his wife/partner.[29] It is reported that law enforcement agencies have a lack of awareness of violence against women. Violence is under-reported, with a 1998 survey finding that only half the women who had experienced sexual violence in the previous 12 months reported it. Women were more likely to report to village authorities rather than the police and it is reported that village mediation committees are increasingly dealing with cases of violence.[30] While the introduction of the Law of Development and Protection of Women in 2004 was a positive development, there remain a number of gaps in the government’s response to violence against women. The law on domestic violence is inadequate in that it makes a distinction between seriously harmful and less harmful acts of violence, where less harmful acts are exempted from penal liabilities.[31] This sends a message that violence against women is acceptable in certain circumstances. Furthermore, in 2009 the United Nations Committee on Discrimination Against Women raised concerns about the lack of information on services and awareness raising programmes as well as the fact that marital rape was not criminalised.[32] Trafficking is a major threat to women’s physical integrity in Lao PDR. The country is primarily a country of origin of trafficked women with Thailand as the primary destination country. A 2009 study by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that 90 percent of trafficking victims ended up in Thailand, the majority women between the ages of 15 to 25. The study found that 35 percent of women became victims of sexual exploitation.[33] Other reports estimate that 60 percent of trafficking victims are girls between 12 and 18.[34] Main obstacles to addressing trafficking include the lack of border control and inadequate protection procedures available to returned trafficking victims.[35] Female genital mutilation is reportedly not practised in Lao PDR. Limitations on women’s reproductive rights also infringe upon women’s physical integrity in Lao PDR. The performance of abortions in the Lao PDR is governed by the 1990 Criminal Code. Under the Code, abortion is generally illegal punishable between 2 to 10 years’ imprisonment. However, an abortion can be performed to save the life of the pregnant woman.[36] UNICEF reports that 38 percent of married women were using contraception.[37] However, the United Nations reported in 2007 that there were only a limited range of contraceptives available to women in Lao PDR.[38] The country has a high maternal mortality rate of 660 per 100,000 births in 2005.[39] A 2000 report from the Ministry of Public Health identified adolescent reproductive health a particular problem stemming from young women have a lack of awareness of contraception and subsequently seeking unsafe abortions.[40]

Son Bias

A 2006 survey by the Department of Statistics of Ministry of Planning and UNICEF found that female infants are slightly more likely than male infants to be malnourished, indicating that there may be son preference in the allocation of nutrition in the household.[41] A slightly larger proportion of fathers engaged in activities that promoted learning and school readiness with male children (21 percent) than with female children (19 percent), indicating a slight preferential treatment of sons.[42] The survey also found that sons (41 percent) were more likely than daughters (36 percent) to have toys.[43] With respect to child labour, the survey found that boys were more likely than girls to be engaged in paid work outside the house and girls were more likely than boys to be engaged in unpaid work outside the house. Girls were slightly more likely than boys to be engaged in household chores for more than 28 hours per week suggesting that girls were more likely to experience time poverty.[44] With respect to access to education, the report found that boys’ attendance rate is about 4 percent higher than that of girls at the national level. In urban areas, boys and girls have almost similar attendance rates, but in rural areas without road access boys’ attendance rate is more than 7 percent higher than girls’.[45] Lao PDR has a male/female sex ratio for the total population of 0.98 in 2012.[46]

There is no evidence to suggest that Lao PDR is a country of concern for missing women.

Restricted Resources and Entitlements

The Land Law of 1997 which was amended in 2003 provides that land is owned by the state but all citizens have equal rights to use the land. Land and property laws state categorically that “property that is acquired before marriage received through inheritance, or granted specifically to a particular spouse is not considered as conjugal property”. Land acquired by a couple is supposed to be issued a joint land use certificate or title.[47] Despite these provisions, land documents tend to be registered in men’s names and discriminatory inheritance practices impede women’s land access. A 1998 survey found that only 16 percent of land was registered in the wife’s name although 40 percent of the land came from the wife’s parents. By contrast, 58 percent of the land was registered in the husband’s name, with only 18 percent of the land having come from the husband’s parents.[48] A lack of awareness of land rights amongst women is cited as a barrier to land access.[49] Another reason is that there is a general perception of men as heads of the families.[50] As noted above, both men and women have the legal right to access to property other than land. However, property in the form of the family home generally follows the same inheritance patterns as land.[51] In the event of divorce, pre-marital assets remain with their original owner while assets acquired during the marriage are divided equally between the spouses.[52]

Similarly, men and women have equal access to bank loans. However, because of illiteracy and shyness or shame about borrowing money, many women put loans in their husband’s names, or turn instead to more informal credit schemes. Furthermore, most women do not know that they can use their land as collateral for getting loans from banks.[53] Women entrepreneurs face difficulties dealing with cumbersome registration procedures, compounded by their low level of education and limited time.[54]

Restricted Civil Liberties

Under the constitution and Family Law Laotian women have freedom of movement.[55] However, in practice, the government reports that women face de facto restrictions on their access to public space, stating that traditions often do not allow women to work or do business far from home.[56] The right of people to association is generally restricted by the government.[57] In 2009, the United Nations Committee on Discrimination Against Women expressed concern about the lack of a lively, autonomous and active women’s movement in Lao PDR. The Committee did note, however, that a Decree on the establishment of associations was signed by the Prime Minister in 2009.[58] However, only one organisation had applied for registration under the Decree at the end of 2009.[59]

In terms of political participation, in 2009 there were 29 women (25 percent) in the 115-seat national assembly, including two on the nine-member Standing Committee. The 55-seat LPRP Central Committee included four women. Of 12 ministers in the Prime Minister's Office, two were women.[60] In 2009, the United Nations Committee on Discrimination Against Women expressed concern about the low participation of women in all areas of public, political and professional life. The Committee noted that almost 80 per cent of the population lives in rural areas and that the village chief and the village council handle most everyday matters, yet only 1 per cent of village chiefs are women.[61]

The Labour Law in Lao PDR prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of gender or pregnancy. The law also provides for equal pay for women and men. The Labour Law also provides for paid maternity leave of 90 days at full pay.[62]


  1. Central Intelligence Agency (2011) The World Fact Book: Lao PDR, available at, accessed 31 January 2011.
  2. GRID (Gender Resource Information and Development Centre) (2005), Lao PDR Gender Profile, The Gender Resource Information and Development Centre of the Lao Women’s Union, in collaboration with the World Bank, Washington, DC. p.12
  3. World Bank (n.d.) Online data: Lao PDR, available at, accessed at 31 January 2011.
  4. CEDAW (United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) (2008), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Combined Sixth and Seventh Initial, First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Periodic Reports of States Parties, CEDAW/C/LAO/7CEDAW/C/LAO/1-5, New York. p.8
  5. Reference 4 p.9
  6. Reference 2
  7. United Nations Development Programme (2011) Human Development Report 2011, available at, accessed 29 February 2012. p.129
  8. Reference 7 p.141
  9. Reference 2 p.25
  10. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2008) World Marriage Data 2008, available at, accessed 10 October 2010.
  11. Ministry of Public Health Lao PDR and the Institute of Maternal and Child Health (2000), A Strategic Assessment of Reproductive Health in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, World Health Organization, Geneva. p.57
  12. Reference 2 p.20
  13. JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) (2006), Country Gender Profile (Lao PDR), JICA Planning Department, Tokyo.
  14. JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) (1999), Country WID Profile (Lao PDR), JICA Planning Department, Tokyo. p.4
  15. Reference 11 p.58
  16. Reference 4 p.71
  17. Reference 4 p.71
  18. Reference 2 p.20
  19. Reference 4 p.72
  20. Reference 13 p.22
  21. Reference 2 p.26
  22. Reference 2 p.27
  23. CEDAW (2009) Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, CEDAW/C/LAO/CO/7, New York p.7
  24. Reference 2 p.27
  25. Reference 2 p.72
  26. US State Department (2010) 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Laos, Available, accessed 31 January 2011.
  27. Reference 2 P.71
  28. Reference 2 P.72
  29. Department of Statistics of Ministry of Planning and UNICEF (2006) Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2006, Lao PDR, available at, accessed 2 February 2011.
  30. Reference 2 P.72
  31. Reference 23 P.6
  32. Reference 23 P.6
  33. Reference 26
  34. Reference 23 P.7
  35. Reference 23 p.7
  36. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (2007)’World abortion policies’, data downloaded from (accessed 21 October 2010)
  37. UNICEF (n.d.) Online Data – Lao PDR, available at, accessed 2 February 2011
  38. United Nations Population Division (2007)
  39. Reference 37
  40. Reference 11 p.58
  41. Reference 29
  42. Reference 29
  43. Reference 29
  44. Reference 29
  45. Reference 29
  46. Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Fact Book: Sex Ratio, available at, accessed 29 February 2012.
  47. Reference 13 P.22
  48. Reference 13 P.22
  49. Reference 13 P.23
  50. Reference 4 P.60
  51. Reference 4 P.60
  52. Reference 4 P.71
  53. Reference 13 P.23
  54. Reference 2 P.13
  55. Reference 4 P.69
  56. Reference 4 P.44
  57. Reference 26
  58. Reference 23 p.5
  59. Reference 26
  60. Reference 26
  61. Reference 23 P.8
  62. Reference 4 P.41

The Women, Business and the Law

Where are laws equal for men and women? 

The Women, Business and the Law report presents indicators based on laws and regulations affecting women's prospects as entrepreneurs and employees. Several of these indicators draw on the Gender Law Library, a collection of over 2,000 legal provisions impacting women's economic status. This report does not seek to judge or rank countries, but to provide information to inform discussions about women’s economic rights. Women, Business and the Law provides data covering 6 areas: accessing institutions,using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, and going to court. Read more about the methodology.

For detailed information on Lao PDR, please visit the Women, Business and
the Law Lao PDR


The FAO Gender and Landrights Database

The FAO Gender and Landrights Database contains country level information on social, economic, political and cultural issues related to the gender
FAO logo.jpg
inequalities embedded in those rights. Disparity on land access

is one of the major causes for social and gender in rural areas, and it jeopardizes, as a consequence, rural food security as well as the wellbeing of individuals and families.

Six categories

The Database offers information on the 6 following Categories:

  • National legal frame
  • International treaties and conventions
  • Customary law
  • Land tenure and related Institutions
  • Civil society organizations
  • Selected Land Related Statistics

For detailed information information on Lao PDR, please visit the report on in the FAO Gender and Landrights Database.


Article Information
  • Page created by Denis, 03/03/2008
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