Empowering women parliamentarians in Lao PDR

13 Jun 2012

“There is no university to prepare you for a job as a legislator, but you are important as the voice of 6.4 million people in Lao PDR,” said UNDP consultant Donna Bugby-Smith to Lao PDR's women parliamentarians.

Ms. Bugby-Smith is the Chief Technical Advisor of the Support to an Effective Lao National Assembly (SELNA) project. Together with experts from UN Women she held a presentation for some dozen members of the Lao National Assembly at the Women Parliamentarians Caucus workshop under the theme “Gender Mainstreaming in the National Assembly” on June 13th 2012 in Thalath, Vientiane Province. The workshop was organized by UN Women and the National Assembly with some inputs from UNDP.

Dealing with women's issues is of great importance for development policies, highlighted by Millennium Development Goal 3 that focusses on gender equality and the empowerment of women. In many regions of the world, women still face barriers to education and they find it harder to get jobs than men. Moreover, even if they find a job, it is often a more vulnerable form of employment.

In many countries we see that women are slowly rising to power, but in several cases these power positions were mainly boosted by quotas and other special measures.

Lorraine Corner, a consultant for UN Women praised Lao PDR for its efforts on gender equality in the National Assembly. By now, nearly one third of Lao parliamentarians are women. She sees this as a great opportunity for the country's women, but also as a big responsibility for female members of the National Assembly.

In many cases, Ms. Corner said, women leaders (especially if they got into power through quotas or other special measures) don't know how to use their power. Therefore she urged female parliamentarians to be active in debates and initiate exchanges. She also gave them advice on how to achieve their goals: she reminded them that the most successful leaders lead from behind, like a football coach. A good leader “sits on the side, makes sure the team is in the good position and lets them play.”

Amarsanaa Darisuren, human rights specialist from the UN Women East and Southeast Asia Sub Regional office, spoke about the importance of the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in the context of Lao PDR. The Convention was adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly and was ratified by 187 countries. This Anti Discrimination Bill defines what constitutes discrimination against women; it focuses on the substantive equality of men and women and establishes state obligation to implement commitment to equality of men and women.

Ms. Darisuren emphasized that parliamentarians can play an important role in the achievement of gender equality by encouraging full government support to CEDAW, and by promoting the ratification of the CEDAW Optional Protocol. This Optional Protocol is a human rights treaty that complements CEDAW and establishes procedures to address and redress violations of women's rights.