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Women village leaders in Laos ‘custodians of gender egalitarianism’

With no prior expectations beyond my mission’s agenda, we arrived safely in La district, Oudomxay province in February 2021. But to my pleasant surprise, I met a young woman village leader, Ms Sakhone Sengmany. Her innate ability to multi-task, appeared to come so naturally to her. I couldn’t avoid being immediately drawn to learn more about Sakhone, as her confidence shone through while garnering women for a group discussion.
The 32-year-old is 1 of the only 3 women village leaders in the district, while the remaining 43 are all male leaders.  Despite 43 of the 45 villages being identified as ‘poor villages’ in the district, these 3 women had managed to get elected as head of poverty ridden villages and managing the responsibilities that are generally out of bound for women citizens.
Before I was led to the village Office to speak to Sakhone, I saw her obtaining her group’s feedback on basic services that were provided by the local authorities. She was able to complete her interview with the survey team and also take them around to identify families representing ethnic population and persons with disabilities.
Sakhone quickly gave me a snapshot of the challenges she faces in ensuring access to basic services in the area of health, education, public works, transport, civil registration and agricultural extension services.
Exhibiting her instinctive agility to surmount problems and look for solutions was something that impressed me most and made me believe in women’s excellence over men in driving new initiatives and to think out of the box.
Women in the Lao PDR, constitute just 2 percent of the village leaders in the country and I am glad to know that perceptions about women leadership is changing. More women are expected to be agents of socio-economic change in the community.
When asked about her political career, Sakhone mentioned with humility that she was the deputy village Leader from 2014 -18 before being elected as the village leader in 2018. She has also served as the Village women’s unit prior to her role as the deputy to the village leader. Her husband is a teacher in the neighboring village school and is very supportive in her professional role. She has 9-year-old son and maintains a healthy balance between her family and profession.
Responding to my question about her key contribution to the village as a leader, Sakhone said that she was instrumental in ensuring harmony in the village and managing the village affairs in the absence of village committees which in my opinion was a formidable achievement. I was keen on knowing how she could manage her two male deputies and whether they had any prejudices of supporting a women leader.
Sakhone confidently replied that she has no problem managing and garnering support from her male deputies and to seek their fullest copperation in managing the village affiars.
Improving health services and access to medicines, supply of textbooks along with provision to have mid day meals for students, having a public address system in her office and constitution of village committees are some of the top priorities on her agenda.
Despite achievements of women like Sakhone, women in remote villages of the country still have to overcome perceptual blatant discrimination and male chauvinism to get elected as leaders at the village level. While waiting for a formal tool such as Temporary Special Measures to facilitate gender parity in leadership in the Lao PDR, the entire society, and not just the women themselves, can strive to create positive changes in support of gender equality.
The author of this article is Mr Bagival Pradeep Kumar, Chief Technical Advisor, National Governance and Public Administration Reform Programme, Governance Unit, UNDP Lao PDR.


By Lamphone Pasanthong
(Latest Update May 5, 2021)

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