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While Lao PDR has engineered impressive economic growth during the last decade, human development objectives, including gender equality are lagging behind. A better balancing of economic growth and social development indicators is essential for inclusive and sustainable growth. 

The gender equality gap has narrowed in all three levels of education enrolment in Laos, but challenges persist in education completion. Two key determinants drive the patterns of gender inequity in education: Girls are more likely to be kept at home due to safety concerns and household responsibilities, especially if the secondary school is far from home. Parents do not put the same value on education for girls as they do for boys, especially if this view is part of their tradition, or if the parents are poor, or have little or no education. When the Gender Disparity Index is calculated for primary and secondary school attendance in different socio-economic groups and locations, the widest gap in gender equality is found among children from rural areas without road access, children from the non Lao-Tai groups, children of uneducated mothers and children of families in the poorest quintiles. This gap is much larger in secondary education: for example, in the appropriate age group of the poorest quintiles, 66 girls attend secondary school for every 100 boys. 

Lao PDR has one of the highest rates of early marriage in the region. According to a study from 2012, one-third of women marry before age 18, while one-tenth marry before age 15. Early marriage is often associated with early pregnancy. In 2012, 19.4 percent of reproductive aged women had given birth by age 18, while 3.6 percent had done so by age 15. Both early marriage and adolescent birth have a negative impact on the education and livelihood opportunities of women.

The share of women in wage employment is low in all sectors (35 percent), including non-agricultural sectors (34 percent). Instead, among the unpaid workers for the family, 61 percent were women in 2015.

An equal share of men and women make up the working population, but women generally occupy the lower rungs of the labour market. Women are relatively more excluded from formal sectors and the social protection that this entails. Some 64 percent of workers in the elementary occupations and 63 percent of those classified as service, shop and market sales workers are women. On the other hand, men account for the majority of civil servants, professionals, technicians and other sectors. Although women have significant roles in agriculture, they have less access to and control of farming inputs and credit. In 2010, women accounted for only 23 percent of all employers, more often of small enterprises, rather than medium to large firms.

Women undertake multiple roles and begin working at an earlier age, which affects their well-being. According to a study from 2012/13, women spent almost 30 per cent of their time on unpaid domestic and care work, while the same figure for men was only 5 per cent. Across all ages and locations, the proportion of economically active girls is substantially higher than that of economically active boys. 

Female migrants who work abroad are more at risk than male migrants are. The average age of female migrants is only 16.5 years while it is 21 years for male migrants. Some 63 percent of female migrants are under 16 years of age, in contrast to 14 percent of male migrants. The younger age makes girls extremely vulnerable to labour and sexual exploitation.

In 2017, Lao PDR has one of the highest proportions of women (27.5 percent) in national parliaments, well above the world average. However, the proportion of women in other decisionmaking institutions within the Government is still low (5 percent as of 2012). 

A study from 2014 showed that some 20 percent of Lao women had experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence. 

UN agencies, under the lead of UNFPA and UN Women, continued to collaborate in their support to develop national legal and planning frameworks around gender equality and women’s empowerment. Moreover, the UN has contributed to empowering national institutions to better implement and monitor these laws, strategies and actions plans, such as the National Strategy on the Advancement of Women and the National Action Plan on Elimination of Violence against Women and Children.

Gender equality is one of 17 Global Goals that make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. An integrated approach is crucial for progress across the multiple goals.Learn more about Goal 5 and its targets.

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