Women leaders
Women's organizations


Laos is the least developed Asian landlocked country, surrounded by China in the north, Burma to the north-west, Thailand in the south-west, Cambodia (Kampuchea) in the south-east, and Vietnam to the east.

After 600 years of being a monarchy, at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, Laos has been ruled by a one-party Communist Government. Although Laos is opening its door to the West, under the 1991 constitution, Laos continues to be a one-party centralized system as specified in the constitution in Article 3: "The rights of the multi-ethnic people to be the masters of the country are exercised and ensured through the functioning of the political system with the Lao People's Revolutionary Party as its leading nucleus".

The most immediate challenge facing the Lao PDR is to consolidate strong and consistent stabilization measures and renew the reform effort to strengthen and continue the positive trends. Structural reforms particularly need to be deepened in the financial sector and the regulatory environment for the private sector, and in productive sectors where there are remaining policy distortions, such as in forestry and agriculture. Seeing through financial sector and state-owned enterprise reforms will be critical to create an enabling environment for the private sector. At the same time, continued investments in education, health, and rural development are high priorities. Additional medium-term challenges will be to continue supporting the sustainable development of the main sources of growth, hydropower and timber, whilst opening up other opportunities in the manufacturing and services sectors. Rural and national infrastructure will also need to be developed to support medium-term growth.

The rural sector accounts for 53 percent of GDP and 80 percent of employment and continues to be important to the Lao PDR economy. There are major constraints, however, to rural development and diversification, including poor rural infrastructure, access to markets and the limited network of all-weather feeder roads. Sustainable rural development and natural resource management will require correcting policy distortions, improving agricultural productivity, and ensuring appropriate forestry management techniques for environmental sustainability.

While there have been significant gains in education in the Lao PDR since 1990, the literacy rate (estimated at 47 percent) is considerably lower than in most neighboring countries, and gender gaps in education are significant. In the area of health, considerable progress has also been made: public health care has expanded in recent years; the country's Expanded Program of Immunization (EPI) has increased its coverage to reach the majority of villages, and; measles has been removed as a major cause of child mortality. However, the coverage of medical facilities and health personnel is still limited and remains of poor quality.

Related links to Laos

Women in politics, governance and decision-making

Women are underrepresented in government and politics; however, women increased their representation in the National Assembly in 1997 elections from 9 percent to 20 percent, as 20 of the 27 female candidates won seats. 

Four members of the 48-member LPRP Central Committee are women, 2 of whom are also members of the 7-member standing committee in the National Assembly.  However, there are no women in the Politburo or the Council of Ministers.

The Constitution provides for equal rights for women, and the Lao Women's Union operates nationally to promote the position of women in society.  Discrimination against women is not generalized; however, varying degrees of traditional culturally based discrimination persist, with greater discrimination practiced by some hill tribes.  Many women occupy responsible positions in the civil service and private business, and in urban areas their incomes are often higher than those of men.  The Family Code prohibits legal discrimination in marriage and inheritance.

Lao women were allowed to vote and stand for election in 1958.

In the period from 1997 through 2000, the Government increased support for the position of women in society in development programs, some of which are designed to increase the participation of women in the political system. In the 1997 elections, women increased their representation in the National Assembly from 9 percent to 21 percent, as 20 of the 27 female candidates won seats bringing the number of women-parliamentarians at 21. Another major breakthrough is one of the vice-presidents of the National Assembly is a woman, H.E. Onechanh Thammavong.

Go to the women leaders section for profiles of select Laotian women leaders. You may also read more about the women's rights situation (2000) in Laos.

Source: 2000 Human Rights Report 

Important political facts

Government type: Multiparty Liberal Democracy under a Constitutional Monarchy

Head of state:President, elected by the National Assembly. The incumbent isGeneral Khamtay Siphandone who is elected in 1998. The president's term of office is five years.

Legislature: Unicameral. The Sapha Heng Xat (National Assembly) has 99 members, elected for a five-year term. At the last elections, the Phak Paxaxôn Pativat Lao/Parti Populaire Révolutionare (Revolutionary People's Party of Laos), won 98 seats. Only one (approved) non-partisan candidate won a seat.

Executive:The head of the government is the Prime Minister, Boungnang Vorachith, who is appointed by the President. The Cabinet, called the Council of Ministers is likewise appointed by the President and approved by the National Assembly.

Most recent elections

Presidential: February 1998
Legislative: February 24, 2002

Major party:Phak Paxaxôn Pativat Lao (Revolutionary People's Party of Laos) is the only party allowed. The party controls ninety-eight seats out of the 99-member parliament. One may contact the party through the Parliament:

National Assembly
Address: N.A. Building, 1 That-Luang Square, P.O. Box 662- VIENTIANE
Tel.: (85621) 413518, 413509, 413511
Cable: National Assembly, Vientiane
Fax: (85621) 41 35 13, 41 40 09, 41 98 49

Political resources

Links to Laos

Women's situation
Important political facts
Political resources