Led by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women at the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG), this conference engaged in a number of topics surrounding gender inequality in South-East Asia, specifically in Laos. First addressing the imbalanced gender ratios in education, a lack of data in Laos’ unsystematic education system was evinced, rendering some conclusions drawn in a recent CEDAW report dubious. Remaining in the education sector, the conversation shifted to whether educational capacity investment is being matched by the necessary supporting infrastructure. Developing countries often suffer from virtuous investment being deployed in silos – in Laos’ case, girls seeking education are frequently burdened by inordinate transportation costs or distances. Dual-gender class resistance was another complication barring women from entering education, particularly when educational capacity is limited. Furthermore, there was a floor-wide call to gather more data regarding which educational paths girls are pursuing. If women are being driven into traditionally female fields such as cooking or needlecraft, presenting uncategorised educational data could belie its message. Laos’ 25% female inclusion targets was criticized as too low and as sending the wrong public message about social ideals.
Keeping education in focus, more data was requested regarding the impact that premature pregnancy has on educational drop-out rates amongst women. Collecting such data would provide more precise insights into targeting responsible sexual behaviour and sexual education. However, high birth, maternal death and female STD rates point to ineffective sexual education efforts in Laos. Building on this, it was posited that women are too often seen just as procreators and mothers. This makes efforts to assuage high maternal death rates too parochial. Specifically, are there lifestyle choices or societal pressures that increase a woman’s risk of retracting fatal diseases that are independent of gender? Is this an unaddressed dimension when discussing high maternal death rates? The floor also enquired into how Laos’ illegal abortion rates, unsafe abortion rates and its current prohibitive abortion policies contribute to its substandard maternal death rates.
Moving onto gender violence, four forms of women-directed violence were outlined: physical, phycological, sexual and economic property violence. This delineates four avenues to approach female discrimination by with to approach Laos’ current state of affairs, although they were not elaborated upon in the conference. In closing, the panel was questioned whether current Laos gender equality programs are financially designed to withstand funding cuts, or are they more comparable to ‘window shop’ programs.
Date and Time: Friday, 2 November 2018
Location: Salle XVI, Palais des Nations, Geneva
Speakers: Hilary Gbedemah (UNHCR), Mr. Gunnar Bergby (OHCHR), Magalys Arocha Dominguez (OHCHR)
Countries represented: Laos People’s Democratic Republic
Bodies represented: Author: WIT Representative, Farri Gaba