Equity Within the Lao PDR Non-Profit Labor Market

With a constitution that espouses socialist virtues of equality and solidarity, women in Laos still face structural inequities in labor participation, pay, and organizational policies that are not inclusive.  Despite the country's economic growth, these economic disparities for women are still present.

In the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), economic growth has been steadily increasing in the last two decades, with the Lao PDR cutting their national poverty rate in half.[i]  However, wealth disparities, including a gender pay gap, still exist among this community with 30% of Lao citizens remaining under the poverty line.[ii],[iii],[iv] Though Lao has one of the highest labor force participation rates for women in the region, with 76% of women working in 2011, various forms of discrimination that contribute to this wealth gap are still apparent in the workplace.[v]

The amended 2013 Labor Law attempted to address these forms of discrimination by issuing provisions for women in areas such as occupational safety, health and maternity benefits, and non-discrimination principles (e.g. equal pay, unemployment benefits, etc.).[vi]  However, the vague nature and lack of definition of what constitutes as discrimination allows for instances of gender inequality and social exclusion for women and other marginalized communities in the workplace, even in Nonprofit Associations (NPAs) aimed to combat this.

GESI Analysis: A tool to Understand Inequality in Local Organizations

A Gender Equity and Social Inclusion (GESI) analysis is used to determine and examine the different rights, roles, and opportunities of marginalized social groups in a specific community. As part of the USAID’s Laos Local Solutions Support Program, implemented by RTI, the team conducted an extensive GESI analysis of local gender inequality and impediments to social inclusion in the organizational capacity development field of several NPAs in Lao PDR.

A comprehensive literature review and the use of GESI questions in interviews and focus groups with local organizations were conducted to gather primarily qualitative data to inform this analysis. The analysis covered how local organizations are integrating GESI into their service delivery, their activities, and the work they do in communities and how local organizations internally integrate GESI in their policies and practices.  This data was analyzed and summarized in a brief analysis report. Actionable recommendations were provided to improve activities targeting social inclusion and promote inclusivity overall in a Gender and Inclusive Development Action Plan (GDAP).

The Findings: Policies Largely on Paper, Not in Practice

Our findings showed that while most NPAs integrate GESI into their internal policies and regulations, these rules are not implemented in practice and are often more general and theoretical.  Only 8 out of the 28 NPAs interviewed responded that they explicitly support women, and disadvantaged and ethnic minority groups to improve their livelihoods.

Additionally, while roughly 65% of organizations we interviewed have integrated GESI into their internal policies and procedures, they focused primarily on equal access to employment. The policies and procedures did not cover gender-based violence within the organizations or marginalized persons’ capability to influence decision-making in NPAs.

Findings further indicated several levels of exclusion and limitations that the analysis organized into the following four GESI domains of analysis:

  • Access: Challenges to obtaining jobs or workforce benefits for women and other marginalized communities (especially from rural and poor populations) based on social attitudes, gender role assumptions, and education still exist.

  • Agency: There is a lack of inclusive participation, equal representation, and decision-making by marginalized populations in households, community structures, and NPAs.

  • Engagement: While there are opportunities to strengthen coordination, involvement, and capacity, limited involvement among marginalized populations in NPA activities and community engagement (often due to lack of income) and violence against women are still prevalent.

  • Enabling Environment: Previous cultural and social norms (e.g. cultural exclusion and lack of access to education, healthcare, and other social services) had lasting effects and limitations on marginalized groups in the community.

The Recommendations: Take Action for Policy to Become Practice

With the identification of these gaps of inequity for marginalized communities in organizations in Lao PDR, RTI and the Laos Local Solutions Support Program staff developed a GDAP that contains actionable items for NPAs to take to address the issues, including but not limited to:

  • Integrating GESI knowledge into context analysis and their activities

  • Including more community voices into project and service planning processes

  • Encouraging collaboration and training opportunities to transfer GESI knowledge across NPAs

  • Establishing internal policies and procedures such as GESI codes of conduct, senior-level focal points and offering whistleblower protections among others

GESI analyses could be the difference between theoretical and practical implementation when striving towards equity, and RTI is on the cutting edge. While GESI analyses are becoming more common, in the last year or so, at the time of conducting RTI’s first GESI Analysis (in Haiti in early 2019), no other methodologies for GESI analyses, and few reports, were publicly available. With continued efforts similar to this 2020 analysis report for Lao PDR with an accompanied GDAP, we can support communities with evidence-based guidance needed to work towards inclusivity.


PI: Sarah Frazer

Citation: RTI International. 2020. Gender Equity & Social Inclusion in Organizational Capacity Development. Local Solutions Support Program. U.S. Agency for International Development.



[i] The United Nations in Lao PDR (2015). "Country Analysis Report: Lao PDR" http://www.la.one.un.org/images/Country_Analysis_Report_Lao_PDR.pdf

[ii] King, E., and Dominique van de Walle. "Ethno-linguistic diversity and disadvantage." Indigenous peoples, poverty and development 50 (2010).

[iii] OECD Development Center (2019). "Social Institutions & Gender Index Lao PDR" https://www.genderindex.org/wp content/uploads/files/datasheets/2019/LA.pdf

[iv] The United Nations in Lao PDR (2015). "Country Analysis Report: Lao PDR" http://www.la.one.un.org/images/Country_Analysis_Report_Lao_PDR.pdf

[v] Association for Development of Women and Legal Education (ADWLE) (2016), Capacity Assessment Report – CEDAW implementation in Lao PDR. http://adwlelaos.org/adwle-research-report-capacity-assessment-report-cedaw-implementation-in-lao-pdr/

[vi]International Labour Organization (2013). “Labour Law, 2013” https://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/natlex4.detail?p_isn=96369&p_lang=en