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Marking a place for Lao women on International Women's Day

It’s International Women’s Day. The only official day the women of the world get to have a piece of acknowledgment, commemoration, be cherished, and to just simply take a break and relax. After all, we work damn hard. And today, it’s a special nod to all Lao women who conquer the smallest and largest challenges of our time.

I’m talking about the empowered Lao women who held her place to: de-mine UXOs, weave endless textiles, raise children post-war, and simply for for all they’ve done to bring calm through the chaos of gender-based inequalities and socio-political struggles that plague our communities. Take note, Lao women ARE paving transformative journeys for themselves and we’re seeing a transition of acceptance and respect for their impact in our communities and changing the role of the ‘Lao woman’ forever.

The typical saying goes in our community: Lao women are good with their hands. Good to cook, clean, raise children, make bamboo crafts, and of course, to weave us traditional clothing. It’s clear we’re not dispensable nor are we only regarded in the domestic sphere of the comforting home, but Lao women who are making their mark and reserving their places in our communities should be surfaced and seen.

These are Lao women in Laos and across diaspora communities from Minnesota to Australia who work towards the betterment of not only our unstable communities but changing the path for Lao women’s futures.

The impact of women have been documented and highly acknowledged by civil society organizations, UN agencies, and local NGOs who witness the social movements headed by women and how it changed their opportunities and societal norms forever (i.e. Burma’s Aung Sung Suu Kyi, Liberia’s Leymah Gbowee, etc.).  When the shift in power go to women; the progressive steps towards peace, stability, and democracy increases. I’m not surprised. Often their progressive journey, defeats, and successes go unnoticed because quite frankly, they often work in silence and under the radar of the masses and the media’s glaring eyes.

Let’s start here at home. In Minnesota. Reach out to your mother, grandmothers, daughters, sisters and aunts. Find the restaurants, salons, businesses, and nonprofits run by women. Listen to their stories, their struggles, their craft on how the live every day. The more we can share stories of their journey, the more we can make it a habit of envisioning the empowering role of Lao women for social change. No fancy degrees and no perfect lives are necessary to accomplish this. After all, why leave out and disregard our own mothers who barely had access to quality education and resorted to survival mode for us to have our basic needs met in America?

On March 8, 2012 in Laos: The ministry’s Women’s Union Vice President, Ms Somchit Phomsavanh, briefed participants on the day’s history, women’s movements around the world and in the country, and the position and policies of the international community and the Lao government. Pictured: former members of the ministry and Lao Women’s Union.  Article here. 

I’m celebrating this year for the first time as a mother-to-be of a baby Dragon and whether it’s a boy or girl, I don’t want this Lao American to grow up limited to potential idolization of the likes of Anne Curry, Jackie Chan, or even Justin Lin. I want them to one day say along the lines of “Hey mom, I wanna grow up to be just like that Lao American!”

Can we make this happen? Of course. It starts with you and me and realizing the role of Lao women. Why Lao women? Because we have to create and continue to nurture the cultural environment for Lao Americans by addressing the underserved gender. They deserve it. Our future Lao children deserve it.

It’s not only the first ever Miss Minnesota Nitaya Panemalaythong who should get the locals’ attention, but I can name many more local Lao American heroines that I work side by side with who are worthy of that same title.

I’m happy to be sharing some of these Lao women’s stories at this Saturday’s Lao Voices Mini-Festival. The community can finally honor some of these women, once and for all. Come out and celebrate them with me. Event details here:


Check out this World Bank STEP initiative to help young entrepreneurs in Laos: 

UNFPA on importance of gender equality –

UN Women Watch –

10 Ways to Celebrate International Women’s Day –

How other countries celebration International Women’s Day –

-Chanida Phaengdara Potter

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