Australian Embassy
Lao People's Democratic Republic
Km 4, Thadeua Road, Watnak (P.O. Box 292)

Extension of SUSO project with CARE

Extension of SUSO project with CARE
Comments by Australian Ambassador to the Lao PDR, John Williams

22 March 2017, Vientiane

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.  Good afternoon to you all, and thanks for joining us as we formally extend this important partnership with our friends from CARE and the Lao Women’s Union.

At this time of the year, around International Women’s Day, we tend to celebrate women’s advancement, and take stock of what more needs to be done to redress gender inequality.

This year, the Embassy commissioned a series of interviews on our program beneficiaries, to get their perspective on the opportunities and barriers to gender equality and development.  (You can see all these interviews on our facebook page, Australia in Laos.)

Among these interviews was one of ‘Naly’ – Naly is a pseudonym.

Naly is a beneficiary of our Resilient Livelihoods for the Poor project – helping poor rural villagers in southern Laos obtain the assets and knowledge they need to develop a sustainable agribusiness, and to escape poverty through their own hard work and entrepreneurship.

Naly was not only struggling to make ends meet, but was left with her former husband’s debt. In the course of the interview, she revealed her fear of him, how she sleeps at her mother’s house, and planned to save enough money to fix the door of her house so she could live without fear.

I am pleased to say Naly’s door has been fixed.  But sadly hers is not an isolated story.  There are many women in her situation, here in Laos and also in my country, Australia.

Over 30 percent of women in the Lao PDR have experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence in their lifetime, according to the 2014 National Study on Women’s Health and Life Experiences, by the National Commission on the Advancement of Women and the Lao Statistics Bureau.

Violence against women is unacceptable. Anywhere. Anytime.

Eliminating violence against women, everywhere, is a priority of the Australian Government, and a central part of our foreign policy and overseas aid program.  It’s a vital dimension of our work to promote gender equality globally.

Violence against women has a profound and devastating impact on its victims, on communities, and society as a whole.

Violence against women is a symptom of gender inequality, and takes many forms.

But underlying it all, is the idea that women and girls do not have the same importance and rights as men and boys.

This, I believe, is our challenge, one that we must all address in our everyday lives and actions.

We must stop tolerating poor behaviour by men and boys.

We must also make sure our sons respect girls as their equals, and that our daughters realise being a woman does not limit their potential.  

I have zero patience for anyone who suggests to either of my daughters, aged 9 and 11, that there is anything they can’t accomplish in life, yet alone because they are girls.

Ending violence against women is a huge challenge, but one we can address by providing support to those who have been subject to violence.

And by taking a stand against the attitudes and behaviour that allow it to happen.

That is why I am pleased today to announce the second phase of our Standing Up, Speaking Out program, implemented by CARE, in partnership with the Lao Women’s Union.

This program aims to reduce violence against women in Lao PDR through prevention and increased access to community-based response mechanisms.

It will support ‘change agents’ to contribute to changing social norms around Violence Against Women.  To change attitudes that perpetuate the problem.

It will empower men and women, including community leaders, to take action to prevent and respond to Violence Against Women in their communities.

And we hope it will produce more of the evidence and knowledge on the importance of social norm change in the Lao PDR.

The two-year program will be implemented in 10 villages in Sekong, 10  villages in Phongsaly and 20 villages in Vientiane.

This builds on the success of the first two-year phase of Standing Up, Speaking Out, which sparked significant conversations on social media, when 10 prominent Lao men took a stand against violence against women.

I thank and acknowledge the outstanding contribution of each of our 10 SUSO champions, including popular musician Volachith Intharaphithak; Thome Xaisongkham, an INGO worker; and Tingthong Phetsavong, a UN staffer.

They recorded video messages, and spoke out at public events to challenge traditional gender norms and to highlight the problem of domestic violence and its impact on the stability, health and prosperity of local communities.

It is with great pleasure that I will sign the agreement with CARE today, so we can beging working on the next two years of this important collaboration on behalf of all Lao men and women.

To our friends from CARE and the Lao Women’s Union, our partners in this project, thank you for your hard work and outstanding leadership on behalf of women everywhere across the Lao PDR.