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The Lao Women’s Union (LWU) was originally established in 1955 to mobilize women for the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. Over forty years later, it has a membership of some 600,000 women nation-wide. In 1991 the LWU was recognized under the Constitution of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) as having responsibility for:
As the only institution in Laos then formally recognized as having responsibility for advocating for women’s rights and gender concerns, the LWU had a unique opportunity to influence policies, plans and practices of both government and non-government organizations with respect to the needs and status of women in Lao PDR.
In January 2006, the first women's shelter in Lao PDR was officially opened in Vientiane. The name of this shelter is the Lao Women’s Union Counseling and Protection Center for Women and Children. The shelter was made possible through the dedicated work of the Lao Women’s Union, the Lao Government who donated a plot of land for this shelter, UNICEF, the Asia Foundation, and the Japanese Embassy.
The shelter can house up to 50 women and girls who are the victims of domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and trafficking, or are abandoned or homeless. The shelter also has a vocational center that trains the women and girls living in the shelter on new job skills, such as handicrafts, sewing, and basic business management.
In Laos, the Asia Foundation provided technical assistance to the Lao Women's Union (LWU) to draft a comprehensive women's rights bill, passed in 2004, with components to combat human trafficking. Foundation assistance included supporting national surveys to generate support for the bill, translating relevant foreign laws and international standards, facilitating public hearings, and organizing study tours to expose the LWU to other nations' legal reform processes.
The LWU also promotes educational activities that contribute to the eradication of illiteracy, in order to achieve gender equality and the emancipation of women.
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