Lao civil society organizations join the 9th Asia-Europe People’s Forum
For the first time in its history, the Lao government has invited independent civil society organizations (CSOs) to work with it, at the organization of the ninth Asia-Europe People's Forum, held in Vientiane in October 2012.
The forum is a great opportunity for widening the space and increasing the visibility and legitimacy of CSOs in Laos. Oxfam supports this process wholeheartedly.
Laos’ CSOs play a key role in the ninth Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF) process. Through them, people at the grass-roots level can raise their voices about those key issues that affect their livelihoods which will be debated during the AEPF later this month.
Lao women organizations can get in contact with women’s organizations from the region and Europe. This is a very important opportunity for them to hear from others how they have managed to create space for women’s voices and what kind of instruments and mechanisms they use to lobby a controlling government.
Civil society organizations have organized provincial consultations with people from various societal (ethnic) groups. To avoid that the AEPF is dominated by international NGOs and CSOs from the capital, a number of people from the provinces have been invited to Vientiane to participate in the workshops.
This participation of Lao CSOs to the AEPF9 is facilitated by the Learning House for Development, a network and physical space for CSOs to come together, to which Oxfam has been giving support since the initiative started.
Creating space to voice Lao people’s opinion
Why is it important for Lao civil society organizations to participate in the AEPF9?
Mr. Vieng Akhone Souriyo from the Lao Positive Health Association and one lead facilitator for the consultation process highlighted that “for the first time mass organizations, CSOs and INGOs are working together to conduct an extensive consultations with a broad spectrum of Lao citizens. It is an indication of the new level of openness and confidence of the Lao government at central and local level to work with different actors in order to reach out and give voice to the Lao citizenry.”
Boutsady Khounnouvong, program coordinator of the Gender Development Association (GDA), one of Oxfam’s partners, expects that “this forum will give us the opportunity to empower and strengthen ourselves by sharing experiences and knowledge with other CSOs from Asia and Europe. Lao women organizations will learn from contacts with women organizations from the region or from Europe.”
Boutsady tells us that for Lao CSOs, important items on the AEPF9 agenda are women’s migration, human trafficking, women with disabilities and land rights for women. “But we are also engaged in organizing a regional women/gender workshop which we might combine with two proposals: ‘Identities, Bodies and Citizenship in Migration’ and ‘Gender and Corporate Social Accountability’.” He expects that the AEPF9 will improve the situation for women in Laos and hopes that in the future the government will be open to the rights of women. “Women’s rights are human rights and should be respected according to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women”.