While those in urban Laos manage the extended lockdown of the nation, ethnic minority women in remote communities are facing the protracted reality of issues that predated the pandemic including malnutrition, gender-based violence, and discrimination.
Although the communities themselves are isolated, villages in rural Laos (many of which belong to ethnic minority groups) do not have the privilege of physical distancing in a time of global emergency. Remote communities have spent generations adapting and coping collectively in the absence of access to public services, WASH and health infrastructures. This strategy, however, has significant limitations, and adds a burden to women who are often the primary caregivers of rural households. They are typically the ones caring for children, older people and the sick—often to the detriment of their own wellbeing.
CARE International has been active in Laos since 1993, working with those hardest to reach through the Remote Ethnic Women programme and Marginalized Urban Women programme. They are now working in collaboration with Plan International to tackle the global pandemic with a project funded through Start Fund COVID-19. Together they will work with local government to fortify health systems at the district levels, while engaging with communities to share information on life-saving practices.
Laos is the most ethnically diverse country in South East Asia, with over 50 ethnic groups and 85 dialects. However only a few of them have a written form, and Lao is the official national language. This creates a critical barrier in accessing timely information and health services for remote ethnic women, the majority of whom do not speak Lao. Frontline healthcare workers are predominantly Lao speakers and national updates are given almost exclusively in Lao.
Hence, CARE will work to provide translations of health updates from the Ministry of Health into ethnic dialects for dissemination across village loudspeakers, as well as to adapt government-approved health and hygiene information into visually-based inclusive media. These messages are expected to reach approximately 400 villages in six provinces, meeting the needs of many vulnerable communities across Laos.
Written by CARE International in Laos