The SIGI 2023 profile for Lao People’s Democratic Republic (hereafter “Lao PDR”) provides a comprehensive overview of the state of gender equality in the country, as measured by the OECD’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI).1 The fifth edition of the SIGI, released in 2023, assesses 140 countries based on the level of gender-based discrimination in their social institutions. These discriminatory social institutions encompass both formal and informal laws, as well as social norms and practices that restrict women’s and girls’ access to rights, justice, empowerment opportunities and resources, thereby undermining their agency and authority.

In 2023, Lao PDR obtained a SIGI score of 25, denoting low levels of discrimination, compared to an average score of 39 in Southeast Asia, denoting medium levels of discrimination and a world average score of 29.2 The country obtained a score of 28 in the “Restricted physical integrity” dimension, followed by “Discrimination in the family” (25), “Restricted access to productive and financial resources” (25), and “Restricted civil liberties” (23).

The legal system in Lao PDR is based on civil law, with influence from the socialist legal system and traditions of the country’s ethnic groups (Council of ASEAN Chief Justices, n.d.[2]). The Constitution of Lao PDR, as amended, recognises the existence of indigenous customary law in the country. Article 8 of the Constitution specifies that “the State pursues the policy of promoting unity and equality among all ethnic groups. All ethnic groups have the right to protect, preserve and promote the fine customs and cultures of their own tribes and of the nation. All acts creating division and discrimination among ethnic groups are prohibited. The State implements every measure to gradually develop and upgrade the socio-economic levels of all ethnic groups” (Lao People's Democratic Republic, 1991[3]). Yet, Article 10 of the Constitution stipulates that “the State governs the society through the provisions of the Constitution and the laws. Party and state organisations, the Lao Front for National Construction, mass organisations, social organisations and all citizens must function within the bounds of the Constitution and the laws” (Lao People's Democratic Republic, 1991[3]).

Articles 8, 9 and 35 of the Constitution, as amended, and Article 8 of the Law on Gender Equality recognise and prohibit multiple and intersectional discrimination – which constitutes an essential element to enhance gender equality (Lao People's Democratic Republic, 1991[3]; Lao People's Democratic Republic, 2019[4]). Lao PDR ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1981, without any reservations (United Nations, 1979[5]; United Nations, 2023[6]).

Gender-disaggregated, gender-relevant and intersectional data and indicators are essential to better identify policy areas that have strong linkages with gender. In Lao PDR, there are no applicable legal provisions regulating the production and dissemination of gender statistics.

Laws in Lao PDR grant women and men equal rights in most aspect of their lives. In the private sphere, the legal framework guarantee women’s rights in the household, including in terms of divorce and inheritance, and protects girls from child marriage. However, the presence of deeply rooted customary and informal laws, notably among ethnic minority groups, weakens the protection offered by the law and threaten women’s rights. In the economic sphere, the law also grants women and men equal rights to own and use key assets such as land or financial instruments. On the practice side, 59% of employees in a managerial position are women, which is more than twice the global average (25%). Finally, in the public and civil sphere, the law also protects women’s rights, despite the absence of gender political quotas.

Despite the protection offered by the law, girl child marriage remains a severe issue in Lao PDR, with 23% of girls aged 15-19 who were or are still married, and 33% of women aged 20-24 who were married or in a union before the age of 18. Moreover, laws insufficiently protect women’s physical integrity and contains specific loopholes. For example, the law on rape, although based on the notion of lack of consent, requires proof of physical force. Likewise, abortion is authorised under most circumstances, but not if the pregnancy results from an incest. Finally, in the economic sphere, the law fails to mandate the principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value and does not provide for a paid paternity leave.


[2] Council of ASEAN Chief Justices (n.d.), Laos, (accessed on 1 October 2023).

[4] Lao People’s Democratic Republic (2019), Law on Gender Equality.

[3] Lao People’s Democratic Republic (1991), Constitution of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

[1] OECD (2023), “Social Institutions and Gender Index (Edition 2023)”, OECD International Development Statistics (database), (accessed on 10 January 2024).

[7] OECD Development Centre/OECD (2023), “Gender, Institutions and Development (Edition 2023)”, OECD International Development Statistics (database), (accessed on 11 January 2024).

[6] United Nations (2023), Status of Treaties: Chapter IV - 8. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,

[5] United Nations (1979), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women,


← 1. The full SIGI Country Profile for Lao PDR is available at: OECD Development Centre (2023), “Lao PDR”, SIGI 2023 Country Profiles, OECD,

← 2. SIGI scores range from 0 to 100, with 0 indicating no discrimination and 100 indicating absolute discrimination. Levels of discrimination in the SIGI and its dimensions are assessed based on scores as follow: very low [0-20]; low [20-30]; medium [30-40]; high [40-50]; and very high [50-100].

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