Women’s solidarity and their hopes in a pandemic era
By Bounyali Souvankham, Linking, Learning and Amplifier Officer Laos
Recently, the Voice team in Laos interviewed women members of the Informal Worker Advancement Association (IWAA) previously known as HomeNet Laos (HNL) These women have demonstrated the power of women working together, they shared their lifestyle and current well-being in the second wave of Covid-19 in Laos.
Traditionally, married Lao women were responsible for caring for the household and family members. This responsibility was adopted by women to allow their spouses to go to work and earn an income to cover the household expenses. However, in the modern era, the primary household breadwinner is no longer limited to a single-gender.
Women would use their ‘me time’ to do activities they enjoyed besides their duties such as taking care of their families. Specifically, handicraft work gave them additional income based on the quality and quantity of their products. These types of jobs are classified as informal labor.
The women were able to exchange and share information, knowledge, and experiences as a result of this. As opposed to selling their products separately, collaborating as a group added value to these products and enabled fairer price negotiations with investors/buyers because the groups could agree on a uniform price to avoid fluctuation of prices or being taken advantage of. Besides that, members of the group can divide the work according to their ability, competency, and convenience. Ms. Kongmany the vice president of the association acknowledged the importance of women working in groups and supporting one another.
“It’s always important to strike a balance between work and health. Aside from the product quality and quantity, our health is something to be mindful of; we must always be reminded not to push ourselves to the point of ruining our well-being.” Ms. Kongmany, always reinforced this with members.
Members of the association revealed that the most visible effect of the lockdown on the Informal Workers Association reduced their purchasing power and demand in the market, which in turn affected their income. Members of the association relied on their savings as their income was inconsistent.
The group recognized and understood this issue. Members began to save and established a welfare fund from which members could borrow money whenever they needed it, they avoided taking informal loans at they came with exorbitant interest rates. This initiative builds on previous experiences. The ability of groups to be creative is critical for economic sustainability and well-being.
“The second phase of lockdown had been very difficult for us. The majority of our materials are sourced from Thailand, where the Lao Kip is currently depreciating against the Thai Baht. Fewer buyers resulted from the restriction on inter-provincial travel, and people had also become more conscious of what they spent their money on. Because of these factors, many sellers have had to lower their prices, leaving us with barely enough profit to cover our expenses. With IWAA’s support, we received both financial support and encouragement –the true motivator –allows traditional handicrafts to thrive.” Ms. Thongla, a member of the association added.
Ms Thongla further stressed that keeping traditional handicrafts alive and passing them down to future generations is already difficult in this day and age. The complexity of handicrafts and their low financial return has been severely hampered by the vagaries of Covid-19.
“No matter how tough it will be, we women as an association are working extremely hard to ensure that this tradition and value is carried on with pride and appreciated by the younger generation”.