Women's economic contribution in one Laotian village is now seen to be as important as their role as mothers and wives, as a result of UNFPA assistance. Villagers now have access to reproductive health information and services, too, thanks to the efforts of the Fund and its national partners, the Lao Women's Union and the Ministry of Health.
Ban Bo Piet is a village of 54 households in one of the most inaccessible mountainous areas of the Lao People's Democratic Republic. It was settled in 1993 by a previously nomadic group that practised slash-and-burn subsistence farming. Poverty and malnutrition were prevalent. Agricultural production is slowly changing to commercial production, including rice and pig farming.
UNFPA helped start a seed fund so the community's women could begin cultivating cardamom, an environmentally friendly and productive cash crop. The village has two reproductive health volunteers, who provide information and promote services that include family planning counselling. One has just attended a gender and reproductive health course organized by the women's union with UNFPA support.
"Before I became a volunteer, no one in my village knew about family planning, gender issues or male involvement," she says. "We would marry very young, carry out all of the domestic work and have no time for ourselves or for helping in the fields, especially when we had so many children. We now know about HIV/AIDS prevention, family planning methods and where health services are located. We have also encouraged our husbands to help us at home."
"We all support the reproductive health programme because it helps us break out of the cycle of poverty," says the village chief. “We understand well that better health for women is linked to smaller families and better nutrition for our children."