Socio-Economic Transformation and Gender Relations in Lao PDR

University dissertation from Umeå : Kulturgeografiska institutionen, Umeå Universitet

Abstract: The aim of this study is to examine socio-economic transformation and gender relations in Lao PDR after the adoption of economic liberalization by the Lao government in the late 1980s. Against a background of general socio-economic transformation in Laos the main focus of the study is on the local level, with emphasis on how people in their everyday lives have engaged with and handled the changes. The application of economic liberalization shaped new conditions for people in local communities, and various livelihoods strategies were adopted under the new circumstances. The study examines gender relations, livelihoods and actors of change in two different contexts of globalization. The first context is the case of foreign direct investment in the Sepone mine, the largest gold-copper mine in the country located in Vilabury district, Savannakhet province. Five villages located close to the mine and directly affected by the operation were chosen as research site. The second case is the context of international tourism development in the small town of Vang Vieng, situated halfway between Vientiane Capital and the world heritage town of Luangprabang. The purpose with the two case studies is to examine how changes take place in different places of the same country under the same political direction and development policy. The study is inspired by theories of space and place and the view that phenomena are place-based and different places are constituted by different socio-spatial relations. The findings show that profound changes took place both in the economic and social-cultural spheres, including in gender relations. The two contexts experienced different processes of changes: in the context of Vilabury district, the transformation was produced through top-down development and created a dependency pattern where new social inequalities and social stratification emerged through unequal access to the new resources of the villagers. In the context of Vang Vieng and the expansion of international tourism, the development process proceeded more through a bottom-up pattern; the villagers perceived they were important actors of development, had more equal access to resources and could define livelihood strategies by themselves.