Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The influence of culture on ethnic women's use of microfinance for empowerment in Luang Namtha Province, Laos

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posted on 2021-12-08, 15:49 authored by Tongnamavong, Souasong

The empowerment of women is essential but remains challenging globally. It has been supported by microfinance projects, particularly in recent decades across poor countries. Yet the contribution of microfinance to women’s empowerment remains controversial given the complexity of empowerment itself. It is commonly acknowledged that empowerment starts from within individuals themselves. It is also acknowledged that culture plays a significant role in women’s empowerment. Despite these acknowledgements, the complexities remain unclear in the Lao context which is the target of this study. This study examines the contribution of microfinance to the empowerment of women in Laos with a focus on the elements of culture. It is based on a feminist perspective, with a focus on a personal empowerment conceptual framework which enables the core values of empowerment to be examined. The examination is undertaken by employing semistructured interviews and focus groups for data collection with three ethnic groups in northern Laos, namely Hmong, Khmu and Tai-Yuan, participating in the Access to Finance for the Poor (AFP) project. The results show that the approach of the AFP project tends to meet women’s practical needs rather than their strategic needs. This is because the project’s approach appears to be influenced by the national approach of Laos in which the provision of opportunities for women is emphasised. It is also because ethnic women’s participation in the project is driven by so many practical needs that it makes their strategic needs invisible. The results also revealed that the women’s strategic needs are diverse, due to their particular culture and traditions. The results showed several gaps in the empowerment of women in the country. If these gaps are to be closed, there is a need for efforts from many stakeholders, particularly in the education sector, as the gender agenda needs to be integrated into its national curriculum.  Keywords: women’s empowerment, microfinance, village banks, culture, Laos


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Development Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Development Studies

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

University Library

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Overton, John