Mai weaves for her children’s futures

Photo: 32-year-old Mai is one of the many women who have benefitted from ChildFund’s Improving Gender Equality and Livelihood Security program in Laos

Across the world, only 50 per cent of working age women are represented in the labour force, compared to 76 per cent of men. Unfortunately, this means that many women have little say-so when it comes to financial decision-making within their families.

At ChildFund, equipping girls and women with the skills and training to make informed life decisions, and develop secure livelihoods, is a key aspect of our work. On International Women's Day (8 March), we celebrate women like 32-year-old Mai, who are actively improving the economic position of their family and local community.

Mai, a mother of two, lives in small village in Nonghet District, northern Laos. With a population of less than 500, about half are female. Traditionally, economic opportunities for women in Mai’s village have been limited.

Like 80 per cent of the people in her area, Mai comes from a farming family. Along with looking after the household, she helps her husband plant corn seasonally. This provides an income for the family – although not very much.

Even paying for her family's basic necessities – food, healthcare, electricity, and school fees for the children – has been difficult: “Each year, the expenses of my family are greater than our income, because the money from selling corn is never enough.”

Looking for ways to increase their earnings, Mai and her husband began weaving basket traps to catch fish about three years ago. Making just one of these baskets would take several days and the income from selling these – around A$0.50 – did not go far.

After hearing the village chief advise that ChildFund Laos had developed a special vocational training program just for women, Mai got excited. To her mind, this program would enable her to develop skills, and give her the ability to earn a formal income – independent of her husband.

“Since the training, I now spend eight hours a day weaving, after I’ve finished the housework,” says Mai.

Mai weaves Lao skirts based on patterns provided by ChildFund, as well as her own creative designs. She can weave and complete around seven pieces of clothing every month; of which she sells each piece for A$17.00 to local traders – enabling her to earn over A$100.00 each month.

“Our family income is a lot higher now, thanks to the skills I’ve learnt from the vocational training conducted by ChildFund. Being able to weave garments has really enabled me to provide more for my children.”

“I’ve been able to buy new school uniforms and essential school items for my children. I’m glad, as I no longer have to worry about not being able to afford it.”

Empowering women like Mai to earn their own income has a positive impact on the overall wellbeing of families: “The position I have in my family has changed. It’s not like before when all I did was housework and help my husband. I didn’t have much power in my family to make financial decisions. But now I do.”

Looking for ways to increase their earnings, Mai and her husband began weaving basket traps to catch fish about three years ago.