Lao Princess Savivanh Savang Manivong currently lives in exile in the southern French city of Nice. Educated in Luang Prabang, France and England, the princess served in the court of her father, the king of Laos, until the fall of the monarchy to communist forces in 1975. The rest of the royal family was interned in communist camps and have 'disappeared'.
What follows are excerpts from a 1999 speech and from an interview with RFA’s Lao service:
“In the olden days, Lao women have been compared to the ‘hind legs of the elephant,’ in charge of household chores, of raising children. Because of all these duties and many more, we were called ‘the mother of the household’…”
“Since then, Lao women have had the opportunity to attend school and obtain various degrees in different fields, and they are now professionally and intellectually equal to their male counterparts in all fields and careers. Regardless of their advancement in the workforce or the professions, Lao women still hold true to, and practice the traditional role and behavior of a gentlewoman. We are gracious and poised in every way possible, and most importantly, we are the main keepers of our cultural heritage and tradition. Moreover, Lao women also have an important role in instilling and following the religious rites and practices of Buddhism.”
I am always interested in hearing about Lao women, and I am very concerned about the current problems that they face, especially since these problems have never existed before in Laos.
“Tragically in 1975, an unexpected event occurred in Laos where many husbands and heads of households, were arrested and sent for re-education because of their political affiliation with the previous regime. So the wives, now the heads of the households, had to save the rest of their families by taking them away from their native land and seeking refuge in third countries. Even though Lao women were loyal followers of their husbands, in time of need, and for the sake of their children’s future and happiness, they easily and confidently took the lead role in rescuing their families, providing them with new homes in new lands.”
“I myself was no exception, for I, too, had to weather many storms, many struggles, and much hardship in my life. During my exile, my thoughts and love were with my father, mother, brothers, other relatives, and all those who were taken by the Communists and whose fates were never revealed to anyone. I have traveled to many places, many countries, where, regardless of where they are, Lao women still hold true their dual roles of being a mother and being a worker/professional in their fields.”
“Admirably, they continue to instill religious values, Lao geography, history, cultural heritage and tradition, arts and literature, and Lao, the native language of our country, to their children from generation to generation. Some of them even manage to obtain prestigious degrees and are currently executives in companies and organizations. I proudly applaud them for their outstanding accomplishments.”
“Currently, we Lao women have securely settled down in third countries; however, I am thinking of those of us who are still left behind in our homeland and have to face daily struggles and difficulties in their lives. They have to do what it takes for them, and their families to survive. In addition, there are alarming new threats to Lao women such as AIDS, and drugs which are spreading widely in Laos.”
“I appeal to Lao women, all overseas Lao, to come together and focus our efforts on improving the conditions of our fellow countrymen still in Laos. This is a plea to all Lao women to come together, to pay attention to the fate of the Lao people. Now Lao women can play a significant role in bringing all Lao together to find political means to bring back to our country freedom and democracy, which constitute the prerequisite condition for national development.”
“I am always interested in hearing about Lao women, and I am very concerned about the current problems that they face, especially since these problems have never existed before in Laos. Upon hearing these struggles that face them daily, I am saddened and disheartened about the lives of our Lao women who have to struggle daily with these problems. As far as organizing the prevention and the fight of AIDS is concerned, I have not contacted anyone yet. I think it’s important for these women, for us, to come together and work collectively…”
Original reporting by RFA's Lao service. Edited for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han and Luisetta Mudie. Please continue to send contributions to RFA's Women in Their Own Words project to firstname.lastname@example.org .