The Association for the Development and Promotion of Women's Leadership (ADPWL) is Laos’ first sex worker-led community-based organization. Governed, managed, and operated by sex workers, ADPWL received full registration by the Laos government in 2022 and works to develop and mobilize a strong and resilient sex worker rights movement for the protection and fulfillment of sex workers’ human rights.  

In 2018 sex workers from across Laos joined together in Vientiane at the National Conference on Community Empowerment and Human Rights, organized by the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW). Empowered by their experience with rights-based training, a key group of sex workers began exploring the possibility of establishing an organization to address community needs. The workers reached out to APNSW for technical support and established ADPWL in 2019.

ADPWL is committed to meeting the critical needs and advancing key priorities for sex workers in Laos. ADPWL works to strengthen capacity of sex workers to raise our voices in demand of our right to live free from violence, stigma and discrimination, and empowers sex worker ownership of initiatives impacting our communities. ADPWL’s organizational strength is built upon innovative programming and advocacy aligned to community-identified needs, knowledge gained from peer learning among sex work projects across Southeast Asia, and successful resource mobilization. With APNSW’s ongoing technical support, ADPWL is growing in its capacity as an organization and moving forward the sex workers’ movement in Laos

ADPWL's Vision

ADPWL is dedicated to realizing the fundamental human rights of sex workers in Laos. We envision a Laos where sex workers’ self-determination is respected within an environment free from stigma, discrimination, and violence, and where all marginalized communities enjoy equal respect and protection of their rights, status, and dignity. We strive for a social order free from discrimination based on class, gender, religion, or occupation to cultivate the conditions necessary for Laotian people to live in peace and recover from the conflicts of the late 20th century.

ADPWL's Mission

ADPWL’s mission is to catalyze a process of social change which realizes and affirms the rights, dignity and social protection of all sex workers in Laos. We work to build solidarity and collective strength among sex workers and mobilize the sex worker rights movement as a key ally and driving force for the rights of marginalized people in Laos.

ADPWL objective 

To realize the full protection and expression of sex workers’ rights, ADPWL works towards the following key objectives:

·   Empower and mobilize sex workers to take collective action for our rights

·   Promote, respect and protect the fundamental human, health, and labor rights of sex workers

·   End stigma, discrimination, and violence against sex workers in all its forms

·   Develop partnerships and collaborations with key allies and stakeholders to meet the needs and advocate for the priorities of sex workers

·   Advocate with decision-makers and stakeholders to remove structural barriers to sex workers’ rights, with full decriminalization and reform of all forms of legal oppression

Undertake community-driven research to develop an evidence-base to advocate for rights-based policies, programs, and services impacting sex worker communities  

ADPWL Core Values 

Core Values are the most central and basic features of an organization. Every organization has Core Values, whether they have been clearly defined or not, and they rarely change over time. Thus, if we want to find out what an organization is really all about, we should seek to know what its Core Values are, and the degree to which they are respected by staff in their work. 


Women, men, transgender, and gender-diverse sex workers and non sex workers have equal rights to meaningful involvement in decision-making affecting their lives.


We recognize that sex work is work and sex workers have every right to determine our lives and livelihoods with full access to labor rights and protections.


We are committed to supporting the self-organization and self-determination of sex workers. We work together effectively to serve the larger community and constantly challenge ourselves to the highest levels of learning and performance to achieve greater impact in the lives of sex workers.


We are transparent with our community, donors, stakeholders and within our organization.

Priority issue and ADPWL response

ADPWL is the first organization in Laos to address sex worker community issues and mobilize sex workers to assert our power to protect our rights. Though the movement for sex workers’ rights in Laos is in its infancy, ADPWL aims to disrupt the multiple and intersecting systems of violence which violate sex workers’ rights daily. We recognize that the key challenges impacting sex workers’ human rights are rooted in structural and societal systems of anti-sex worker discrimination and violence, and sex workers who have multiple identities experience multiple layers of intersectional harm.

The culture of violence against sex workers in Laos is maintained by the criminalization and legal oppression of our communities which excludes sex workers from the protection and support of health, justice, and social services. Exacerbating our social exclusion, the criminalization of sex work produces significant negative impacts on community health and safety. Police violence targeting our communities is a pervasive and critical concern and is the direct result of the criminalization of our workforce. Criminalization also exacerbates vulnerability to poor health outcomes. ADPWL is hearing from our community that many sex workers ask for STI treatment, but do not have access to clinical services. Sex workers are disproportionately impacted by STIs and HIV but are denied comprehensive and accessible services in violation of our sexual and reproductive health rights. Sex workers urgently need access to a rights-affirming sexual and reproductive health clinic.

To protect against the institutional and social violence of criminalization and stigma, many sex workers choose not to disclose their work status and thus remain a hidden population whose needs and priorities are not captured or reflected in national health, justice, or social protection frameworks. To establish an accurate understanding of the characteristics, experience, and needs of sex working communities, ADPWL is committed to undertaking critical community-driven research to develop an evidence-base reflecting the situation of sex workers’ rights in Laos. ADPWL works to capture the community’s fundamental expertise, knowledge, and understanding of the context and conditions of sex workers’ rights to ensure sex workers are not invisibilized and to develop guidance and advocacy for evidence- and rights-based laws, policies, and practices impacting sex worker communities.  

Community empowerment and leadership building is the key to working with the marginalized. stigmatize isolated and vulnerable populations. ADPWL organized a series of trainings with sex workers with the aim of empowering them and building leadership from them