|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
Chamber A, 769th & 770th Meetings (AM & PM)
Women’s anti-discrimination committee experts express concern at suriname’s
Slow implementation of convention, despite abundance of plans, policies
Director-Coordinator for Gender Introduces Report,
Says New Government Strongly Committed to Improving Lives of Women
Concerned at the slow pace of progress in Suriname’s implementation of the Women’s Convention despite an abundance of visionary plans, policies and programmes, expert members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women agreed today that, while that country knew what needed to be done, it had yet to achieve tangible results, as it took up Suriname’s periodic report.
Recalling pledges to reform discriminatory legislation at Suriname’s last interactive discussion with the Committee in 2002, and its acknowledgement of the problem as early as 1993, when the Convention entered into force in the country, several experts emphasized the need for a clear time frame for amending discriminatory laws in Suriname’s Penal Code, Personnel Act and laws relating to marriage and inheritance. Existing discriminatory laws needed to be repealed, and new legislation introduced to advance equality of women, one expert said, noting discriminatory provisions of the nationality law also remained in place. Strengthening the country’s legislative framework for implementing the Convention and making it applicable at the domestic level should be the Government’s priority, experts said.
Emphasizing the need for concrete steps tied with concrete time frames, experts also recommended that the Government adopt special temporary measures in keeping with the Convention to accelerate the advancement of Surinamese women. Describing an apparent disconnect between gender equality and human rights issues in the Government’s thinking, one expert, echoing the concern of others, said the challenge was translating the ideology of human rights into actions and plans that made a difference. Based on the dignity of each person, the framework of human rights treaties should be used for every country’s planning, whether it was the Beijing Platform for Action or the Millennium Development Goals, one expert said. Incorporating the Convention into the programme to achieve those goals would be like killing two birds with one stone, another expert added.
Concerned about the Government’s reliance on non-governmental organizations and civil society groups in addressing the issue of stereotypes, experts stressed the need for the Government to assume its primary responsibility in removing the obstacles to gender equality and setting the pace for much-needed change. It was an important obligation -- just as important as the country’s obligation under the Convention’s other articles, one expert said. While collaboration with civil society was important, the issue of stereotypes needed to be seriously addressed with all the force at the Government’s disposal.
With the Caribbean region second only to sub-Saharan Africa in terms of HIV/AIDS prevalence, several experts also stressed the importance of tackling the issues of trafficking of women and prostitution. In that regard, the Government needed to identify the drivers of prostitution and adopt legislation that dealt with those who used the services provided by prostitutes. The girls of the Maroon and interior communities were regularly used for prostitution, especially when multinationals came in to exploit the interior, one expert said. It was not enough to say that prostitution was the oldest profession. Prostitution was not about sex, but exploitation and the power men wielded over women. Strong laws were needed, therefore, to protect girls and women.
Praising the delegation for its frankness in responding to the issues raised during the daylong debate and noting that the oral presentation had augmented the information provided in Suriname’s written report, experts stressed the urgent need for a sound statistical base on which to gauge progress in implementing the Convention, especially among indigenous communities. Experts also cautioned against relying on consultants in writing Suriname’s next report, which they hoped would be on time and indicate substantial progress.
Introducing the report, Jeffrey Joemmanbaks, Director-Coordinator for Gender, highlighting recent developments, noted that a subsidiary body of the Ministry of Justice and Police was currently revising the Penal Code, including a more precise definition of the concept of violence against women. Specific provisions would also be formulated to protect boys, girls and minors, as well as combat marital rape, human trafficking and prostitution. The Ministry of Home Affairs was extending the term of the Committee on Gender Legislation. The Committee’s task would be to test national legislation against conventions and to present concrete legislative amendments to the Government. It would also elaborate on an earlier proposal for a bill on equal treatment of men and women in which positive discrimination would be incorporated.
Regarding the Convention’s status, he explained that the country had to make special provisions in national legislation, as the Convention was not directly applicable in the national law. Judges had the authority to invoke the articles of the Convention, however. For that reason, the Penal and the Criminal Codes needed to be amended, along with some other provisions of the law. Aware of its responsibilities under the Convention, the Government was strongly committed to improving the lives of women. With the new coalition Government in place following the 2005 general elections, the specific needs of women, including the wishes of the interior communities, would now be addressed with more political backbone.
Chamber A of the Committee will meet again tomorrow, 26 January, at 10 a.m. to consider the combined initial, second and third periodic reports of Tajikistan.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to take up Suriname’s third periodic report.
Introduction of Report
Suriname’s delegation, which was headed by Jeffrey Joemmanbaks, Director-Coordinator for Gender, also included: Irma Loemban Tobing-Klein, Adviser to the Ministry of Home Affairs on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women issues; Chitra Mohanlal, Head of the National Bureau for Gender Issues; Raymond Landveld, Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Suriname to the United Nations; and Miriam MacIntosh, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of Suriname to the United Nations.
Introducing the report, Mr. JOEMMANBAKS said Suriname had developed a number of measures since March 2002. His presentation would also touch on highlights since December 2006. Discrimination was defined in the Surinamese legislation by article 8, paragraph 2 of the Constitution, and article 126 bis of the Penal Code. Gender discrimination was prohibited in national legislation, and article 35, paragraph 2 of the Constitution explicitly laid down the equality of men and women. A subsidiary body of the Ministry of Justice and Police was currently revising the Penal Code. One of the proposed adjustments was a more precise definition of the concept of violence against women and increasing the penalty in case of discrimination of violence against women. Specific provisions would also be formulated to protect boys, girls and minors, as well as combat marital rape, human trafficking and prostitution.
He added that the Ministry of Home Affairs was extending the term of the National Committee on Gender Legislation. The Committee consisted of representatives of various ministries and non-State actors, including representatives of the University of Suriname and women’s organizations. The Committee would have a permanent character and the National Bureau for Gender Policy would act as its Secretariat. The Committee’s task would be to test national legislation against conventions and to present concrete legislative amendments to the Government. The process would be undertaken in close cooperation with two other committees, namely the Committee on Trafficking in Women and the Committee on Human Rights. At a January 2006 workshop of the Women’s Rights Centre, it had been announced that the Optional Protocol to the Convention would be seriously addressed. In 2007, a Women’s Rights Centre debate with gender focal points would be held regarding the Optional Protocol.
He noted that, in December 2006, the Integral Gender Action Plan 2006-2010 had been launched simultaneously with the opening of a branch of the National Bureau of Gender Policy in the District of Nickeri. As in the previous Plan, the input of non-State actors had been essential in formulating various activities. The Plan formed the core of activities to be carried out in the coming year regarding 10 priority areas, including: institutional arrangements for improved gender policy development; poverty reduction from a gender-based perspective; development of legal and policy instruments to enhance human rights; elimination of domestic and sexual violence; and inclusion of sexual and reproductive health, reduction of HIV/AIDS and suicide in strengthening primary health care.
The National Bureau of Gender Policy was currently upgrading its operations, he added. Various positions would be filled shortly after a recruitment process, for which the Ministry would use affirmative action for women. Affirmative action was also obvious in the recruitment of magistrates. The National Bureau would also establish more branches in the capitals of other districts, preferably at the office of the district commissioner.
The Committee on Gender Legislation worked in a number of fields, he said. Research and the introduction of new legislation had resulted in recommendations for bills on maternity leave, concubinage, pensions, domestic violence, marriage law, labour law, the environment and the media. A general maternity leave regulation would be modelled on a general old-age pension regulation, by creating a fund in which contributions could be made so as to realize maternity leave for all women. Small businesses had raised many objections concerning the costs of participation in the fund or insurable options.
He said the rights-based approach to development was an acknowledgement of the interconnectedness and interdependence of economic, social and cultural rights, and that development would be achieved only when everyone was able to enjoy those rights. The Multi-Annual Development Plan for Suriname 2006-2011, a strategy for sustainable development, was based on the Millennium Development Goals. The special importance of human rights education was recognized within the University of Suriname and in secondary schools, as well as by non-governmental organizations.
The Government’s policy statement explicitly mentioned the need to tackle domestic violence and drug-related crime, and a special judicial committee was currently investigating the adjustments required to bring national legislation in line with the Convention, including, for example, the institutionalization of a Bureau for Women and Children to tackle domestic violence and act as a focal point and support centre for victims of domestic violence. The draft Penal Code contained a provision for sexual harassment at work. In anticipation of the Act’s adoption, the Ministry of Justice and Police had established a complaints committee, where individual complaints could be submitted, with the possibility for sanctions when sexual harassment was proven. An Ombudsman’s Office was being prepared by the Government, which would focus on the observance of human rights of women on an equal footing with men.
Continuing, he said the Committee on Gender Legislation would elaborate on an earlier proposal for a bill on equal treatment of men and women in which positive discrimination would be incorporated. The Act on the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons had become effective, and special attention was being given to training, education, reception and counselling of victims and children. The Act also mentioned a complaints committee, which would have the power to impose sanctions. With regard to the legislation on nationality, recommendations were being formulated that would introduce equal rights for the father or the mother regarding the choice of nationality and surnames of children born in wedlock.
Regarding domestic legislative amendments, he noted that in June 2003 the revisions to the 1973 Marital Act had entered into force. With that legislation, the Asian Marriage Act had been cancelled. The Suriname Civil Code only provided for the legal minimum age for marriage, which was 17 years for boys and 15 years for girls. Some adjustments had been made to the Penal Code regarding Trafficking in Persons, which entered into force in April 2006. There was also draft legislation regarding domestic violence. A strategic plan of action with special training for social workers, teachers, children and prison guards had been developed.
Within the health-care system, the Integrated Management of Maternal and Child Health strategy would contribute to the mainstreaming of mother and childcare in national programmes and standardization and the implementation of updated norms and protocols for mother and childcare in general, he said. A sexual and reproductive policy had been formulated and an implementation plan for maternal care would be developed. The Government had also approved a National Strategic Plan on HIV/AIDS for 2004-2008.
He added that a gender perspective had been integrated in production and development activities. The Education Sector Plan would focus on conducting a study to analyse gender issues in education, with a view to gender mainstreaming at all levels and types of education. With regard to the participation of women at international and national forums, in 2006 more women had assumed high diplomatic positions. There were currently five female ambassadors and more women would be appointed shortly in high diplomatic and consular positions. In lower legislative and executive levels the number of women had also increased.
With the new coalition Government in place following the 2005 general elections, the specific needs of women would now be addressed with more political backbone, he concluded. The new coalition partner represented various Maroon segments. As a consequence, the visions and wishes of the people of the interior could also be more adequately voiced. Women were free to become members of any political party of their interest. Political parties still did not have specific programmes or measures in place to get more women elected, although women formed half of the constituency. While some legislation had been adopted regarding the mentioning of the maiden name of the women candidates on the ballots, the new regulations would become applicable in the next elections in 2010. Aware of its responsibilities as a State party to the Convention, Suriname’s Government was strongly committed to making all efforts to improve the lives of women and work towards gender equality.
At the opening of the Committee’s dialogue with the delegation, several experts expressed appreciation for the updated information that the Government had provided, but expressed disappointment that not much progress had been made since the country had last presented its case in 2002. Numerous questions were asked about the position of the Convention in the country’s domestic legal order, the remedies available to women whose rights are violated, Suriname’s national machinery for the advancement of gender equality, and the efforts to make the population and the judiciary aware of the provisions of the women’s treaty.
CEES FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, welcomed an initiative by a Women’s Rights Centre -- a non-governmental organization that had organized a seminar on the Optional Protocol to the Convention -- and asked about the Government’s position on its ratification. He added that every State party was obliged to repeal existing discriminatory laws, but much remained to be done in that respect in Suriname. He wondered if the priorities and the time frame in that regard had been set in the country. Did the Government intend to adopt special temporary special measures for the advancement of women?
RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, expressed appreciation for the informative presentation, but noted that the report did not contain much information on the national machinery for advancing gender equality. Her general impression was that there was a lot that the Government was pledging to do, but was not yet doing, particularly as far as the national machinery was concerned. There were promising plans, and the Government knew what needed to be done. However, the Committee saw mostly promises so far. Was the Government capable of achieving concrete results? For instance, as early as 1993, the Government had made known its intention to review the Penal Code, but she wondered if that had been done yet.
HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, expressed disappointment over slow progress in Suriname, as well as the country’s late reporting. She hoped that Suriname’s combined fourth and fifth reports would be submitted on time. She was also disappointed at the slow pace of legal reform in the country. The Committee had previously expressed its concern over a number of discriminatory laws in Suriname’s Penal Code, Personnel Act and other laws, including acts relating to marriage and inheritance. She wanted to know about the reasons for the lack of results as far as their review was concerned. Also, noting that initiatives mostly came from non-governmental organizations and civil society, she wondered what was blocking the Government’s efforts to promote gender equality. Overall, she wondered how women’s human rights were considered in Suriname’s society. Those were basic human rights that needed to be guaranteed.
Those sentiments were echoed by HANNA BEATE SCHÖPP-SHILLING, expert from Germany, who expressed hope that the country’s reports in 2010 would be results-oriented. There seemed to be a separation between gender equality and human rights issues in the Government’s thinking. She welcomed the action plan and the main goals listed in the introduction today, but wondered who was responsible for implementing those plans and goals. What she wanted to see was concrete steps tied with concrete time frames.
VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, noted with satisfaction the establishment of focal points at all ministries and the plan to create a network of such focal points. While recognizing the primary role of the Bureau of Gender Equality in developing gender expertise, she was not clear about its responsibilities. She advocated effective use of the so-called dual-track approach to gender equality, which should include specific policies in critical areas and promotion, monitoring, coordination and evaluation of gender mainstreaming. That could only be secured if there was a permanent inter-ministerial structure with decision-making powers. She wondered if the intended network of focal points would function as such a structure. She also wanted to know when it would become functional.
Responding to those comments, Mr. JOEMMANBAKS said that the Optional Protocol was still under discussion in civil society. The Government supported those discussions by sending its representatives to the debates. Soon a list of measures that needed to be amended in national legislation would be compiled, with participation from non-governmental organizations. The list would be presented to the Government. The Convention itself had been published in Suriname.
Regarding the status of the Convention, he said that the country had to make special provisions in national legislation, because the Convention was not directly applicable in the national law. Judges had the authority to invoke the articles of the Convention, however. For that reason, the Penal and the Criminal Codes needed to be amended, along with some other provisions of the law. The Committee on Gender Legislation consisted of high-level public servants, non-governmental organization representatives and academicians. The process of legal revision was a lengthy one, however.
The priority areas and the time frames for revision were included in the action plan, which also stated the specific activities to be carried out by specific ministries and other bodies, he said. A gender management system was already in place, consisting of focal points within the ministries, coordinated by the National Bureau for Gender Policy -- a high-level body under direct supervision of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Seven officials were employed at the Bureau, which was also supported by other parts of the Government. Suriname also intended to form a special subcommittee consisting of several ministers responsible for such specific areas as education, health and employment. Suriname had demonstrated its will to implement the Convention, but it also had constraints, including a lack of legislative experts and problems with data collection. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that, following a fire in the Statistics Centre, much of the data had been lost.
The Integral Gender Action Plan of 2006-2010 had been prepared on the basis of an evaluation of the preceding plan, he continued. The activities that the Government had been unable to implement had been carried over into the new plan. All the ministries were involved in the implementation of the programmes, under the coordination of the Minister of Home Affairs. The National Bureau monitored all the activities and the progress made, in coordination with other stakeholders. Having outgrown its current premises, the Bureau was seeking a larger office now.
Women’s rights were regarded as human rights in Suriname, but specific groups of women required particular attention, he added. Addressing the relationship between the Committee on Gender Legislation and the Bureau, he said the Bureau would serve as the secretariat of the Committee.
Another member of the delegation said she understood the expert’s disappointment that no real progress had been made since 2002. She also shared the frustration regarding the delay in reporting. The lack of resources was an important factor. She assured experts that the next report would include a description of all efforts to advance women.
FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, said she was confused with the Government’s response on the issue of stereotypes. It was difficult to figure out what the Government was really doing to eliminate stereotypes. The report indicated that nothing had really changed and left the impression that it was up to non-governmental organizations and international organizations to change cultural traditions. The Government’s role had not been mentioned. The Government was obligated to comply with international agreements. The media had a strong influence on the issue of societal stereotypes. More information was needed on what the Government was doing to change the way people thought about the roles of men and women. She requested more concrete action in regard to the issue of stereotypes.
SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, also asked for clarification on the statement in the report that it was up to non-governmental organizations and international organizations to change cultural perceptions. She also asked for more information on the actual contents of the two draft laws on domestic violence. What factors were impeding the drafts from being sent to the Parliament? Even with the absence of a specific law on violence, what mechanism existed for investigating situations of sexual and domestic violence? she asked.
DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, stressed the obligation of States parties to ensure the elimination of all cultural stereotypes and prejudices against women. It was an important obligation -- just as important as the country’s obligation under the Convention’s other articles. When talking of stereotypes, Governments often wanted to hide behind the excuse that it was a personal issue and that it could not interfere. The Government must recognize the effect of stereotypes on the situation of Surinamese women. The issue of stereotypes needed to be seriously addressed with all the force at the Government’s disposal. While civil society organizations were playing an important role, that did not mean that the Government should shirk its responsibility. While collaboration was important, the primary responsibility for ensuring the elimination of prejudices and stereotypes lay with the Government, and not non-governmental organizations and international organizations.
She added that the Committee had also not seen progress as a result of the measures taken in relation to violence against women. What was being done regarding the two draft laws on domestic violence? What did those laws contain and had there been any study to assess the prevalence and manifestations of violence against women in Suriname? she asked.
GLENDA SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, said the report contained a very clear definition of human rights. The challenge was, however, to translate the ideology of human rights into actions and plans that made a difference. The issue of trafficking of women did not seem to have the emphasis it needed. Trafficking in human beings was a major problem in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Connected with trafficking was the issue of prostitution of the women of the region. There was also a connection between prostitution and the spread of HIV/AIDS. That pandemic was the major threat to development in the CARICOM region.
While it could be that the Government was still discussing the issue, the Government must pay attention to prostitution in Suriname and identify the drivers of prostitution, she added. Legislation was needed to deal with those who used the services. The girls of the Maroon and interior communities were regularly used for prostitution, especially when multinationals came in to exploit the interior. Strong laws were needed, therefore, to protect girls and women. Those involved in the trade drove the demand for prostitution and must be targeted. It was not enough to say that prostitution was the oldest profession. Poverty was not the main driver of prostitution. Prostitution was not about sex, but exploitation and the power men wielded over women. She recommended that article 6 receive better attention in the next report.
NAELA GABR, expert from Egypt, stressed that the State party had the responsibility for the implementation of the Convention and for drafting the reports. The provisions of the Convention needed to be widely disseminated.
She also said that she was shocked with what the Government had reported on prejudice on page 12 of its report. There, the Government stated that nothing had changed in that respect, “and Suriname still holds the view that cultural traditions of the different ethnic groups may never be in contravention of the fundamental rights and freedoms of women, as laid down in international conventions. Elimination of prejudices is not included in the legislation of Suriname. It is up to NGOs and international organizations to try to change cultural traditions.”
On trafficking in women, she was worried, because no information or statistics had been provided. Was the Government trying to increase awareness of domestic violence issues to prepare the population to accept the draft law in that regard?
Mr. JOEMMANBAKS agreed that it was the responsibility of the Government to implement all the articles of the Convention. Recently, the Ministry of Justice and Police had adopted new regulations on trafficking in persons. Three cases of trafficking had already been brought before the courts, and one person had been sentenced. Two other cases were still pending.
There were two drafts relating to violence, he continued. One contained specific amendments to the Penal Code, including the definition of violence against women. The other draft specifically focused on domestic violence. He did not have specific information about its provisions. Regarding exploitation of the Maroon women, data was being gathered by the police, and he hoped that the country would be able to present better information to the Committee in the future.
Regarding stereotyping, another member of the delegation said that the Government was encouraging education and information programmes, in particular through State television. Suriname Today was led by a woman. Other programmes stressed the need to participate in development and addressed the cultural differences in the country. The country was also participating in CARICOM youth programmes. While responsible for the implementation of the Convention, the Government welcomed support from the civil society.
Another country representative said that, indeed, from the report, one could conclude that the Government was doing nothing as far as elimination of prejudice was concerned. In fact, projects on basic life skills were being implemented, and boys and girls were introduced to the issues of gender and gender equality. Measures were also being taken to address the situation of Maroon women, aiming, in particular, to reduce the level of mining in the areas where they lived. In recent years, there was also increased police presence in those areas, which allowed the Government to get a more accurate picture of the situation.
In a round of follow-up comments, several experts asked for further clarifications and provided recommendations regarding the contents of the draft gender equality legislation. They also expressed concern that the Government officials had not been involved in the drafting of the reports, leaving that to outside consultants.
In that connection, Ms. SAIGA, expert from Japan, stressed the responsibility of the gender equality machinery to be aware of what was going on in the country. Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, suggested that should they draft the reports themselves, Government officials would be more aware of the real situation in the country, including the contents of the proposed legislation. Ms. SCHÖPP-SHILLING, expert from Germany, emphasized the need to ensure education of Government officials on the provisions of the Convention, so that all the policies and programmes were implemented within the framework of that instrument.
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said that the Committee looked forward to Suriname’s ratification of the Optional Protocol. Existing discriminatory laws needed to be repealed, and new legislation needed to be introduced to advance equality of women. He also stressed the importance of training the judiciary in the field of women’s human rights, and highlighted the “tremendous importance” of introducing special temporary measures for the advancement of women. In that connection, he cautioned against using the term “positive discrimination”.
Questions were also asked about the gender machinery budget, and Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, wanted to know what was being done to ensure that women invoked the Convention in national courts. Was legal aid provided?
Responding, Mr. JOEMMANBAKS said training was conducted for the members of the police and judiciary on the issue of violence against women. The provisions of human rights conventions, including the women’s Convention, was highlighted in that training. There was no clearly defined time frame for the draft on equal treatment of men and women, as the draft was currently being discussed within the Justice Ministry. The draft, he added, provided for the establishment of a specific body responsible for cases in which it was felt that the Government acted in contradiction to the law.
On the drafting of the report by consultants, he explained that the consultants worked in tandem with a small counterpart group consisting of high-level ministry officials. The consultants provided several drafts of the report. Every draft was debated by the counterpart group, which consisted of officials from the ministries of home affairs, labour, foreign affairs and justice and police. After that, a final draft was presented to the Council of Ministers, the Parliament and other relevant stakeholders. While the recommendations were not widely spread among the public, they were disseminated among the ministries, gender focal points and other stakeholders.
Concerning the budget, he said annual budgets allocated a certain amount for the Gender Bureau. Parliament was currently discussing the 2007 budget. If approved, allocations for the National Bureau for Gender would be made available. It was a yearly event, however, and not a constant amount. The allocation was, however, increasing.
On the Optional Protocol, another member of the delegation said many people in the Government and in the country looked forward to the signing. She believed the next report would contain positive information in that regard.
Regarding HIV/AIDS, she said she would make available a comprehensive booklet on the pandemic in Suriname. Various organizations in Suriname were working on the issue, which, she said, must be recognized as very serious.
Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, said she was encouraged by the progress achieved regarding women’s political representation in elected positions. Positive achievements had not been registered, however, in posts that were made by appointment. Women were mainly excluded from holding district commissioner offices. Actions and projects during the previous plan of action had probably contributed to results achieved in terms of elections, but much more could be done in regard to appointments. It was just a matter of the political will of those who had the power to make the decisions.
Noting that the Ministry of Home Affairs had facilitated a forum on the issue of quotas, she asked the delegation to elaborate on its findings and how those findings could be considered in the elaboration of future policies. The issue went hand in hand with article 4 of the Convention, which provided the legal basis for using special temporary measures. Measures taken by the Government also extended to indigenous people and other minorities. The report contained no information on how women from the indigenous population had benefited from those measures.
Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, noted that women’s lack of representation in political life was explained as a result of such issues as women’s roles in the family and the lack of childcare. What steps had been taken to empower women? What mechanisms for women’s equitable representation at all levels of political and public life were in place at the moment? She wondered if the State was aware of the importance of having more women on electoral lists.
On the issue of nationality, Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said he was disappointed to read that discriminatory laws existed with respect to the issue of nationality and that it was not possible for women under Surinamese law to transfer nationality. Was the issue on the list of priorities for the Committee on Gender Legislation? Despite the fact that the provisions of the Convention could not be invoked in courts of law, an exception should be made regarding article 9. The thrust of that article was crystal clear. Was he correct in saying that, although the Convention’s provisions were not directly applicable, an exception should be made for that article?
Mr. JOEMMANBAKS said that the Government was aware of the unequal representation of men and women in decision-making positions. At the lower and middle levels, however, there had been movement towards equality. Part of the problem was stereotyping and women’s role in the family.
A study of the quota mechanism had been conducted by the Women’s Parliament Forum, another member of the delegation said. One of its findings was that the goal of 33 per cent women participating in decision-making processes had not been achieved during the latest elections. She added that Mr. Flinterman was right in being disappointed with regard to the nationality issue. Changes were needed.
Elaborating on the latest developments in that regard, Mr. JOEMMANBAKS said that a draft was being prepared, which would give men and women equal rights regarding the transfer of nationality and address the issue of children born out of wedlock. The drafting process was expected to take some time, though. Starting with 2010, women candidates could be listed the way they wanted to be on the ballots, including under their maiden name.
On indigenous women, a member of the delegation said that, with the change of Government in 2006, Maroons were now represented in the Government. One Maroon woman had been appointed as a minister, and there were Maroon women in other high-ranking positions, as well. Maroons and indigenous people had 10 seats in the Parliament, and four of them were women. A discussion was under way on the land rights issue. Indigenous and Maroons had been given an opportunity to install a committee that would act as a counterpart for the Government committee on that matter. In the diplomatic sphere, 9 of the 21 recently appointed diplomats were women. Maroons had appointed five diplomats, including one female ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago.
Ms. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, said she was pleased with some of the changes reported by the delegation, including the efforts for the promotion of Maroon women. In a multi-party system, the ruling party should set the tone. In particular, it had an opportunity to put in place the temporary special measures and insist that women hold 33 per cent of leadership positions. In its dialogue with minorities, the Government should insist that at least 50 per cent of the candidates were women.
In a follow-up question, Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked for further clarification on the writing of the report and the use of consultants.
Mr. JOEMMANBAKS said the consultant was supplied with information from the ministries, which in turn received information from several gender focal points.
Ms. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, asked what efforts the Government was making to ensure that education reached all children, especially the girl child in the interior. Some 40 per cent of the children in the interior were not in school. That was a very serious problem.
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, commended Suriname for the important achievements in the field of education. It seemed that female students by far outnumbered male students in secondary and university education. The Lobi Foundation played an important role in education, especially in the field of sex education and family planning. The foundation’s activities, however, were, from a legal point of view, in violation of the Criminal Law. Had a time frame been set to change the law so that the Foundation could proceed with its activities?
He was also concerned about the issue of teenage pregnancy. It was important that pregnant girls be encouraged or obliged to go back to school after the delivery of their child, he said. What were the Government’s policies in that regard? He also asked for information on pregnancies among the Maroon girls and indigenous people. He also wondered what measures the Government was taking to avoid stereotypes in the framework of education. It appeared that initiatives in the field of continuing education were left to non-governmental organizations and that the Government had not adopted any programmes in that regard.
Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said there seemed to be a severe shortage of funds for the generation of statistics. She recommended that the Government seek technical assistance from international agencies or bilateral donors, as statistics were the only way of providing a real picture of women in the country. Securing a sure statistical base and legal reform were two priority issues for her. She also asked for a distribution of the Government budget with respect to the various ministries and the gender components in those ministries. By having accepted the Convention, the Government had accepted the principle of paid maternity leave, equal work of equal value and combining career and family for both parents. Yet, the Government seemed reluctant to revise the labour code and integrate the principles of article 11 of the Convention.
On the issue of maternity protection and the establishment of a fund, who would be paying into the fund and was there a plan in regard to the effects that would have on small businesses? she asked.
Ms. GABR, expert from Egypt, asked for updated information on the issue of health, noting that the report only covered the period up to 2002. Regarding health, only 14 per cent of the population had health insurance. That was a very serious issue. She also asked how the Government intended to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Maternal mortality also required considerable attention, particularly in rural areas. She also asked for information on diseases and the measures taken to overcome diseases such as malaria and undernourishment. Had reproductive health also been taken into account?
Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, said more laws were needed regarding women’s equality in employment. She wanted to know, in that regard, if sexual harassment would be included in labour law. Also, what was the possibility of legislation on childcare? Incentives were needed to change women’s mindsets, so they felt they could join the workforce.
Many questions were also asked about the situation of rural women, environment and health care.
Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, suggested that the Government get acquainted with the Committee’s recommendations on HIV/AIDS and health, which highlighted the women’s subordinate position in many societies that led to increased risk of getting HIV/AIDS and jeopardized their reproductive rights. She also had questions about the law that prohibited education on contraceptives and commented on the relationship of HIV infection and the use of condoms. Condoms were more than a contraceptive -- they were protection from the virus. She was also troubled by the fact that the report referred to prostitutes as the reason for the spread of HIV/AIDS in villages.
SHANTI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, said that, while educated women had better access to information, women with lower education needed to be targeted as far as the distribution of information on contraceptives and family planning was concerned. She also asked what was being done to overcome such difficulties as the lack of transportation and absence of blood for transfusions to lower maternal mortality. Considering the high rate of abortion in Suriname, she wanted to receive information on the number of deaths from unsafe abortions and the rate of abortion among indigenous women. Also, according to the report, external causes of death were high among Suriname’s women. She wondered what that term implied.
Ms. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, and Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana noted the difference between the situation of rural and urban women in Suriname, which related to rural women having less access to educational and health services. The report indicated that some measures were being taken to address that situation, but not much was said about the results achieved, Ms. Coker-Appiah said. There was a shortage of doctors, facilities were not available, and rural people had to travel long distances for certain treatments. What was being done to change that situation?
Women’s access to land had been identified as a serious problem in Suriname, she continued. Since 2002, a non-governmental organization had carried out a campaign to address that issue. She wanted to know how many women had been granted ownership of land since that programme had started. Concessions to logging and mining companies in indigenous areas were threatening the livelihoods of rural people. What was the Government doing to safeguard the livelihood and environment of indigenous people?
Questions were also posed in connection with the statement that the Government had transferred responsibility for medical care in the interior to a non-governmental organization. Experts wanted to know if services were provided free of charge there. An expert also asked if the Government was holding a dialogue with the Maroon people regarding the use of land and resources. Did Maroon women have a voice in that dialogue?
Mr. JOEMMANBAKS said that the country’s education plan would specifically address many gender issues, including mainstreaming, teenage pregnancies and access to education. However, the plan has yet to be adopted, and teachers needed to be involved in the efforts. Education fees were lower at the primary level. In many cases, financial assistance was provided to the parents.
Indeed, public information about contraceptives was forbidden under the law, he continued, but distributing contraceptives was not penalized. Gathering data about abortions was not easy. In most cases, specialists were involved, but the data was not provided to the Government, because of privacy rules.
In connection with many other questions, another country representative said that Suriname had adopted many conventions over the years. Many recommendations had been made in the context of those instruments, but first of all it was necessary to improve the life of the population within the framework of the Millennium Development Goals. The country had set up a Millennium Development Goals Steering Committee and presented its baseline report on the implementation of those Goals. Such issues as primary education and the elimination of poverty were within the scope of the Millennium Development Goals. In formulating its plans, the Government was aware of the problems and sought to fill the gaps.
The gender action plan contained information on legislation on such issues as pregnant teenagers’ return to school, lifelong learning and traditional choices of occupation, she continued. The country’s report on the Convention on the Rights of the Child was now being considered in Geneva. Many of the experts’ questions had been answered there. The Government was allocating budgetary funds for the programmes for children; it was also implementing programmes together with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other international agencies. Several non-governmental organizations were working in close cooperation with the Government.
To another question, she said that, according to a recent report, despite a high awareness of contraceptives, their use depended on many factors, including women’s level of education and social status. The Government was aware that it needed to use the results of such studies to develop its policies.
Mr. JOEMMANBAKS said that education was a challenge, given the geographical isolation of many areas and high prevalence of malaria. As many teachers preferred to stay in urban areas, incentives, including rent-free housing, were provided to those who were willing to go to rural areas. There were also evening schools for mothers, attended predominantly by Maroon women and teenage mothers.
Strategies were needed to address some traditions, he continued. For instance, girls did not have many options after primary school in the interior, aside from family and early maternity.
Regarding medical services to Maroon and indigenous women, he said that they were free. Free services were also provided to people of lower income. The new multi-year health programme envisioned introduction of a general health insurance system in Suriname. As a result of a malaria eradication programme, the incidence of that disease had been reduced by some 70 per cent. Contraceptives were provided to indigenous women free of charge. Also, this month, the Minister of Health had visited China to learn about the use of traditional medicine, which the Government intended to promote.
Mr. JOEMMANBAKS said discussions had not yet started on how to fund paid maternity leave. The debates would, however, take place in a tripartite setting with the Government, employers and trade unions. Women’s safety and special sanitary facilities would have to be considered in the labour law bill. While there were State-run childcare centres, the people in general preferred to use private institutions, as they were usually in better locations.
On prostitution in the villages, he said prostitutes left villages to go to the areas surrounding the big companies. The trend was for prostitutes to return to their villages, spreading HIV/AIDS there. There was increasing concern that prostitutes were working in their own villages. A comprehensive reform of the health sector was also under way, the results of which would be included in the next report.
In a follow-up comment, Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, said that, while she understood the importance of achieving the Millennium Development Goals, she was struck by the separation of the Goals from the Convention. Incorporating the Convention into the programme to achieve the Goals would be like killing two birds with one stone. Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said she had the same concern. Human rights treaties were based on the dignity of each person. That framework should be used for every country’s planning, whether it was the Beijing Platform for Action or the Millennium Development Goals. She also wondered if the draft equal treatment law covered the private sector. As a multi-ethnic and multiracial society, she wanted information on the stereotypical notions of the various groups on women’s employment.
Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked for more information on prostitution, contraception and abortion.
Ms. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, said she was aware of efforts to respect the cultural identify of the different groups and noted that Suriname had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. She was puzzled, however, to read that certain ceremonies took place when girls and boys reached the age of “ripeness”. What role did the Government have in the debate on such practices? The Government needed to criminalize those cultural practices. Children could not be allowed to be violated in the name of man-made cultures.
Mr. JOEMMANBAKS said the Government recognized the relationship between the Convention, the Millennium Development Goals and other conventions. The draft on equal treatment was focused on equal treatment in public service. Suriname was in the process of establishing a social and economic council, in which the workers unions, employees and the Government would tackle the issue of equal treatment.
On the distribution of contraceptives, he noted that the report covered the period up to 2002. After that period, contraceptives provided by the Lobi Foundation were largely subsidized. Health insurance did not cover contraceptives. Clandestine abortion did take place. Two clinics had been removed and its workers were behind bars.
On the rights of the girl child, another member of the delegation said it was a delicate matter. In taking action towards the Saramarka-Maroons, it was important for them to know why measures were being taken. He himself had undergone such ceremonies, as had his sister, but she had not had her first child until age 29. An integrated approach was needed, letting them know that there were other options. Education allowed people to make different choices.
Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, urged the Government to review its approach to the draft law on equal opportunities, which so far only covered the public sector. On the lack of information about the incidence of abortion, she said that the Government could start with collecting confidential data on the number of women who came to the hospitals following clandestine abortions.
Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, said that, even though the Constitution provided for equality of sexes, some discriminatory laws still remained in place in Suriname. While it was commendable that the Government had abolished the Asian marriage law, the new law did not go far enough, because it had only increased the age of marriage for girls to 15. The country’s legislation should be brought in line with the provisions of the Convention in that regard.
Ms. SAIGA, expert from Japan, noted the difference in minimum age of marriage for boys and girls in Suriname, saying that it was not in compliance with the Convention. She also asked if the family law was part of the country’s Civil Code and wanted to know about the Asian marriage law, which had been cancelled. How had its abolition affected the situation on the ground? she asked.
A member of the delegation responded that a number of drafts and amendments had been presented to the country’s legislative bodies. For instance, it was proposed to amend the provisions under which married women could not perform certain duties or work in certain occupations. There were also plans to amend the travel act, under which a female employee moving to a different place of work could not be reimbursed by the Government, while a male employee could.
Regarding the marriage act, he said that it had changed the provisions in the Civil Code. Previously, only the Hindu and Muslim people could be married based on their religious beliefs. Under the new regulations, all the other religions acquired that right. The marriage age was 17 for boys and 15 for girls. One of the drafts envisioned equalizing the marriage age at 18 years for both sexes.
Responding to follow-up questions, Mr. JOEMMANBAKS said that the marriage acts also contained other provisions, including those relating to dissolution of marriage.
In her concluding remarks, the Chairperson of the meeting, Ms. DAIRIAM, said that conceptually the Government had recognized the need to integrate the Convention and Millennium Development Goals in its plans and programmes. The Committee had much to look forward to in the next report. Among other things, the Government should seriously consider strengthening the legislative framework for the implementation of the Convention and make it applicable at the domestic level. Every Government should know about the Convention, and all planning should take it into consideration.
Mr. JOEMMANBAKS thanked the experts for the open and frank discussion today. While much remained to be done, he assured the experts of Suriname’s determination to implement the Convention.
* *** *For information media • not an official record