13 June 2002


Press Release

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women`

564th Meeting (PM)


Concluding Examination of Suriname’s Report,

Experts Stress Need for Action on Violence Against Women, Domestic Violence

Responding to questions posed to them last week by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the delegation of Suriname this afternoon outlined the human rights situation in the country; its policies and legislation relating to women; the situation of rural women; and the role of civil society in advancing gender equality.

Charged with monitoring implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Committee first took up the situation of women in Suriname on 7 June (for details, see press release WOM/1342). 

By accepting that instrument, which was ratified by Suriname in 1993, a State party undertakes to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women and incorporate the principle of gender equality in its legal systems.  Last week, expert members of the Committee, expressed serious concern over a number of clearly discriminatory laws still in effect in the country, and appealed to the Government of Suriname to overcome the ingrained stereotypical attitudes and complacency that undermined the rights of women and girls.

During today’s meeting, the Committee was told that despite numerous economic and financial difficulties, the Government of Suriname was making extra efforts to seriously improve the situation of women.  Women trying to establish their own businesses were among the specific target groups under the country’s 2001-2005 development plan.  A gender action plan for 2000-2005 had been initiated in Suriname with a budget of some 900,000 euros, and an evaluation of gender legislation was under way.  Various ministries within the Government contained gender focal points. 

Regarding legislative change, members of the delegation said that since 1997, “everything was being done to change legislation regarding gender equality”.  Experience indicated, however, that radical change would lead to resistance.  The Government, therefore, had initiated a process aimed at gender equality, which involved not only legislative action, but also training and awareness-raising activities.  In 2000, the work of the Commission on Violence Legislation was reviewed.  In August 2001, a commission on gender legislation was established. 

Summarizing the country’s legislative action, the country representatives said that men and women had equal rights and duties at all levels under the Constitution.  Since 1981, married women had been allowed to conduct legal actions without their husbands’ permission.  Under the civil code, all citizens under the age of 30 needed their parents’ consent to be married.  If such consent could not be obtained, a judge could be approached.  A draft law had been recently submitted to abolish that rule.  Although the country’s laws did not allow polygamy, men were allowed to have more than one spouse according to Muslim religion.  Marriage of young girls at the age of 13 was not a common practice in Suriname, but was still permitted under the law.  Trafficking in women was punishable by a maximum jail sentence of five years.

According to the country’s response on cultural and traditional roles, cultural factors were particularly difficult to measure.  Ethnic diversity was one of the factors that played an important role in that regard.  Efforts were being made to replace the women’s traditional reproductive role with a more productive one.  The Government had formulated a policy to increase the number of women in decision-making positions, and women’s participation in the legal system and university management staff was increasing.  Action was being taken to address the issues of violence against women, domestic violence, and women’s health.

It was also said that despite their central role in agriculture and food production, 60 per cent of rural women, especially those in tribal communities, lived below the poverty line.  Change in their condition could only come about through income-generation, education, access to health services and provision of such basic services as potable water and electricity.  All this called for a partnership between the Government and civil society.  With the support of international donor partners, the Government had developed the Community Development Fund, the Micro-Projects Fund, and the Fund for the Interior.

Members of the delegation also informed the experts that the Government was planning to complete the accession/ratification of such international human rights instruments as the International Labour Organization Conventions and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.  It was also going to focus on human rights education efforts.  [Under the Optional Protocol to the Convention, individuals and groups of people have a right to bring their complaints before the Committee regarding violations of the Convention.]

Commenting on the information provided today, the experts welcomed the Government’s intention to continue its work to achieve the objectives of the Convention.  They hoped to see the results of the activities to be undertaken by the country in its next report, in particular as far as violence against women and national laws on domestic violence were concerned.

An expert said that constructive dialogue within the Committee should provide an impetus to the promotion of women’s rights in Suriname.  It was important to understand that gender mainstreaming did not preclude application of special measures for the advancement of women, which were needed in the country, especially in view of the fact that traditional gender roles still remained in effect there.

Also of interest to the experts were the situation of rural women and women’s health.  More information should be provided in the future on the question of prostitution, and further efforts were needed to prevent exploitation of women. It was necessary to undertake wider dissemination of information regarding the dangers of HIV/AIDS among the general population, and not only among prostitutes.

It was also very important to receive information regarding domestication of the Convention within the country’s legal system.

In closing, members of the delegation assured the Committee that “precious momentum” achieved in the discussion would not be lost.  The Government would certainly follow up on the incorporation of gender equality as part of the country’s daily life and that it would incorporate all the information that was still lacking today into the next report.

In her concluding remarks, the Committee’s Chairperson, Charlotte Abaka of Ghana, commended the Government’s efforts to “demonstrate accountability” to the Convention.  In the country’s next report, which, she hoped, would be presented on time, she expected to see “a positive and effective evaluation” of the situation in Suriname, including that of rural women.  Since the Government demonstrated the political will to make it a priority, the Committee hoped that its concluding comments would be disseminated among all stakeholders in Suriname, including non-governmental organizations.

Suriname’s delegation consisted of the country’s Minister of Home Affairs, Urmila Joella Sewnundun; its Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Irma Loemban Tobing-Klein; Gender Policy Programme Manager of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Karin Naarden-Refos; Henry Mac-Donald of Suriname’s Permanent Mission at the Organization of American States; and the Chairperson of the National Women’s Movement, Siegmien Staphorst.

At 10 a.m. tomorrow, 14 June, the Committee is scheduled to consider Tunisia’s reports.

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For information media. Not an official record.