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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women examines the reports of Suriname

GENEVA (28 February 2018) - The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined fourth to sixth periodic reports of Suriname on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Presenting the reports, Mohammed Nasier Eskak, Policy Adviser at the Ministry of Interior Affairs, said that Suriname acknowledged that gender equality and women’s empowerment were pre-conditions in achieving national development and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.  The National Development Plan 2017-2021 addressed gender as a multidisciplinary policy area and aimed to create laws and regulations for private and public organizations that guaranteed the right to personal security and freedom of men and women, uninfluenced by gender stereotyping.  Progress had been made with regard to the preparation of the Equality of Treatment Act and Violence at the Workplace Act, and draft law on equal treatment of women and men had been submitted.  A judicial officer had been added to the Bureau of Gender Affairs to conduct evaluations to identify and address the challenges that caused delays in the adoption of pending laws.

During the discussion, Committee Experts noted that with such a multicultural and multi-ethnic population the framework for gender equality was sure to be a challenge.  It would seem that on one hand, Suriname was trying to improve women’s lives, but on the other, Governmental structures to protect women had not yet taken shape, Experts remarked.  Also, legislation was still pending with regards to equality between men and women in domestic violence cases, remuneration for equal work, sexual harassment and maternity protection.  

In terms of intersectional discrimination and the principle of equality, the Committee was concerned about reports of denial of land rights to indigenous women, and arbitrary detention of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.  Negative stereotypes continued to persist in Surinamese society and manifested themselves in violence against women.  Of concern were criminalization of abortion, de facto inequality in marriage, and the very low age of marriage set at 15 years for girls and 17 for boys.

The delegation of Suriname in Geneva was composed of the representatives of the Ministry of Interior Affairs, Bureau for Gender Affairs, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and representatives of the Permanent Mission of Suriname to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

Participating in the review via a video-conference from Paramaribo were representatives of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice and Police, and the Ministry of Health of Suriname.

All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings will be available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be 10 a.m., Thursday, 1 March, when it will consider the combined sixth and seventh periodic reports of Luxembourg (CEDAW/C/LUX/6-7).

Report

The Committee is reviewing the combined fourth to sixth periodic reports of Suriname (CEDAW/C/SUR/4-6).

Presentation of the Report

MOHAMED NASIER ESKAK, Policy Adviser at the Ministry of Interior Affairs, said that 28 February marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Suriname’s accession to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  Suriname highly valued the work and recommendations of this Committee, which strengthened its ability to address human rights violations and better protect vulnerable women and girls.  Suriname acknowledged that gender equality and women’s empowerment were pre-conditions in achieving national development and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.  The National Development Plan 2017-2021 addressed gender as a multidisciplinary policy area and aimed to create laws and regulations for private and public organizations that guaranteed the right to personal security and freedom of men and women, uninfluenced by gender stereotyping.  Progress had been made with regard to the preparation of the Equality of Treatment Act and Violence at the Workplace Act, and draft law on equal treatment of women and men had been submitted.  A judicial officer had been added to the Bureau of Gender Affairs to conduct evaluations to identify and address the challenges that caused delays in the adoption of pending laws.

Suriname had achieved a slight increase in representation of women in the National Assembly, from 28 to 29 per cent, and was conscious of the need to continue its efforts to ensure women’s equal participation in political and public life.  In the area of domestic violence, the protection of victims had been strengthened with the Law on Combatting Domestic Violence, and a pilot project had been launched to collect more accurate data on prevalence, as it was believed that the 1,400 cases of domestic violence registered with the police every year did not reflect the reality.  An economic empowerment program among sex workers New Beginnings was in its initial phase and it aimed to provide alternative employment opportunities to applicants in line with their qualifications and skillsets.  The Penal Code had been expanded to include Surinamese persons who trafficked persons outside Suriname’s borders, and shelters had been made available for victims of human trafficking.

The availability of appropriate qualitative and quantitative data remained a challenge and gaps still remained in terms of gender statistics, so Suriname was not able to measure progress on its national and international commitments.  That was why Suriname was pleased to announce that it was one of the four Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries to have agreed to pilot the Gender Equality Indicators Model, endorsed by the Standing Committee of Caribbean Statisticians. The Model would support Suriname in addressing key policy concerns identified in the Beijing Platform for Action, the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and other international commitments.  The pilot project, agreed with the United Nations Women, included key activities such as informed and effective participation of stakeholders in user-producer dialogues, production of a national report on the status of women and men in Suriname on the CARICOM Gender Equality Indicators, and the creation of a database for monitoring purposes.  In closing, Mr. Eskak reiterated the commitment to promoting and creating conditions for gender equality and the full exercise of women’s rights in Suriname.

Questions by Committee Experts

At the beginning of the dialogue, a Committee Expert took note of a number of positive developments within Suriname including the revision of the penal code, amendment to the nationality and residence law, and acknowledged that, with such a multicultural and multi-ethnic population, the policy and institutional framework for gender equality was sure to be a challenge.

The Constitution allowed for supremacy of international treaties over domestic legislation, but there were no data available on the judicial cases in which the Convention was invoked.  This, coupled with the long delay in the adoption of the bill on the establishment of a Constitutional Court, raised questions about the application of the Convention in domestic spheres, judicial and administrative alike.  Was the Convention self-executing and binding in Suriname and if so, how would women enforce their rights under the Convention?

The Committee welcomed the establishment of the National Human Rights Institute in 2015 and asked how it operated, particularly in the sphere of gender equality and whether it had the mandate to address gender-based discrimination as well.  A number of gender equality laws were pending adoption for a long time, including on sexual harassment, draft civil code and maternity protection.

In terms of intersectional discrimination and the principle of equality, the Committee was concerned about reports of denial of land rights to indigenous women, and arbitrary detention of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.

The delegation was asked to inform of any amendments and changes to the laws to increase access to justice for women, including through legal aid, and to inform of steps taken to address the persistent discrimination in the judicial system particularly against indigenous persons and victims of violence.

What options were there for the women in Suriname to have their voices heard in peace talks and to be present in diplomatic matters?

Responses by the Delegation

Responding, a delegate said the equality of all citizens and protection from discrimination was guaranteed by the Constitution.  The Penal Code had been revised to include the definition of discrimination.  

In terms of the implementation of the Convention, there was the Bureau of Gender Affairs was responsible for designing and implementing policy with regards to gender issues and for implementing policy with regards to gender issues.  The Bureau worked through other partners, international organizations and civil society organizations alike.

With regards to whether or not the Convention was self-executing, up to now there were no cases which cases of the Convention had been referred to courts. However, pertaining to domestic violence, the Convention had been referred to in the judiciary and had also been translated into Dutch for more widespread use.

With regard to the National Human Rights Institute, launched in 2016 for a period of two years, a timeline for the implementation had been presented to the Ministry of Justice.  It would then be sent for approval to the Council of Ministers in July 2018, and in 2020 the Institute would be ready to be implemented.

The complaint mechanism resided with the Bureau for Gender Affairs, where it had been transferred from the Ministry of Home Affairs, and it would cover all complaints related to gender.  

The Bureau for Gender Affairs had undergone a major transformation in 2011, first and foremost to measure its effectiveness.  Following the transformation, the Bureau was now able to create and write reports, whereas before those reports had been outsourced to an external consultant.  There was also a judicial officer who evaluated cases concerning discrimination.  

Suriname remained committed to maintaining the land rights of indigenous peoples with a continuous open dialogue until a solution was found.  Indigenous and tribal peoples were an important part of all levels of the Government, so their voices were also present in political talking spheres.

With regard to access to justice, there were no special mechanisms for women who could access justice via legal assistance and legal aid programmes implemented through the legal aid bureau of the Ministry of Justice and Police.  In cases of domestic violence, due process was followed and legal aid strived to assure the quality of its services.

A discussion on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons had commenced but religious groups often objected.  The 2015 amendment to the penal code took a step in the direction of protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons by defining discrimination, and criminalizing incitement to violence and and support of discriminatory actions against this group.

Questions by Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, Experts remarked that on one hand, Suriname was trying to improve women’s lives, but Governmental structures to protect women had not yet taken shape.  They raised questions on the status of the gender machinery, notably on the current status of the Bureau of Gender Affairs and the training in women’s rights provided to the National Human Rights Institute, as laid out by the Convention.  The same Expert went on to note that a gender work plan for 2013 and the gender policy 2016-2020, were laid out but it wasn’t clear as to how they were implemented.  Gender Policy Plan should pay particular attention rural women, and should set achievable goals, timeline and a mechanism to track progress using data collection.

Suriname appreciated the role of non-governmental organizations in gender equality - what funding was provided by the government for their continued work?  What gender inequalities were present in Surinamese society and what was being done to address them?

The Convention aimed to eradicate obstacles to reach de facto equality, Experts said and stressed the role of temporary special measures in this context.  There were many instances in which such measures could be put in place, particularly in terms of representation of women in the committees that would be set up.  

Responses by the Delegation

In terms of gender machinery, the delegation explained that the Bureau for Gender Affairs was housed within the Ministry of Home Affairs, and that the organizational structures were currently being formulated.  The drafting of job descriptions was submitted to the Minister of Home Affairs, but the gender mainstreaming was bottlenecked, so that was under review.  

The Gender Work Plan had been evaluated in 2014 and the findings had been integrated in a baseline report formulated with support of the United Nations Population Fund.  A national gender policy 2018-2021 was currently in formulation.  Going forward, rural women would be included following the Experts’ recommendation.

The Government was undergoing a reform since December 2015, its ways of working were being evaluation and it was implementing the “Roadmap to Excellent Government.”   Improvements to data collection were now expected to be made but were not yet fully functioning with regards to gender inequalities.  The Gender Office of Statistics was charged with this mission. A pilot research on gender inequalities had provided preliminary data to be able to move forward with policy creation.

Some forms of support to non-governmental and civil society organizations included gender training aimed at addressing gender inequalities, or airtime upon request.

Questions by Committee Experts

In further questions, a Committee Expert noted that negative stereotypes continued to persist in Surinamese society and were manifested in violence against women.  There were no mechanisms to monitor and combat discrimination against women and in particular against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.

Continuing, the Expert asked when sexual and reproductive health would be incorporated into education and when would life skills be addressed and reassessed to include gender equality.

Men occupied high-level positions in the media predominantly and women were thus rarely represented, although 90 per cent of women watched televised programming.  There was a continued persistence of stereotyping of women through televised media.  There should be equality in hiring in the media so that televised programming reflected the voices of men and women equally and without gender stereotyping, explained the Expert.  Another Expert warned that advertisement in the media must be carefully monitored because even innocent advertisements could perpetuate stereotypes.

A domestic violence law was enacted in 2009 but there was little to no data available since it had entered into force.  There was concern as to how domestic violence cases were monitored and what plans of action were in place to help women and children in situations of abuse.  The 2009 law should be updated to include all aspects of domestic violence.  In terms of a strategic plan to deal with domestic violence an Expert asked what norms and standards were already in place?  What was being done to protect children from corporal punishment?

Continuing the discussion, an Expert said that Suriname had put in place special divisions pursuant to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (Palermo Protocol) to aid criminalizing trafficking as well as protecting those trafficked.  With that said, Suriname remained a place of sex and forced labour trafficking and the full scope of the problem was unknown because of a lack of data.  
What were the challenges presented in data collection and the implementation of the Protocol?  What services were available to victims of trafficking and would foreign national victims of trafficking be given rights?  How were the perpetrators punished and sanctioned?

Responses by the Delegation

Speaking on gender stereotyping pervasive in media, a delegate explained that videos from United Nations agencies that addressed gender stereotypes were made available on national media platforms.  Advertisement placement was free, so anyone was free to air their messages.  Shows and videos that addressed gender stereotypes were regularly shown on the Government television channel, and parliamentary television also showed content to address those issues.

Another delegate then discussed a law on equal treatment and harassment of women in the workplace, saying that it would be presented to the National Assembly at the end of March 2018.  

Approaching the topic of the 2009 domestic violence law, a delegate explained that a provision of the law was currently being drafted concerning equal treatment of men and women and it also addressed harassment in the workplace.  A draft law on sexual harassment had been given to the Ministry of Labour and submitted under a section concerning violence in the workplace.

Specific laws pertaining to domestic violence against children had not been enacted, however there were situations in which it could be addressed, in both civil and criminal courts.  Shelters for children victims of violence had been set up in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund.

On trafficking in persons, Suriname was working to address the issue.  There was no need to increase the number of shelters for victims of trafficking at the moment, as there was enough space currently available.  A strict protocol was in place, which gave foreign trafficking victims legal status to remain in the country if they so wished.

A training programme on human trafficking was available, with 35 trainers providing awareness about the subject within the Government, regional and non-governmental organizations, and the police bureaus.  Awareness sessions about trafficking in urban and local areas were transmitted equally via television and radio outlets.  The police was in charge of collecting data on trafficking in persons.

Regarding measures taken to raise visibility for trafficking in persons, local radio stations aired awareness sessions, and Surinamese police collaborated with Interpol to control and combat trafficking in persons.  Victims of trafficking were provided with health and psychological services.  The revised penal code listed different penalties for perpetrators of this crime, the maximum penalty concerning trafficking was life.

Basic life skills education and sexual and reproductive health project was being set in motion with the help of local non-governmental organizations, to provide assistance and training on how to talk about sex with children at the junior secondary level.  It was hoped that the project would be implemented in seven schools on a pilot basis starting in 2018; following the evaluation, it would be implemented all over the country.

Going back to gender stereotyping in the media, there was no official structure in place to combat it, a structure needed to be initiated.  The Government had tried to engage the media in gender equality training sessions.  Currently the head of a major journalistic outlet was a woman, so it was hoped she would be more receptive to gender training and education.  Also the University of Surinam had conducted research on gender stereotyping in the media providing valuable insight to the subject.  

Questions by Committee Experts

An Expert remarked that women did not typically hold positions of responsibility in the work force and that there was no long-lasting representation of women in Government agencies and politics.  Their participation should be considered as an investment and political parties should be more involved in including women in decision-making for Suriname, Experts said and urged the country to adopt a professional equality policy.

Quotas were one way to accelerate the incorporation of women in politics, Experts said and congratulated Suriname at good representation of women in foreign service.

Challenges to citizenship remained, in particular to children born to Brazilian parents before 2014, and victims of trafficking in persons for labour and sexual exploitation.  What prevented children of foreign parents born in Suriname from acquiring immediate citizenship?  Was there any discrimination in access to nationality for indigenous and tribal women?

Responses by the Delegation

With regard to the participation of women in political life, Suriname had emphasized the best practices in activities related to the elections.  However, a quota system was not the only way to address the issue and for future elections, the recommendations would be taken into account to improve women’s presence in politics.

Women were heavily present in international organizations and a delegate explained that recommendations were made to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take into account gender in international diplomacy.

Questions by Committee Experts

An Expert commended Suriname on the high percentage of women in higher education but lamented that women were not necessarily represented in the same numbers in the work force.  How were women encouraged to take up non-traditional disciplines, and to remain in tertiary education?

Other topics of concern included the rights of indigenous women with disabilities as well as those in rural areas to access government services, linguistic barriers to education attracting qualified teachers attracted to rural schools, the restrictions placed on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students who were not allowed to express their identities and were discriminated against in schools, the expulsion of pregnant girls from school.

Another Expert commented on women’s rights in the workforce and said that the Constitution did not guarantee equal pay for work of equal value.  Suriname had ratified the International Labour Organization convention on equal remuneration (Convention N°100) in January 2016 – when would its implementation start?

Women in Suriname were twice as likely to be unemployed as men, and there was a rise in female unemployment since 20123.  Could the delegation explain?  What measures were being instituted to employ more women in the workforce?  

Speaking on sexual harassment in the workplace, why was the law not put into effect and when would a timeline be put in place for public and private sectors?  Maternity leave was also a matter of concern, as women were given twelve weeks of leave in some instances but women working in small companies did not have this right which was guaranteed by the Constitution.  Men also should have paternity leave so that stereotypes pertaining to women as sole caregivers were alleviated.

In terms of access to health care, Experts asked about specific programmes in the hinterlands where indigenous women lived, and whether they had resources to access health services on an equal footing.  The delegation was asked about availability of sexual education programmes, whether decriminalization of abortion was a subject of public debate, and maternal mortality rates.

Responses by the Delegation

In response, a delegate explained that medical missions provided health services in the interior but cancer screening was only available in the capital.  Sexual education was provided by a non-governmental organization, called Foundation LOBBY and was available nationwide.  They also did breast and cervical cancer screenings as well as distribution of family planning materials.  Contraception was still an issue because of cultural aspects, particularly among the indigenous peoples.

Abortion was still illegal and criminally punishable.  The State was not looking at changing this.  Maternal mortality was a priority issue and Suriname was putting in place studies to collect data.

On citizenship, the ius sangunis or the right of blood applied, thus a child born to a Surinamese parent automatically received citizenship.  Children born to foreign parents before 2014 could request nationality through the usual avenues and would be issued with citizenship following a formal request.  

There were no special measures in place for women in education.  In university settings, 73 per cent of women were present in mathematics and science, but women still often chose more traditional subjects to study.  There were vocational institutes that provided alternative training to women.  As for access to education for women and girls with disabilities, Suriname had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and was in the process of developing a roadmap for improved education for persons with disabilities.  

The national language of instruction in Suriname was Dutch as it provided more equal opportunities for all the people in the country; local languages were viewed as a hindrance to being competitive on a global level so Dutch was a logical choice for language of education.  There were plans to build more schools and there were many new schools already under construction.  

Information technology was used in education and plans to expand this were also in motion.  Services for young girls in rural areas were supported by numerous afterschool programs and they had access to sports and other activities.  Young mothers were provided with services and training services to help them in motherhood and to assist their return to mainstream life with vocational and educational training.  Data on number of persons with disabilities in the country were not available.

Suriname was aware of the need to review equal treatment laws with a focus on equal remuneration between men and women.  The draft law would be presented in March 2018 to the Government for approval.  The Bureau for Gender Affairs had also looked at proposals to amend discriminatory provisions of the Civil Service Act.  In February of this year, the law on maternity protection had been expanded to include a clause for father to take paternity leave for a maximum of five days.  Sharp increase in women’s employment in Suriname was due to a very deep economic recession.

Concerning indigenous and tribal people, the employment data from the latest census showed that they participated in the workforce (4,066 men and 1,852 women); concrete measures were being enacted to increase their inclusion in the labour market, for example by trainings to help them find work commensurate to their skillsets.

All people in Suriname had equal access to medical services, which included provision of contraceptives and HIV/AIDS medications.

The delegation recognized the link between culture and language and that students achieved better academic performance when they attended school in their own, native tongue.  There were schools which were successfully delivering multilingual curriculum, but this was yet to be implemented nationwide.

Pregnant schoolgirls could not be expelled from schools but they might choose not to continue their education on their own, said the delegation, and recognized that those girls who decide to return should have access to meaningful education and training.  

Suriname had made progress in adopting legislation guaranteeing equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, but gaps remained.  A working group had been tasked with initiating hearings on discrimination against and serious violation of human rights of this group; a total of 56 organizations had participated and 85 people took part in the hearings, including representatives of religious communities, elderly, youth and sport organizations, as well as private and public sector workers.  The results had been presented to the National Assembly, and the follow up was pending.

Questions by Committee Experts

Efforts to eliminate poverty in Suriname were applauded by an Expert but women were still often the hardest hit.  What mechanisms were in place to help them?  Also, what was the level of investment in social programs and what emergency programs were established to help women in disaster situations?

Also mentioned was a micro-credit fund from 2010.  The Expert asked whether it was still operational.  Concerning other financial matters, did women have access to credit from the Bank of Suriname or other financial institutions?  Were restrictions still in place that kept women from opening bank accounts without the permission of their husbands?  Did tax codes take into account female single heads of households with reduced income?

Could the delegation explain how it was implementing three judgements by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights which would have enormous benefits for rural women?

Was there a cultural priority for rural development strategies in terms of mining and land concessions?

Which body regulated private mining activities with gold mining in particular, and did Suriname have water quality provisions in place to protect people living in mining areas?  Did mining companies bear responsibility for pollution?  Were protections in place to maintain land occupied by indigenous and tribal communities?

Suriname was a country that received complex immigration waves particularly from Haiti and Cuba.  What standards and measures were in place, in accordance with international obligations concerning refugee and asylum seeking women?

The delegation was asked about the number of women and girls in detention, how many of those were in pre-trial detention, and whether there were any alternatives to imprisonment.

Responses by the Delegation

There were programs in place to help vulnerable families with services such as monitoring school attendance of children, health services such as immunizations. The labour potential was examined for each household and subsidized food and financial aid was provided by the government.  The land rights issue was still being looked at.

The 2010 micro-credit fund was still in existence but its functionality needed to be assessed.

Concerning the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights judgements, those that concerned finances had been implemented while those relating to land rights were still in the implementation as the Government was seeking input from indigenous peoples.

Questions by Committee Experts

The Constitution recognized and protected the family, working women and motherhood, however in practice women did not seem to have equal rights in marriage: children had to take the name of the father and fathers were the recognized legal parent.  

The legal age of marriage for women was 15 and for men it was 17.  Large percentage of girls aged 15 to 19 were already married, and being so young, they were more likely to accept domestic abuse as normal.  What was the timeline for the amendment to the civil code to raise the age of marriage to 18 for both boys and girls, and which measures were being taken to prevent child marriage in the absence of a national strategy?  

The delegation was asked about the existence of shelters for victims of forced marriage, steps to bring tribal marriage under governmental review, and whether the legislation to be introduced in March 2018 would allow a married woman to keep her maiden name.  Were there guarantees for equality for child custody and equality in marriage?  Corporal punishment was an issue that needed to be addressed.

Responses by the Delegation

The revision of Surinam’s civil code had already been completed, and now women could choose to use their maiden names on their identification cards.  Protection for children was regulated under civil and criminal laws but there was no specific law related to their rights.

Concluding Remarks

MOHAMED NASIER ESKAK, Policy Adviser at the Ministry of Interior Affairs of Suriname, in his concluding remarks said that on behalf of the members of the delegation of Suriname, they would like to thank the Committee for their constructive leadership and dialogue. Suriname had been made aware of the gaps and issues that needed to be resolved concerning women’s rights. They would take with them all the recommendations and advices given by the Committee to take away all forms of elimination of discrimination against women.

DALIA LEINARTE, Committee Chairperson, commended the State party for its efforts and asked that the provisions of the Convention be followed and implemented. The State party was requested to select certain recommendations and submit information on how they would implement those provisions.

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