Remarks by Henry L. Mac-Donald, JD on behalf of the Minister of Home Affairs at the Thirty Fifth Meeting of the Presiding Officers of the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, Havana, Cuba, April 28-29, 2003.
Thank you very much for offering
me the floor, Madam Secretary-General.
Let me first of all express my pleasure
of being here in this beautiful country, and also thank the Cuban
Government and People for the warm hospitality I have been entreated
to so far.
My name is Henry Mac-Donald; I am
a human rights lawyer and Second Secretary (Alternate Representative)
at the Embassy and Permanent Mission of the Republic of Suriname
to the OAS in Washington DC. I am also the Interim Representative
of my country to the Inter-American Commission of Women at the Organization
of American States.
Allow me also to use this opportunity
to express the profound regret of Her Excellency Urmilla Joella
- Sewnundun, Minister of Home Affairs, and responsible for the implementation
of gender policies in Suriname, for not being present here today.
Minister Joella - Sewnundun was fully prepared to participate at
this meeting, but due to an extremely heavy workload, she was forced
to cancel her visit to Havana at the last minute. She asked me to
convey to you and all the participants her best wishes in taking
this meeting to a successful conclusion.
I will now continue my remarks by sharing some official facts with
you regarding the general situation of women in Suriname. Secondly
I will present two specific proposals which my delegation would
prefer to see being dealt with at the Ninth Session of the Regional
Conference of Women in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Protection of Women on an Equal
Basis with Men
The Constitution of Suriname enshrines
that no one may be discriminated against, because of his or her
sex. However our domestic law does not provide for a special institution
for women, to which they can turn for specific protection in case
of discrimination on the basis of gender. A national institute for
the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights was founded
in the eighties. This institute has an advisory role and has also
the authority to investigate complaints with regard to human rights
violations. Anyone who considers herself or himself a victim of
a violation of fundamental rights and freedoms may submit complaints.
The National Gender Bureau was established
within the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is responsible for the
formulation and implementation of the governmental policy on gender.
There are nation wide approximately
50 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO); volunteer and professional
organizations specialized in the field of women's rights and gender
Recently the government has increased its involvement in women's
and gender affairs, due also with the cooperation of two Dutch speaking
Caribbean countries, namely the Curacao and Aruba. Since then noteworthy
improvements has been made in many fundamental areas, for instance:
- The government has created
and is now in the process of implementing an Integral Gender Action
- The Ministry of Home affairs is currently enforcing a gender
mainstreaming management system;
- the media has been trained to be more sensitive for women's
rights and the rights of children;
- particular programs on women's rights and rights for children
had been produced and broadcast;
- a training on "law and legislative skills" was
organized for the members of the Parliament and young women on the
ballot list of political parties that participated in the elections
- Establishment of the Governmental Commission on gender policies
in order to enact and reform specific legislation at the national
Women in Political Life
According to the Constitution women
as well as men can participate in general, free and secret elections.
The law allows women to hold any public office and function at all
levels of government. However the fact that legislation forms no
impediment, does not guarantee proportional representation of women
in de different political bodies. In fact women are hardly visible
in the leadership of many political parties. There are a relatively
small number of women present in the main governing bodies of political
parties; the great majority is mainly active in supporting structures,
such as administrative personnel and, propagandists. Contrary to
the low participation of women in leadership positions within political
parties, it is assumed that the number of female members is relatively
high, based on the visibility of women during the political campaigns
and at Election Day.
According to a study carried out
in 1996, the reasons for the low representation of women in leadership
positions were among others:
- Political parties are of the
opinion that the main restrictive factor is the unwillingness of
women to participate in political activities;
- According to women who take up high positions in political
parties, the main impediments is that men are not willing to relinquish
positions they have attained within the state bodies, and party
structures (mainly dominated by men) are not willing to nominate
women at influential positions.
- Many women believe that they do not receive enough encouragement
within their own circles (party and personal networks) to nominate
themselves, because of traditional responsibilities related to motherhood;
- Psychological and cultural factors are major obstacles;
- Women hesitate and are not sufficiently motivated to undertake
public and political functions;
- Public life is considered to be a man's world.
In a nutshell, the traditional female
role patterns are still the most important obstacles for women to
fully participate in political life.
Violence against Women
On March 8, last year (International
Women's Day), Suriname ratified the Inter-American Convention on
the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against
According to our Constitution everyone
has the right to physical, psychological and moral integrity, and
no one may be subjected to torture, humiliating or inhumane treatment.
Results of a study in 1993 showed
that 94% of police reports concern maltreatment, particularly of
women abused by their husband or partner. CAFRA Suriname, a well-known
NGO commissioned a very unique study on domestic violence against
women in conjugal relationships. This study was done in 1994 and
demonstrated that 69% of the interviewed women was found to have
been a victim of this horrible "macho" behavior.
Married women turned out to be less victimized than women living
in concubine relationships or women in a visitor relationship. The
last group however was victimized less often than women living in
The Ministries of "Justice and
Police", "Home Affairs", "Social Affair and
Housing" play a major role in combating violence against women.
The Ministry of Home Affairs, through its National Gender Bureau,
facilitates the activities aimed at care, counseling, training etc.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Housing provides material support
for victims in need, in the form of social services such as: financial
aid and medical assistance.
The Government has the scourge of
violence against women high on its agenda. Its is therefore working
in close collaboration with civil society organizations in order
to create awareness of this problem and to sensitize professionals
such as police officers and health workers, in order to better detect
signs of abuse and violence. It has also particularly trained members
of parliament to produce legislation regarding women's rights in
general and violence against women in particular. Citizen's awareness
building is also being supported by the creation, publication and
broadcasting of particular programs true the mass media.
The state recognizes and guarantees
the right to education of all citizens and offers them equal opportunities
for schooling. Education at all levels is virtually completely State
funded and in principle free of charge for everyone. It is noteworthy
to stress however that this situation will possibly be changed as
a result of the current economic crises. There are no current data
available on amounts of drop-outs, but a thesis based on a study
conducted in 1996, showed that only 50% of students enrolled in
the education system attained a positive result. The bad achievements
of boys were in particular worrisome.
Girls who drop out of school at young
age are often victims of teenage pregnancies. Females, who abandon
school at very young age because of pregnancy, have the option to
participate in a project for student-mothers, which mainly aims:
- at encouraging teenage mothers
to complete their education;
- to help them develop a positive self-image;
- to prevent other unwanted pregnancies.
The Student-Mothers project was initiated
in 1989 by the Government and later passed into the hands of an
NGO in 1992.
The State is responsible for the
guarantee and promotion of general health care to all citizens.
Suriname has always had a reasonably developed public health system,
with an extensive network of intramural and extramural services.
Unfortunately since the early nineties a reduction could be noticed
in the access to certain medical facilities and the availability
of certain medical services has become threatened. The government
has managed however to yearly execute an effective vaccination campaign,
in order to prevent the most common child diseases.
With respect to reproductive health
the penal code stipulates that abortion is a punishable act. Punishable
are among others, women who intentionally cause the abortion or
death of their fetus, and the persons who intentionally causes the
abortion or death of a woman's fetus, with or without her consent.
A blind eye is actually turned to abortion, which is generally performed
safely and by official medical practitioners.
Poverty reduction is one of the most
important objectives of the current government. The government is
aiming at the creation of jobs true the development of several governmental
projects. In collaboration with different national and international
civil society organizations considerable funds have become available.
These funds are invested in community based projects in which women
and children are specifically targeted.
The European Union, the Inter American Agency for Development and
Cooperation, the UNDP and the Inter- American development Bank are
among the mayor players in this respect.
Madam Secretary General
One of the most pressing phenomenon,
which we are facing nowadays, is de problem regarding women in crisis
situations. Domestic Violence is still a serious problem in Suriname
and in many parts of this hemisphere. Women living in these terrible
circumstances are extremely vulnerable, because of their economic
and financial dependency and a shortage of adequate housing facilities.
Secondly, the situation of indigenous
women and women living in rural areas is of great concern in the
Western Hemisphere. The advancement of these women did not keep
the pace of which women in for example the urban areas have been
It is for these reasons that my
delegation would like to list both matters as priority issues to
be dealt with at the Ninth Session of the Regional Conference on
Women in Latin-America and the Caribbean.
In closing, although my country's
resources are limited and the diversion of extra financial resources
to improve the situation of women is proving extremely challenging,
the Government of Suriname is nonetheless determined to working
tirelessly and assiduously to implement the commitments undertaken
by our governments regionally and globally.
Thank you very much.