75 YEARS UNITED NATIONS Three Historical Highlights of Suriname

75 YEARS UNITED NATIONS Three Historical Highlights of Suriname

06-05-2021
  1. Adoption of the Declaration of Indigenous Peoples

 

Arguably the most important voting activity over the past 15 years of the Permanent Mission of Suriname at United Nations, came exactly three weeks after Ambassador Henry Mac Donald presented his credentials to Secretary General H.E. Ban Kimoon. On that historic day, September 13, 2007, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. The basic work towards the ultimate approval of this important Declaration began in 1923 and 1925, when indigenous Chiefs from Canada and New Zealand attempted to bring matters about, their country's failure to uphold certain treaties to the League of Nations (the predecessor of the United Nations).

 

The Declaration itself was over 25 years in the making. The idea of a Declaration began to bear fruit in 1982, when the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) set up the Working Group on Indigenous Populations. The working group was particularly created in order to develop human rights standards to protect indigenous peoples all over the world. This working group began to work on drafting the Declaration in 1985 and finished with its work in 1993. The draft was then submitted to the Sub Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities and approved within a year. The same draft was then immediately referred to the Commission on Human Rights, which on its term established a different working group to scrutinize the terms of the Declaration. It took years for this working group to fine tune the Declaration. Progress was very slow, because certain states had massive issues regarding certain specific rights, such as the right to self-determination for indigenous peoples. The control over natural resources by indigenous people on their traditional land was another huge bottleneck.

 

Ultimately the final version of the Declaration was approved on June 29, 2006 by the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The Declaration was then formally referred to the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, for its final approval.

As mentioned before, the new Permanent Representative arrived just weeks before the adoption in the General Assembly. Since the OAS was also working on the establishment of a hemispheric Convention on Indigenous Peoples, the Ambassador was vividly aware of the UN process of negotiating a global but semi-legislative instrument, however he was not closely involved with the United Nations process.

 

In fact, Suriname's technical involvement was being supported directly from the Headquarter in Paramaribo, by a well-known consultant hired by the Government. Days before the adoption, the Ambassador started to consult the experts in Paramaribo about Suriname's possible voting position, since he’d received indications that the consultant was leaning strongly, towards voting against the Declaration. The Ambassador received the formal voting instruction just one day before the election and his greatest fear became reality.

 

He literally had less than 24 hours to change the status quo and started a barrage of phone calls and electronic mail messages to the Headquarter, without success. The morning of the voting was interesting, Ample 3 weeks at his new post, he decided to call the President directly for emergency consultation. He called the President in the morning at home.

 

His principal concerns to modify the voting instruction by the Ministry were: firstly, Suriname does not only have indigenous peoples, but unlike many other countries in the Western hemisphere, it also contains a large number of tribal communities (Maroon Communities), who enjoy similar fundamental rights as the indigenous communities (Amerindians).

 

Because of those facts it was simply unthinkable that the country could vote against any instrument to protect and uphold the rights of these communities. Voting against, would send a wrong message to the domestic population in general and the indigenous and tribal communities in particular. Secondly, there were only four countries slated to vote against the Declaration.

 

The United States of America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand announced their preference to vote against, weeks before. These 4 countries, all developed nations had their origins as colonies of the United Kingdom and contain large non-indigenous immigrant majorities and thriving indigenous populations,

 

Thirdly, Suriname simply does not fit politically and consciously in this small group of Nay Sayers and lastly, the Ambassador’s personal discomfort to enter the General Assembly Hall as the Permanent Representative of his country, but also as a human rights expert to vote against a key human rights instrument, was like a huge weight on his shoulders.         

 

The Ambassador ultimately decided to call President Runaldo Ronald Venetiaan and expressed the aforementioned critical concerns. This was his first and only emergency phone call to the President of Suriname during his tenure of almost 10 years. He had a lengthy dialogue with the President and discussed the concerns of the experts and advisors in Paramaribo, as well as his own. During the discussion it became clear that the President had also study the Declaration meticulously, since he was aware of every specific stipulation, principle and little detail.

 

During the discussion suddenly, the President asked straightforwardly for the Ambassadors personal voting recommendation on the matter. His response was to vote in favor, mainly because of the aforementioned reasons, but also to submit Suriname's particular objections and concerns orally and in writing, after the vote.

 

To the Ambassador’s surprise the President responded as follows: "I believe that we will do exactly what you suggested, Mr. Ambassador. The advisors in Paramaribo will not be in full contentment, with this decision, but I see no reasons to act differently".

     

The declaration was ultimately adopted by a majority of 144 states in favor, 4 votes against (Canada, New Zealand, Australia, USA) and 11 abstentions. In May 2016, Canada officially changed its "Nay" status to the Declaration, almost a decade after it was adopted.

By now, the other 3 objectors have also to varying degrees, turned their votes. While a General Assembly declaration is not a legally binding instrument under International law, it does represent the dynamic development of international legal norms and reflects the general commitment of the UN member states, to move and act in certain direction and to secure the human rights of indigenous peoples.

 

In a timespan of less than a decade all 4 developed states have changed their original positions. Just image how awkward, clumsy and embarrassing it would have been for Suriname to be the only developing nation, that had voted against the most prominent international instrument securing legal rights for indigenous peoples, which are part of Surinamse’s population.      

 

 

  1. Nationals Elected in Bodies Representing the Bill of Human Rights

 

Even though quite a few experts from CARICOM states, such as Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Guyana, Saint Lucia, Dominica and others have been elected in several UN bodies over the past decades, it was the first-time Suriname endeavored to become an elected member of a body in the UN-system. Over various decades, the young Republic had developed a rather good record with regard to the ratification and accession to a sizable number of hemispheric and UN human rights instruments.

 

Suriname was also up to date regarding the bulk of its treaty bodies reporting responsibilities. Furthermore, the Permanent Mission obtained prime responsibilities for the advancement of various human rights issues, within the CARICOM group at the UN, as well as within the wider UN community. In fact, it was a deliberate decision of the professional staff at the Permanent Mission of Suriname, to focus particularly on human rights matters as a niche within the UN system.

 

The first real test to find out about Suriname’s human rights standing at the UN, was the process to elect the first Surinamese human rights expert in the Human Rights Committee (ICCPR). Obviously, the question regarding Suriname’s electability needed to be answered positively and that was only possible by participating in an election.

 

As an experienced University Professor on human rights protection, Ms. Margo Waterval, without a doubt  had an excellent record regarding the international protection of human rights in Suriname. She was also part of the winning couple of Suriname’s first human rights moot court competition. A perfect candidate to be nominated.

 

Consequently, she was recommended and thereafter the yearlong campaigning began. The support from Headquarters was tremendous and at the Mission a campaign plan was set in collaboration with the Election Officer. This election was particularly difficult since no other CARICOM or other relatively small state was elected before, simply because it is not easy or almost impossible to enter into an election and compete vote by vote with the other large and mostly developed countries. Furthermore, the Human Rights Committee is widely considered as the most important treaty body and small states usually have no say in, because they don’t have the resources or even experienced enough candidates to compete.

 

The staff of the Permanent Mission literally pulled the stops of everything that they have learned from UN campaigning processes, to sustain Surinamese first electable candidate in the UN Human Rights system. It was not easy, but in June 2010 Suriname was able to secure its first UN election win successfully, as the first CARICOM Country in the most imperative treaty body.        

 

A few years after the historic election win of Margo Waterval as ICCPR Commissioner, Suriname again took the initiative to nominate another experienced lawyer to the other human rights treaty body, namely the International Convention on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Both Conventions together are referred to as the International Bill of Human Rights.

 

Even though the election to ICESCR was also very difficult, the staff at the Mission was able to use its previous ICCPR experience of just a couple of years before to its advantage and the second Surinamese national Ms. Lydia C. Ravenberg, an experienced public prosecutor, was elected in April 2012 by the 54 members of the ICESCR.With this achievements Suriname became the first CARICOM country and small State with representation in both pillars of the UN Human Rights System, opening the doors for other small developing States such as Guyana to follow a few years later.

 

It’s also interesting to note that the first two elected nationals in Committees representing the Bill of Human rights, were both finalist of the first human rights moot court competition organized at the Anton de Kom University of Suriname in cooperation with the Human Rights Organization Moiwana and under the guidance and stewardship of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights at the Organization of American States (OAS).

 

  1. Addressing Violence against Women

 

A few general remarks

Violence against women has been called "the most pervasive yet least recognized human rights abuse in the world". Accordingly, the Vienna Human Rights Conference (1993) and the Fourth World Conference on Women (1995) gave priority to this issue, which jeopardizes women's lives, bodies, psychological integrity and freedom. Violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and the prevention of the full advancement of women.

 

Violence against women is also one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men. It stems from social attitudes that belittle women and girls. It is tolerated through indifference, ignorance and fear for speaking out. And it thrives where families and communities pressure women to suffer in silence.

 

An estimated one in every three women worldwide experiences violence, with rates reaching as high as 70 percent in some countries. Gender-based violence ranges from rape to domestic abuse and mutilation, acid burnings to dowry deaths and so-called “honor killings” (a total of approximately 1 billion globally). As many as 1 in 4 women will be abused during pregnancy. Worldwide up to 50% of sexual assaults are committed against girls under the age of 16.

 

Most often violence against women is being committed by someone they know, including their husband or another male family member and 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not (yet) considered a crime.

 

Worldwide it has been estimated that violence against women is as serious a cause of death and incapacity among women of reproductive age as cancer; and a greater cause of ill-health than traffic accidents and malaria combined. In 2017 Suriname recorded 34 murder cases, 17 were related to domestic violence (femicide).

 

The abuse of women is also overlooked in almost every society in the world. Prosecution and conviction of men who beat or rape women or girls, is questionable  when compared to the numbers of assaults. Violence therefore still operates in many societies as a means to maintain and reinforce male domination and power over females.

 

Too often when a crime is committed and a female is assaulted or murdered by a male, society first questions the woman’s culpability in the situation or what she may have done in order to deserve that cowardly response against her. Yet the scientific evidence is that the vast majority of abuse, rape, harassment, murder, and manslaughter against women are often committed by men (with a criminal mindset), therefore all delusions concerning a specific woman, or certain categories of women, or women in general seems interesting sporadically, however every textbook on criminology contributes convincing evidence to the contrary.

 

Given the pervasiveness and persistence of these crimes; according to the former President of Chile, former Executive Director of UN Women and current High Commissioner for Human Rights, H.E. Michelle Bachelet, the ending of violence against women is possible only if we do it together: “We are all responsible and it is time for Leaders to fulfill the promises made to women”.

 

To address violence against women governments should begin by building a strong domestic legal framework. Many countries have already passed legislation on violence against women.  Some have one ‘omnibus law’ whereas others address violence through a variety of laws. In this case it is important to ensure that there is harmonization between the different laws. Legislation on violence against women should acknowledge violence against women as a form of gender-based discrimination, and that this type of violence may affect different groups of women differently. It should also be comprehensive, including provisions regarding prevention of violence against women, protection and proper support for the complainant/survivor, as well as prosecution and punishment of the perpetrator. Ensuring that prevention is covered by law is of vital importance.

 

Legislation should be strongly evidence-based. It should also address national realities and serve the interests of all constituents, including rural women and marginalized women. Women in vulnerable and crisis situations (circumstances of conflict, migrant women, disabled, trafficked women, victims of the sex trade, lesbians etc.) should receive special attention.  National legislation should meet the standards and benchmarks to which countries have committed regionally and globally.

 

While legislation is necessary, it is not sufficient, as there is often a gap between de jure and de facto equality, between the legislation and its effective implementation. Responsibility for bridging this gap lies not only with the Governments but also with Parliamentarians, as they should oversee the implementation of policies and programs to ensure that they meet the standards and goals that have been set. Parliamentarians should encourage and support civil society actors to play an active role in putting an end to violence against women.

 

Real progress will require a change in mentality and an increase of the awareness on women's rights issues and violence against women. Change should be nurtured from a very early age. Children: girls and boys - should be educated on human rights and gender equality. Teaching and learning materials that are used in educational centers should also address stereotypes. Families should be targeted in terms of raising awareness about women's rights and challenging social stereotypes. Boys and particularly men should therefore be focused on strongly. We should also not hesitate to speak up, explain the laws, and challenge the media, civil society associations, the private sector and others to join in public educational and awareness programs.

Training and education programs should be designed to target and sensitize prosecutors, judges, social workers and most importantly law enforcement agents such as the police. Partnerships between women and men should be at the center of the process. Programs and initiatives to engage men and children in the fight against violence against women should be developed and adequately supported. Since men are at the core of the problem, they should become part of the solution and consequently be encouraged to champion efforts to put an end to violence against women, because ultimately, they too will benefit in many ways of a world free from this senseless brutality.

 

Real men should step up and reach out to other men and earnestly contribute to transforming mentalities and societal roles. The participation of men should therefore be valued and made more visible. Discussions on masculinity, machismo as well as the role of men in society as responsible custodians, caretakers and protectors should be stimulated. It’s also important to bring elders and traditional leaders of predominately remote communities as well as religious principals in the discussion, since this problem is also linked to ancient old traditions that were transferred from generation to generation.

 

Violence against women is most definitely a political issue and consequently needs strong political will by both the coalition and opposition forces and need to be addressed as a matter of priority and urgency. To gather political will, all legislative representatives such as parliamentarians, should give more visibility to the matter, acquire accurate data, inform and engage their constituents. Exercises of costing on violence against women can serve as strong mobilization instruments to encourage parliamentarians and therefore their constituents in understanding the issue in economic terms.

 

Members of parliamentarians need to continuously put pressure on their government to follow up on its commitment to ending violence against women. They should not hesitate to question the government and call cabinet ministers to give account of their commitments, hold briefings and hearings to convince and engage political leaders and their constituents.

 

Effective change requires a strong institutional framework and national bodies that have the power and the capacity to take action. It is crucial that more women be represented in decision-making bodies. It’s critical to develop strategies to promote their access to parliament, government, national courts, business boards etc. In sum, it needs to be a combined effort by everyone: cabinet ministers, people’s representatives, civil society, central, regional and local government, international and national organizations, and ordinary women and men. “Collectivity and inclusion” should be the guiding concept.

 

Despite global efforts to tackle this problem, violence against women and girls remains a universal phenomenon that cuts across lines of income, class and culture. Its effects are widespread, affecting all nations, communities and people. The cost of violence against women and girls is substantial, monetarily as well as socially, and prevents all people from realizing their full potential as members of society, as well as a significantly impedes global poverty reduction efforts of development. The importance of addressing this issue seriously can consequently not be overstated.

 

There is no single solution of putting an end to this scourge since violence against women is a result of gender-based discrimination and gender inequality. Addressing violence against women without taking into account the wider context in which women evolve and the need to secure respect for women’s fundamental in general is useless.

 

 

It is surprising to know how many people don’t even know that 25 November is the international day on the elimination of violence against women. There should be more awareness for this day; starting at home, in schools, at the work floor, houses of worship and religious institutions, sports clubs, barbershops, and hair salons and even bars, taverns, kiosks, lounges, coffee shops, restaurants and cafés. Everywhere! 

 

Victims also need more support in order to encourage them to come forward, speak up and report perpetrators. They need to be protected by the judicial and social system, since only a minority of women usually come forward as they are too scared to be judged and belittled by society, because of fear for stigma, retribution or further violence. This is why the total number of women affected worldwide remains an enormous secret. 

 

In order to find a lasting solution for this problem, men should also be involved in the ongoing discussion how to finally stop the unequal treatment and violence against the other half of the world population: women.

 

More and more community Leaders, Parliamentarians and other Peoples representatives, as well as civil society, business leaders and ordinary citizens are expressing sensitivity towards this traditionally silent crime against women. An important group that should be considered in order to help solving this problem, are religious and faith-based Leaders. The police and other professional entities responsible for safety and security in society, should be trained, instructed and educated much better, so that they can easily detect and act on violent situations in domestic domains. With hard work and dedication to reach more men, women and children, the problem of violence against women and girls can be efficiently tackled and fixed within one generation.

 

 

Global initiatives

At the United Nations several initiatives were launched, initiated and supported by Suriname and Iceland. First, the establishment of a Group of Friends on Violence against Women. Second, the launch of #Orange Day, the International Day to Stop Violence against Women and third, the introduction within the framework of UN Women of the  #HeforShe and #Barbershops campaigns, all conferences and initiatives to help STOP Violence against Women. 

 

Men of all walks of life (Heads of State, Ministers, Celebrities, Rappers, Professional Athletes, Religious Luminaries, Elders, Academics, Actors, Law Enforcement Officials, Entertainers, Lawyers, Construction Workers, Teachers, Health Professionals, Social Workers and Diplomats etc. were invited to discuss in a serious manner and invited to bring new ideas from a pure male perspective to the table, in order to help eradicate violence against women and girls once and for all.

 

These historic and groundbreaking initiatives were also the first steps to contribute in the crafting of specific programs tailored on sensitizing men of different cultural and religious backgrounds about the problem, since girls and women have been silently suffering from violence against them as from the beginning of menkind. As stated previously: if men are considered to be the major problem, we should also find inclusive ways to let them at least become part of the discussion and ultimately the solution.We shared some ideas on how to finally involve MEN in the discussion to STOP the violence against the other half of the world community. Two things came up: First, to establish a Group of Friends on Violence against Women at the United Nations and Second, to organize next year an All-Male Conference at the United Nations where men from all walks of life (Heads of State, Ministers, Celebrities, Rappers, Professional Athletes, Religious Luminaries, Elders, Academics, Entertainers etc.), will be invited to discuss in a serious manner the problem of Violence against Women and instruct them to help find lasting solutions for this problem….Girls and Women have been silently suffering from violence against them since the beginning of humankind and I strongly believe that if Men are the problem we will have to find ways to let our peers at least become part of the solution.We shared some ideas on how to finally involve MEN in the discussion to STOP the violence against the other half of the world community. Two things came up: First, to establish a Group of Friends on Violence against Women at the United Nations and Second, to organize next year an All-Male Conference at the United Nations where men from all walks of life (Heads of State, Ministers, Celebrities, Rappers, Professional Athletes, Religious Luminaries, Elders, Academics, Entertainers etc.), will be invited to discuss in a serious manner the problem of Violence against Women and instruct them to help find lasting solutions for this problem….Girls and Women have been silently suffering from violence against them since the beginning of humankind and I strongly believe that if Men are the problem we will have to find ways to let our peers at least become part of the solution.

 

#OrangeDay

 

“Not until the half of our population represented by women and girls can live free from fear, violence and everyday insecurity, can we truly say we live in a fair and equal world”, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. The 25th of every month has been assigned as #OrangeDay by the UN Women campaign Say No, UNITE. This campaign was launched to mobilize men and women to act, so that this conundrum can be solved and at least 50% of the global population can exist without fear and constant anxiety. Violence against women and girls is the most widespread and ubiquitous human rights violation in the world. It remains largely unreported, due to the latitude, stigma, silence and shame that goes with it. Habitually, violence reveals itself in sexual, physical and psychological terms and contains: “intimate partner violence (abuse, marital rape, battering, assaulting, brutalizing, beating, femicide); sexual violence (rape, child abuse, child brides, stalking, harassment, lurking, haunting, forced marriage); human trafficking (slavery, oppression, sexual exportation); female genital mutilation (cutting) and child marriage”. 

 

The #OrangeDay campaign was also introduced in Suriname by the Minister of Home Affairs, H.E. Mohammed Noersalim. At that occasion all male members of Parliament, who represent the inhabitants of the district of Nickerie, signed on the #HeforShe campaign, collectively.

 

#HeforShe

The Harry Potter super star and UN Goodwill Ambassador Ms. Emma Watson launched the HeforShe solidarity campaign for the advancement of gender equality with an electrifying speech in the ECOSOC Chamber on September 20, 2014. In her speech she invited men to support their daughters all over the world. According to the then Secretary General H.E. Ban Kimoon the campaign has signed up fathers who want to raise empowered daughters as leaders, who know that their society will be stronger when there are as many women in parliament and in business as men; and ordinary people who are fed up with violence and discrimination against women and want to be part of a global force for change. Gender inequality is an issue that effects everyone, socially, economically and politically and that’s why the crusade was launched to offer men who care for social justice, a platform to let their voices heard.

 

IMPACT 10-10-10

Three months after the launch of the #HeforShe campaign the IMPACT 10 – 10 – 10 initiative was launched, to sustain further momentum in advancing gender equality. The initiative was presented as a one-year pilot effort to engage Governments (ten Presidents and Prime Ministers), ten CEO’s of Corporation and ten University Leaders as pivotal instruments for change.

 

Due to the active engagement of the Permanent Mission of Suriname with a number of UN Women activities, Suriname was approached as one of the first UN members to participate, however for unspecified reasons the country has never formally responded on the invitation.

 

IMPACT 10 – 10 – 10 prioritizes legislative bodies and corporation based on the severity of gender equality in areas as confirmed by findings from the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report in 2014. The report underlines the huge gap between men and women in terms of political participation and empowerment and indicates that has been minimal improvement in workplace equality since 2006. Universities where also invited to join, since youth involvement is crucial to fast track progress and in the achievement of gender equality and ending violence against women.

 

The Ambassador of Suriname was invited by UN Women to be part of a #HeforShe conversation of male leaders for gender equality at discussions, during the 2nd #MenEngage Global Symposium (Satellite Session) which was held in November 2014 in New Delhi, India. The #MenEngage Alliance is a global network of civil society organizations working to advance gender equality.

 

UN Women supported the event and participated  as part of its Beijing+20 campaign and program of work. The Symposium was also an opportunity for UN Women to highlight the #HeForShe campaign and present the strategic vision for its work with men and boys as gender equality advocates. The concept of the 90 minutes meeting was to ignite a discussion among men on how men and boys can work to support the achievement of women’s rights; how men can be more cognizant of the structures of power that privilege them and challenge these structures so as to move the gender equality agenda forward, shoulder to shoulder with women.

 

The session was consequently positioned as a #HeForShe conversation to focus on male accountability for gender equality. The idea was to have a discussion among men who believe in being gender equality advocates and what they can do differently and effectively to promote gender equality and women’s rights.  The format was a moderated conversation among 5 men leaders from different sectors. Speakers included members of Government, Civil Society, Private Sector and Media from different countries. The moderator was a woman, and there were women discussants from the floor, so that while the session featured male leaders, it was not an exclusive male space. The principal intent was to provoke new strategies, approaches and schemes for advocacy, partnership, policy, program and engagement for UN Women in the work with men and boys. Audience members include international and local participants of the Symposium and UN Women invitees.

 

#UNBarberShop

The Permanent Missions of Suriname and Iceland organized the first "Barbershop Conference" on January 14 and 15, 2015, with prominent male and female diplomats including the participation of Ministers - and a 13-year-old boy, Mark Bryant – pledging to recruit men and boys to advance gender equality, to realize gender justice and to end violence against women and girls worldwide. What made this conference different was that it aimed to bring men and boys into the conversation about ending gender-based violence. It was the first meeting of its kind in the history of the U.N. Men and Women live in two different security/ safety worlds: With regard to the violence and safety issue: “Men fear that Women will laugh at them, while Women fear that Men might kill them”.

 

The Conference with hundreds of attendants was in support of the ongoing #HeForShe campaign, and in the run up to Commission on the Status of Women 59 (CSW).  It was also anchored in the Beijing+20 Campaign “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!’, that aimed to create broad political and social support for the realization of gender equality. As such, the Barbershop Conference was an innovative and pioneering way to promote the involvement of men and boys in making gender equality a reality at a critical time. The Permanent Mission of Suriname and Iceland basically wanted to start this critical conversation among men and sensitize male diplomats at the UN at all levels, about the relevancy of gender equality.

 

It was interesting to hear and to witness how men had to struggle to put themselves in positions women face daily.  There was quite a bit of discussion regarding simple things like having to make a decision to cross the street as you walk down the road, simply because a group of guys are coming from the other direction; fear of being fondled, stalked, touched, harassed, raped or killed because of the way one will dress. Or act like you’re talking on the cellphone at night so that one can think that you may call for help if necessary. Or even check the back seat of a car when you enter it at night.  Men in general do not fear for their safety in the same way women do. It was an eye opener, a new experience for them and some truly had a challenging time comprehending this all. The hope of the Governments of Suriname and Iceland was for the Barbershop Concept to spark positive discussions among men on women’s human rights, within the primarily male domain of the Barbershop.

 

Suriname and Iceland are two of the smallest UN member states: One from the South, the other from the North; One in the Artic region the other in the Amazon, One covered with ice the other with pristine rainforest; One developing, the other developed; One rather low on the Global Gender Gap Report, the other on top of that listing. The principle goal was to have a space at the U.N. filled with at least 70 percent men, to seriously address gender equality and the safety issues of women and girls worldwide. "In order to engage Men in the discussion, one has to find innovative ways: first to invite them and second to communicate with them.  And they really show up in full force."

 

The presence of women, whom some feared would be excluded from the conference, did not inhibit frankness from the men. The objective of the Organizers was not to exclude women from the discussion; but to have full male attendance for the first time in the history of women rights discussions. More than 100 male Ambassadors and high-level U.N. diplomats were among the 400-plus in attendance. Most gratifying was the openness and frankness of the discussions. Men were ready to share their feelings and take this issue to another level in support of women and girls, thus in support of the other half of humanity. Many participants were very outspoken in the closing sessions on the Second Day with the most impassioned comments coming from Male Ambassadors who spoke passionately of their daughters, mothers, sisters and female family members as well as friends and employees. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Suriname sent a video message where he spoke about the importance of creating a safer world for the other have of humanity (women and girls including his beautiful toddler daughter).

 

The youngest speaker was Max Bryant, a 13-year-old boy from New Jersey who raised funds to send 18 girls to school for a year after he read about the story of Malala. Max made the most powerful statement when he said: "I'm not here because I feel sorry for girls who can't go to school. I think it's unfair that people can be denied education because they have one additional X chromosome."

 

In sum it was an unorthodox and very successful undertaking. Man walked away from the Conference with better knowledge about: the actual security and safety environment of their female loved once (mother, wife, sisters, daughters etc.); how it feels to live in fear of violence and to not have your basic human rights belittled or disrespected; why gender equality is not just a good thing to realize, but the smart thing to do; why men should break down gender stereotypes and work towards achieving gender equality for both women and men; why it is in men’s interest to play a role in engaging other men and boys in finding solutions that will accelerate the achievement of gender equality to the benefit of everyone.

 

The UN Barbershop Concept was relevant to CEDAW, the Beijing Declaration, the #HeforShe campaign and the #ItsonUs movement (Campaign from the USA Government). Ambassador Mac Donald personally views the Convention to End Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) as the Bill of Rights for Women Human Rights. According to him this instrument is complete; there is no need for any additional international legal instrument to guarantee, or to work towards the implementation and promotion of women’s human rights. Governments and Civil Society need to focus strongly on the implementation aspect of this Convention; and there is precisely where the Barbershop Concept comes in. Men in general need to understand that gender equality is good for them as well. That it is not just a women issue, but a humanity issue. Finally, men should understand that it is not enough to be a good man in a bad system.

 

The challenge should be to help change the entire system, since a bad system will always bring even a good man down. It is for these reasons why he now proposes to bring the Barbershop Concept to local Governments, regions, cities, universities, colleges, businesses, religious institutions, sport organizations and service clubs. Men should not be innocent bystanders any longer. They need to come on board to work in close cooperation with women towards gender justice, gender equity and gender equality for all.

 

The global community will fail to achieve sustainable development, if half of the team is not able to participate or face obstacles to fully play their part in the process, since there is enough empirical evidence to conclude that success in team activities, can only be attributed to the participation of the full team working in a unity. The then Minister of Foreign Affair of Suriname H.E. W. Lackin stated in his video message among others:

Let us speak up against inequalities and discrimination faced by women and girls. Supporting the other half of humanity will ultimately be to the benefit of all. I expect that the Barbershop Conference at United Nations Headquarters in New York will allow for open and frank talks about the role of men in changing negative stereotypes of masculinity. I am personally committed to real change so that my daughter and any other girl do not become a statistic of violence, sexual abuse or molest. Committed men can make that change happen. Be sure that I am committed. Real men are those who respect and value women for real!!!

 

This Conference brought international attention to Suriname, since the Mission was approached by Times Magazine, Newsweek and Aljazeera and various other UN news outlets for interviews and news releases. Because of the success of the first Barbershop Conference a second forum was held in 2017, which was smaller but equally effective and successful.

 

By: Dr. Mr. Henry L. Mac Donald LL.M.