Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, has said women will be included in the UN Conference on women after all, but it remains unclear exactly how they will be included, reports Newsweek.
As reported yesterday, Gunnar Bragi announced in a speech at the UN General Assembly that Iceland in cooperation with Suriname was planning to host a “Male Only” UN conference inviting male leaders worldwide to discuss violence against women and other women’s issues.
The news was met with a barrage of criticism with people wondering why Iceland, a global leader in gender equality, would purposely exclude women from a conference aimed at helping them succeed.
However, Gunnar Bragi told Newsweek yesterday that women will be involved in the conference after all.
“It’s not clear yet how women will be involved in the conference, which is still in the early planning stages,” said Gunnar Bragi, adding that the criticism had not surprised him.
The Foreign Minister speculated if the backlash was not due to the fact that a “Male Only” conference as a concept, was “quite new”.
“If we’re going to change things like women’s equality or stop violence against women, we, the men, have to be ready and able to talk about it because we are part of the issue and we have to be part of the solution,” Gunnar Bragi said in response to critics.
“The point of the conference is not to exclude women,” said Ambassador Henry L. Mac Donald, permanent representative of Suriname to the UN. “Rather, it’s to create a space for men to talk openly among themselves and figure out how to end violence against women.”
Mac Donald says the name “Barbershop” was chosen for the conference because it’s traditionally a male space. Pegging the conference as “Male Only” was one way to draw the much-needed attention of men to the issue of violence against women and to make sure a solution comes from a “male way of thinking,” Mac Donald said.
The partnership between Iceland and Suriname brings together two nations that fall at nearly opposite ends of global ranks on women’s rights. The Global Gender Gap Report 2013 compiled by the World Economic Forum ranked Iceland top in gender equality in economic, health and other matters. Suriname, the tiny South American country, was ranked 110th.
“It is a good idea to take a country like Iceland, very high in the rankings, and a country like Suriname, where they have to do much, much better,” said Gunnar Bragi. “It is very important that we share our experience and know-how of what we’ve been doing to get so high on the rankings and share it with those who are not so high.”
Similarly to Iceland, Suriname has a small population (540.000) though it has had a very turbulent post colonial political history. The current president of Suriname, Dési Bouterse, is a controversial figure held responsible for the numerous human rights violations committed under his military dictatorship in the 1980’s, such as the December murders and the Moiwana massacre.
In 2000, he was sentenced in the Netherlands to 11 years imprisonment because he was found guilty of trafficking 474 kilos of cocaine. According to Wikileaks cables released in 2011, Bouterse was active in the drug trade until 2006. Europol has issued an arrest warrant for him, but as Suriname’s president, he enjoys immunity.
The Barbershop conference will take place at the U.N. headquarters in New York in January 2015.