Tuesday, November 2, 2010

1 November in Havana

1 November: our first day of delegation meetings with governmental, organizational, and university women in Havana. 1st meeting: dialogue with representatives from the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) and various Parliament members regarding the struggle for women’s rights amid historical patriarchy, the current status of women in Cuba, and goals for attaining gender equity in the future. Although the 1940 Cuban constitution (the most progressive in the Western Hemisphere at the time) granted many rights to women regarding maternity and workforce, enforcement was lax. After the Revolution of 1959, the new government actually implemented such women’s rights policies. Still, women were working a “double day”: tasked unfairly with domestic duties such as cooking, cleaning, child care, etc. The 1975 Family Code arose from FMC draft legislation to task the male and female of each married couple equally with such domestic duties and to grant equal rights to pursue careers outside the home. Cuban civil wedding ceremonies substitute the recitation of vows with a reading of the provisions of the Family Code and require consent to them by both spouses. But “machismo” is tenacious, so gender relations within the home sometimes will still follow the old stereotypical patterns. A few of the current challenges: resolving consumer shortfalls (medicines, contraceptives, etc.) due to the U.S. economic embargo and protecting the rights of homosexuals, family violence victims, and fathers who want to paternity leave to care for infants or sick children.  (Note that FMC --the first mass organization in Cuba, established in 1962 -- works with women and men to foment changes in gender rights via its national organization and its grassroots through local/municipal groups.)

Next meeting: Mariela Castro Espin (daughter of Raul Castro and Vilma Espin, longtime FMC leader and revolutionary heroine) discussed her research on Cuba’s historic intolerance of homosexuality, tracing its roots back to Spanish colonial traditions. Mariela, director of FMC’s National Center for Sex Education and Research, shared the government’s plan to sensitize the population about homosexuality to foster a more inclusive, gender-diverse Cuban society. Revolutionaries in the 1950s identified discrimination practices based on sex and race as measures used by the Batista-era powers to oppress the Cuban working class – and thus sought to eradicate both. But homosexuality never entered into the dialogue. So until very recently Cuban society, in large part, has been intolerant toward LGBT issues. In 2009 and 2010, many Cubans commemorated International Day Against Homophobia, with plans to do so in 2011 onward. The government now supports educational and media efforts to raise awareness of and advocacy for a Cuba that embraces diversity in gender identity and sexual orientation. Mariela also discussed women’s access to abortion and contraception (both of which are entitlements under the public health care system) and the integration of sex education into all aspects of educational curriculum (FYI: all Cubans entitled to free primary, secondary, university, and graduate education). Efforts are afoot to use cartoons and other media to teach adolescents about respect between the genders in terms of courtship and sex, in part to undercut the “machismo” priority on sexual conquest of females and replace such notions with healthier relationship skills.

Amy in Fidel Castro's chair at the University of Havana
After lunch at Casa de la Amistad (where many visiting dignitaries are received, including President Jimmy Carter), our AAUW delegates toured the University of Havana; met with female university administrators, faculty, and staff; and attended talks on the Cuban economy and sociological studies in Latin America. Soon delegates will receive a breakdown of the gender statistics of students, administrators, faculty, etc. in general terms and by area of study.

1 comment:

  1. Amy, what a great experience you are having. We look forward to hearing more.