Thursday, November 11, 2010

Summary of findings on gender equity and women's roles in Cuban society, part 1

You might be surprised to learn that Cuba's 1940 constitution (the most progressive in the Western Hemisphere at the time) outlawed sex (and racial, color, and class) discrimination and granted wide-ranging rights to women. Although many of these provisions went largely unenforced under the Batista administration, the Revolutionary government from 1959 onward made the elimination of sex, racial, color, and class discrimination a top priority. For example, the Revolutionary government opened the labor market to women as a means of advancing gender equity and ensuring an adequate Cuban workforce, particularly given the multitude of social projects undertaken by the government (like providing all Cubans with free health care, free education from pre-K through Ph.D., etc.).

Vilma Espin, Leader of the FMC 1960-2007
The Federacion de Mujeres Cubanas (Federation of Cuban Women, or FMC), established in 1960 by Fidel Castro and led by Vilma Espin until her death in 2007, was the first Cuban mass organization. FMC continues its work today on the municipal, province, and national levels; currently boasts a membership of nearly 4 million Cuban women ages 14+; and remains a major NGO force for breaking through gender barriers in Cuba. Click here for an FMC report on the status of Cuban women in 2003, which also clearly outlines FMC activities and strategies.

Brigadista Uniform
In 1961, Cuban women and girls were instrumental in the National Literacy Campaign. Approximately 100,000 Cubans volunteered as brigadistas (roaming literacy teachers, the youngest of whom were 7 years old - a boy and a girl), initially dispatched to the countryside where the illiteracy rate was higher, then relocated thereafter to teach in the urban areas. The oldest pupils were two women who learned to read and write at the ages of 102 and 106. Brigadistas had an extremely high success rate. In less than one year, the Cuban illiteracy rate decreased from over 20% to 3.9%! Havana is home to the only literacy museum in the world, and many other countries have launched Cuban-model literacy campaigns incorporating materials sensitive to and celebratory of their own cultures.

In theory, the 1975 Family Code tackles women's "second shift" -- the domestic tasks awaiting them at home after a hard day's work in the labor force -- by imposing equally shared responsibilities for childrearing, housekeeping, and other domestic duties on husband and wife. In reality, the Cuban tradition of machismo is difficult to undercut, and many women are still relegated to traditional gender roles in the home. The FMC is working hard to ensure that the female "double shift" eventually disappears by promoting neighborhood-level education to make the Family Code a reality in Cuban households. It is interesting to note that during civil wedding ceremonies, a recitation of provisions of the 1975 Family Code by a lawyer with consent by both spouses replaces traditional wedding vows.

More research findings later . . .

Amy Blackwell

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