Gender Equality in Cuba and a new initiative announced

Today there is no field of society that excludes women. Photo: Ismael Francisco / Cubadebate.

March 8, International Women’s Day, is a prominent date in many parts of the world, formalized by the United Nations (UN) in 1975. It has its roots in the labour movement of the mid-19th century, at a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world in which women began to raise their voices more and more. Clara Zetkin was the promoter of this world commemoration. According to the UN, gender equality refers to the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men, and girls and boys. Therefore, it is a universal and constitutional legal principle.

Every year this date is celebrated with the aim of recognizing the centuries-old struggle of women to participate in society on an equal footing with men, as well as claiming that women from all continents fight for equality, peace, and justice, full respect for human rights, security and sustainable development.

This year, the theme announced by @ONUMujeres (UN) is: “Women leaders: For an equal future in the world of COVID-19” and celebrates the enormous efforts made by women and girls around the world to forge a more equal future and recover Sars-cov-2 virus. This disease has hit women’s labour market opportunities in several countries, according to reports from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the charity Oxfam, reinforcing gender gaps and stereotypes.

The Sustainable Development Goals, which must be met by 2030, establish in their goal number five: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” Even so, women continue to face obstacles in some areas globally. One of the challenges of the 2030 Agenda, in relation to the response to the pandemic is, for example, to transform inequalities in unpaid care work, due to the increased needs of the elderly and the closure of schools.

The new Constitution, approved in Cuba in 2019, ratifies the Cuban State’s commitment to gender equality in all areas of life and non-discrimination (Articles 41 to 44). Article 43 establishes that “the State fosters the integral development of women and their full social participation. It ensures the exercise of their sexual and reproductive rights, protects them from gender violence in any of its manifestations and spaces, and creates the institutional and legal mechanisms for it”; while Article 85 stipulates that “family violence, in any of its manifestations, is considered destructive of the people involved, families and society”, and is sanctioned by law.

Coinciding with International Womens Day this year, some results have been published of the Cuban National Survey of Gender Equality (ENIG-2016), carried out by the Centre for Population and Development Studies of the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) and the Centre for Women’s Studies of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC).

96% of the people interviewed, women and men, indicated that they had not felt discriminated against in the last five years because of their sex, age, skin colour, occupation, place of birth, physical appearance, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Cuban National Survey of Gender Equality (ENIG-2016)

The results of the ENIG-2016 showed that 51.9% of people consider that in Cuba violence against women is “little”; 30% value that it is “a lot” and 8.9% think that “it does not exist”. More than 80% estimate that laws are applied in the country that protect women and that there are places or services that provide care for victims of violence and that there are organizations where women can raise their needs and concerns. Notwithstanding the above, the survey found that 26.7% of the women claimed to have been a victim of violence in their partner relationship in the last twelve months measured in the survey and another 39.6%, at some point in their life, mainly a type of psychological violence and, secondly, economic.

The ENIG-2016 also demonstrated that there is a domestic responsibility assumed mainly by women, who continue to be the main person responsible for the care, accompaniment and temporary and permanent attention of dependent people inside and outside the homes. Cuban women dedicate more time (14 hours more on average in a week) than men to domestic chores at home, assuming tasks that require daily effort and greater psychological exhaustion; while they tend to assume more frequently those that do not require daily completion. This division appears at all ages, it is maintained in women in paid work and is intensified in the unemployed population: unemployed women dedicate around 18 hours a week more to this type of work than men in the same situation.

Despite this situation, Cuban women play an important role in the various decision-making levels of the country’s political, economic and public life: 50.7% of the leaders in the State and the Government are women; they represent 53.2% of parliamentarians and 53.3% of Governors and Vice Governors.

47.6% (10 out of 21) of the members of the Council of State are also women; 30% of the ministers (6) and 48.5% of the vice ministers (33). In addition, in Cuba the Comptroller of the Republic (head of the Treasury), the Deputy Prime Minister and the Attorney General of the Republic are women. In local governments, there is a greater presence of women in leadership responsibilities.

Cuban National Survey of Gender Equality (ENIG-2016)

However, the country faces other challenges associated with the persistence, both in the public and private spheres, of inherited sexist and discriminatory patterns and of media that show the inappropriate use of the image of women.

As part of confronting and overcoming the gaps and challenges that still exist, the process of improving national legislation in order to adjust it to the constitutional mandate, reinforcing the will of the State and the Government to approve appropriate policies and applicable laws, with the goal of promoting gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.

To this end, a new National Program for the Advancement of Women (PAM) was drawn up, which includes 44 measures in seven areas of special attention: the economic empowerment of women; work with public communication; education, prevention and social work; access to key spaces for decision-making; the legislative scenario that includes the analysis of the regulatory framework and protection systems against all forms of discrimination and violence; sexual and reproductive health and the necessary production of statistics and research.

In this way, the PAM legitimizes existing positive practices for the advancement of women and institutionalizes gender equality policies, positioning this issue as part of the government agenda.

* Anays Montequín Jiménez and María del Carmen Franco Suárez, Center for Population and Development Studies (CEPDE) of the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) collaborated for this article.

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