Being a woman in Cuba these days means reinventing yourself, confronting a machista society and looking for innovative solutions.
cuban women in havana are creative and optimistic
Photo: Karen Vierbuchen

Entrepreneurial, creative, optimistic, strong, and revolutionary: those are the qualities embodied by Cuban women today. When we speak of them, we can’t forget to mention the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), an organization that this year celebrates its 62nd anniversary. Founded by Fidel Castro and Vilma Espín, it has become the foremost revolutionary feminist organizations, which highlights the super important role that women play in the construction of a new society of equal rights. It develops and implements policies and programs meant to achieve equality for women in all spheres of life, and provides support and wellbeing to the formation of the next generation. 

The Federation of Cuban Women confronts gender-based violence and the discrimination that unfortunately is still present in our society. It provides support for victims, as well as companionship and orientation. The FMC doesn’t judge or sanction: it educates and works for a more just and equitable society. It’s important to recognize the crucial role of the FMC in listening and accompanying the family and the women who have been victims of gender-based violence. 

According to a regional report about predominant social norms and frameworks among youth–as well as their impact on violence against women and girls in Latin America and the Caribbean— between 15 to 25 years old – there exist eight social norms and imaginaries that reproduce violence against women. 75% of young people in Latin America consider piropos, or catcalls, to be normal, and the young Cubans are no exception. This problem has been examined before in Cuba by the Centro Oscar Arnulfo Romero (OAR), which contributes to the development of equitable, non-violent gender relations and which created the Cuban campaign Evoluciona. 

“For me, being a woman in Cuba these days means reinventing yourself, confronting a machista society from my position as a female entrepreneur. And looking for innovative solutions.”

Cuban Entrepreneur, 21

Evoluciona is a principal tool with the central goal of dismantling the beliefs and imaginaries normalized by society; one of its main focuses, for example, is reducing assaults. This initiative inserts itself in a context marked by machismo and the imperatives of a patriarchal society, and it’s directed towards the youth in order to change collective understandings regarding violence. It focuses mainly on young people between 18 and 24 years old, and has particularly relied on information and communication technologies to get its message out. Since 2018, Evoluciona has come to various municipalities and provinces across Cuba via the Casas de Orientación a la Mujer y la Familia (Houses of Orientation for Women and Families) and has incorporated programming on violence into the daily work of the FMC. Evoluciona sponsors a variety of activities such as sensitivity trainings, workshops, talks, concerts, and panels. They contribute to increased equity, equitable and equal human relationships, and knowledge of violence against women, sexuality, and human rights. Evoluciona is a campaign that demonstrates the possibility of young people changing and constructing a better society. 

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On March 8th, 2021, Presidential Decree 198 of the 2021 National Program for the Advancement of Women was approved. This is a partner program between the government and the Federation of Cuban Women to confront violence against women. It’s been another important judicial tool that protects the rights of Cuban women. 

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The National Program is found in the Cuban Constitution and is concretely laid out in a Plan of Action that encompasses seven areas of special attention. Because of its importance, it’s necessary to make visible the general objective that this program proposes: promote the advancement of women and equal rights, opportunities, and possibilities, endorsed by the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, by elaborating on and eliminating the objective and subjective factors that, expressed as discrimination, persist in Cuban society and prevent better economic, political, social and familiar conditions. This Program guarantees the integral and integrated response to the prevention and effective attention to gender-based violence, which involves the implementation of performance protocols in institutions implicated in the Plan. It responds to the need to develop public policy and increase education regarding gender in family and communities. This Program shows the importance that these topics require on a governmental level and to strengthen legal culture in Cuban society. 

“To be an Afro-Cuban woman in Cuba today means a lot to me. I’ve learned to accept myself and love myself as I am, with my Afro hair, my phenotypic features…”

Commercial Management Technician, 36 years old

The Blueprint of the Family Code is a code that represents women. One important aspect included in it is the economic assessment of homemaking,  for example, the care of the elderly or the disabled, which women overwhelmingly tend to perform. It recognizes the role of the woman as a caretaker and as a subject of rights such as the right to recreation; it reinforces the protection of children and the elderly. It also states that women have a right to not be mistreated, which will be protected in this law, with the typification of all forms of violence: physical, psychological, economic and sexual. It protects the family and the woman in an environment of gender equality that recognizes the rights of diversity and reproductive rights, thereby empowering equitability in the familial space and calling on institutions and the community to activate gender strategies.  

It’s true that the Cuban state has created public policies to promote women’s rights and equality for all, but there are still challenges to face if we are to continue bettering our society. Regarding this, a diverse group of Cuban women offered their thoughts. To protect their privacy, their names have been omitted. 

“For me, being a woman in Cuba these days means reinventing yourself, confronting a machista society from my position as a female entrepreneur. And looking for innovative solutions.” – Entrepreneur, 21 years old

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“For me, being a Cuban woman in these times means that I carry the legacy of women who are freer and empowered. Being a Cuban woman and a mother means facing new challenges regarding challenges and priorities, which I recognize is the best and most beautiful thing that has happened to me, but this implicates leaving my professional growth aside to give way to the precious stage of life that is raising a human being. I recognize that we Cuban women have had many doors  opened to us in the laboral and professional sphere. But there exists a historical-cultural stereotype relegating women to the domestic sector, to the care of children and the sick, which many times puts the brakes on women’s professional advancement. I wish there existed spaces where we women had more support regarding childcare, maybe some institutions to support single moms that want to raise their children, but also grow professionally. One of the challenges of the Cuban woman is dealing with time, dividing time between all the domestic tasks, my role as a mother, my professional development and my own down-time.” Philosopher, 36 years old.

cuban women in havana are resilient
Photo: Alejandro Rojas

“To be an Afro-Cuban woman in Cuba today means a lot to me. I’ve learned to accept myself and love myself as I am, with my Afro hair, my phenotypic features, I’ve learned to embrace Black identity. This is thanks to Cuban initiatives that defend the Afro-descendent community: Beyond Roots, Turban Queen, Lo llevamos Rizo, Trenzando identidades etc. I think it’s still a challenge; we have to show many women, and girls, to love themselves. I think that the empowerment of the Afro-Cuban woman should continue, and that there exist places where they show mothers how to care for Afro hair, which is beautiful, so that these teachings can be passed down to the next generation. It’s important to vindicate the rights and dignity of Afro-descendent women in Cuba and deconstruct stereotypes, thereby dismantling the discrimination against our race. It’s not an easy task, but if we all work together, we can do it.” Commercial Management Technician, 36 years old.

“Being a Cuban woman means being a creative, optimistic, solidarity women, sensitive to the transformations in her environment and to the people who surround her. I feel that one of our challenges is looking out for ourselves, sometimes we’re so fixed on caring for the home, the kids, etc. that we forget about ourselves. It’s putting some distance between the belief that we women are responsible for everything and everyone, that overprotection and maternal instinct. We have the challenge of reaching a place of autonomy and independence, speaking emotionally. I feel that sometimes we depend a lot on the validation that comes with the roles we play as wives, mothers, daughters, workers, etc. We should deconstruct the belief that the Cuban woman is so much of and for others.” Psychologist, 25 years old.

All the above criteria show that the Cuban woman throughout history has achieved many accomplishments, but also has before her challenges to face. Without a doubt, the family code or the code of affections will contribute to the advancement towards a Cuban society that’s more inclusive and equal. 

Hero Image Photo Credit: Alejandro Rojas

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Eliani Matienzo Cuesta is a sociologist, a collaborator with the Cuban Evolutionary Campaign for non-violence towards women and the founder of the Turban Queen Afro-descendant project in Havana. She’s a graduate of the University of Havana with studies largely focused on gender, feminism and human rights issues.

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