Cuban Women, The Rights We Lack

“We lack the freedom to walk the streets of the country without gender harassment, as an accepted practice.”(14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 March 2019 — This Thursday, Cuban national TV broadcast some minutes of the first session of the Congress of the Cuban Women’s Federation (FMC) now underway in Havana. In the most of the speeches I heard, they were talking about women as a part of the Cuban economy and our role “in the production of food,” but barely mentioned were the gains, rights and demands that Cuban women have failed to achieve.

In the face of this official organization’s silence about the serious problems Cuban women are experiencing, I have made my own list of priorities, fully aware that each woman who reads the following inventory will add her own demands:

We need to have shelters for battered women and more severe laws against abusers. The police must be prepared and trained to deal with these cases and not keep repeating, when they receive a complaint, the harsh platitudes of “no one should interfere between a husband and wife,” “you’re the one who provoked him,” or “go home and resolve it between yourselves.”

We urgently need access to gynecological and obstetric care that respects us as human beings, does not pressure us, protects our privacy and intimate lives. Also, during childbirth, our care should follow the recommendations of the World Health Organization which do not allow for the practice of compulsory episiotomies without consulting the pregnant woman, as happens in Cuban maternity hospitals, but which the medical community rejects as a routine practice.

We want to receive a decent salary. Although the authorities boast that there is no gender gap on the Island, the truth is that the monthly salary of a professional does not exceed the equivalent of $50 and a package of disposable diapers can cost more than $10, so being a mother creates a serious problem for the family budget.

We lack the right to walk freely in our country without a policeman stopping a woman because they think she looks like a “jinetera” (a sex worker). Furthermore, when her identity card is checked if the address does not correspond to the province she is in, she is deported to her place of origin, harassed judicially and, often, interned in a reeducation center.

We want the tranquility of a dignified old age with a retirement that allows women who have worked all their lives to lead a decent life and not have to collect cans in the trash to sell as raw material, depend on their children who have emigrated abroad, or sell individual cigarettes on a corner.

“We want the tranquility of a dignified old age with a retirement that allows these women who have worked all their lives to lead a decent life.” (14ymedio)

We lack the freedom to walk the streets of the country without gender harassment, not only as an accepted practice but one that is considered gallantry. We want to be able to travel on public transport without being groped or assaulted by sexist and humiliating phrases.

We must have the opportunity to fill the highest positions in the country and to have real responsibilities of decision-making and influence, not just fill gender quotas, please international public opinion, or offer ourselves as “pretty faces” in the Government, Parliament or ministries.
We urgently need the right to free association because I believe that only when we are able to band together according to our affinities and represent ourselves, will Cuban women be able to build the structures, demonstrate and carry out actions to demand any other rights that we lack. As long as only one female organization is allowed, in our case the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) which functions as a transmission line from the power to women, little can be done.

We need to be able to dissent, to disagree with power and still not be discriminated against, segregated or insulted because we are women, to have ovaries and to dare to challenge the Party in power, the political authorities or the figure of a leader. In short, we want the freedom of the power of membership in any political organization, without regards to its leanings, ideological color or platform, without being denigrated for that.

We have the right to know the true statistics and figures of what happens to us. We want to know the real number of femicides committed in Cuba each year, the true incidence of gender violence and female suicide, the numbers of divorces or abortions. Making up or hiding those figures does not solve the problems, and the national media, together with the police authorities, have an obligation to show them.

Even if we are migrating, as so many Cuban women are right now in the Panamanian or Colombian jungle, we are owed attention and support from the authorities of this island. The Cuban consulates throughout the world need to look after our rights as émigrés.

Lastly, we also lack the right to public protest, to claim our rights in the streets, to strike and to receive a response. The right to make a day like today not a day of complaisant slogans, praise to power and genuflections to the Plaza of the Revolution, but a day of demanding rights, clamoring for demands and naming, aloud, everything that we lack.


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