14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Alquizar (Artemisa), 30 January 2017 –In Alquízar the red earth covers everything with a reddish layer. To Gladys Montero that crimson powder gets into the wrinkles of the face. “I come from the deep field,” she warns. In Cuba, 21% of women live in rural areas, wake up when the rooster crows and make their lives at the rhythm marked by the crops.
Formerly praised as a “loving guajira,” drawn in a bucolic environment or photographed with her starving children, the peasant woman no longer resembles any of these stereotypes. However, her peculiarities are scarcely heard today amidst the bustle of urban centers and macho prejudices.
Gladys is close to turning 70 and carries the memories of her childhood as “fresh as a lettuce.” As a child, she helped her parents to plant “corn, beans and squash.” She only finished the eighth grade, although she detects with a glance whether a furrow was planted with dedication or sloppily.
The female workforce in the agricultural sector represents 19.2% of the total of its workers and only 17.3% of the management positions in these areas are occupied by them
Although in 2013 more than 142,300 women worked in the fields of the island, in the popular imagination these tasks remain “a thing of men.” The female workforce in the agricultural sector represents 19.2% of the total workers and only 17.3% of the management positions in this area are occupied by them.
Inside the houses the picture is totally different. 56% of rural women are engaged in household chores. Statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture indicate that for every 100 men with stable employment in the countryside, there are scarcely 30 women.
As a young woman, Gladys also cut cane, hard work that is scary even for many men. “I gave birth to my first child very young and shortly after the second one came,” she recalls. When the children grew up, her mother became ill and she took care of her until the end of her days.
The majority of her neighbors and relatives have gone through a similar situation. Hundreds of miles from the village of Artemisa, where Gladys lives, Rosa María also lives a life in front of the fire in Florida, Camagüey. “There are nights when I go to bed, everything hurts and my feet are very swollen.”
The main problems that both must overcome each day are linked to the energy source with which they process food, the water supply, domestic violence and economic difficulties. None have a hobby, they hardly participate in social activities nor have they gone to the movies in the last ten years.
The qualitative study, Fifty Voices And Faces Of Cuban Peasant Leaders, sponsored by OXFAM-Canada and the Government of Andalusia, revealed that the empowerment of rural women is failing on the overload of domestic responsibilities and childcare, along with insufficient technical preparation and sexist stereotypes, among other factors.
For every 100 hours of men’s work, women perform 120, most of them simultaneous activities
Across the country, females devote 71% of their working hours to unpaid domestic work, according to a 2002 Time Use Survey. For every 100 hours of men’s work, women perform 120, most of them simultaneous activities. A situation that is aggravated in the towns and villages.
Specialist Mavis Álvarez Licea believes that “a still significant majority of rural men behave with a strong hegemonic masculinity.” While women “are still subjected to male power, perhaps not in the same degree and condition as their predecessors but, overtly or openly, they are repressed and discriminated against.”
The case of Teresa González is different. From the age of 17 she began to keep the accounts at the José Antonio Echevarría credit and service cooperative at Artemisa. Today she holds the presidency. “I spent the day doing the accounts and at first the men who were in the field thought that this was not work,” she recalls. Over time she has made everyone respect her work.
In 2008, the government of Raúl Castro implemented a series of measures to revive agricultural production. Among them was the delivery of idle land in a form of leasing known as usufruct, under Decrees-Laws 259 and 300, but according to figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, four years after the start of the process, of the 171,237 beneficiaries, only 9.5% were women.
Men continue to have property control over agricultural resources such as land, water, inputs and credits, and make most of the decisions. Of women, only 12,102 are landowners, for 11% of all landowners.
Men continue to have property control over agricultural resources such as land, water, inputs and credits, and make most of the decisions. Women represent only 11% of landowners
The Cuban authorities favor the figures comparing the situation between men and women in terms of access to health, education, employment and administrative positions. But little is published about the gender wage differences and the contrasts of opportunities, especially those linked to regional location.
In the middle of a furrow where she picks tomatoes, Marisol says she always has something to do. “After this comes the harvesting of garlic that pays better,” she tells 14ymedio. Her husband prefers to have her “in the house all day polishing on the floor,” but economic constraints have forced him to accept that she works in agriculture.
At her side, under the inclement sun, is Mirta, who, every day after completing the tasks of reaping and arriving at her modest house, carries the water from a nearby irrigation channel to bathe, wash clothes and cook. “We do not have a television because the current comes to us from a ‘clothesline’ (an informal wire run off someone else’s line) and the voltage is very low.”
She has not been able to convince her children to stay in that house surrounded by fields and pigsties. Her son decided to remain in the military when he finished his military service and her daughter married a man who “took her to Havana.”
Editorial Note: This report was made with the support of Howard G Buffet Fund for Women Journalists of the International Women’s Media Foundation.