has the 3rd highest proportion of female Members of Parliament in
the world; over 70 percent of its health sector workers are women, including 64
percent of doctors; and its Family Code obliges men to share domestic duties and child care responsibilities equally
not paradise. Or Sweden.
It's a little island whose GDP per capita is half that of the United Kingdom,
a place more associated with sickles and hammers than hammering through woman-friendly
legislation in parliament.
Cuba remains one of the most misunderstood and misreported countries on the planet.
When Carolina Amador Perez of the Federacion de Mujeres Cubanas (Federation of
and Gilda Chacon of the Cuban Trade Union Centre came to Tooks Chambers in London, it was clear that they wanted to set the record straight.
talk provided some welcome insight on the way that gender politics has unfolded
in a country much-maligned in the Western media. Established in 1960, the Federation
of Cuban Women was the first social organization founded in post-Revolutionary Cuba. Since
then, it has enjoyed enormous success in educating women (99.8% are literate)
incorporating them in to the work force (which is 46% female) and passing a
Family Code that guarantees women equal social and economic rights. Today the
FMC, ostensibly a non-governmental organization, represents 85 percent of Cuban
women over the age of 14.
statistics surrounding female participation in Cuban public life are, on the
surface, so impressive that Perez jokingly suggests that what Cuba really
needs is a Federation of Cuban Men.
and Chacon's censure of Cuba
is carefully calibrated and avoids any direct criticism of the extant regime; Perez calls Cuba
an ‘imperfect but perfectable society'. Despite not explicitly addressing these
flaws, Perez and Chacon's talk does address a much more convoluted issue: the
culture of sexism. Indeed, effecting political change in Cuba is
arguably easier than tackling the deeply ingrained traditions that legitimize inequality.
behind a set of inspiring numbers and figures is a serious undercurrent of machismo, or male domination, which
underwrites much of Cuban life in the private sphere.
Cuban law sets out equal rights and duties in domestic tasks, traditional
attitudes about gender roles often prevail and many women are expected to take
full responsibility in household affairs in addition to full time work. Perez
also notes that while the culture of machismo
frowns upon physical violence against women, psychological and emotional
abuse continue to be problematic in Cuban society - an issue that the CMF has
organized a national working group to attend to.
CMF's goal of democratizing family life remains elusive. And while statistics
and statutes are important, they do not portray the subtleties of female
subordination that often have deep historical roots. As in the Western world,
it seems that legal measures to protect and empower women in Cuba outpace the cultural shifts
necessary achieve full gender equality.
to Perez, Cuban women are ‘content but not yet satisfied' with their progress.
But the Cuban example is compelling because it complicates the Western
conception of developed and underdeveloped states, a paradigm that tends to
equate progress with ‘becoming like us'. At a time when the pay differential
between men and women in the UK
has recently increased to 17 percent,
and when only 20 percent of all MPs in this country are women, a refusal to
acknowledge the successes of other political and economic models -even when
they are deeply flawed in some respects - seems foolish.
Perez is visibly emotional when she speaks of Fidel Castro and she tells me
that she sees him as a real leader, a man who genuinely believes that women are a fundamental and
equal part of a revolutionary society.
what extent her sentiments are popularly shared in Cuba is debatable. Many would argue that Cuba's political restrictions and its economic
woes, aggravated by the US
embargo, have tarnished the governments ‘revolutionary' credentials. Moreover,
the effects of economic hardship have been borne disproportionately by women.
what Perez articulates is a continued belief in justice and equality, ideals
that were integral to the Cuban revolution just as they were integral to social
movements of all different political stripes around the world. Those ideals -
especially when it comes to women - have been badly bruised in countries that
are communist, capitalist, and everything in between. So as economies flag and
politicians flail, perhaps it is time to re-commit ourselves to creating
societies that accept nothing less than the full participation of half their