Cuban women in the new economic model

By Yenia Silva Correa (Granma International)

In its role as state signatory of the Agreement on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Cuba has achieved results on issues of social security, sexual education, employment and female empowerment. Professor Magalys Arocha Domínguez, Committee expert on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women from 2005 – 2012; spoke to Granma International about the implementation of the agreement in Cuba.

How are the principles of CEDWA achieved in a context marked by the updating of Cuba’s economic model and the recently held Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) Congress?

In Cuba there has been a strong political effort in regards to all rights concerning women. We were the first country to sign the Agreement and second to ratify it. Women in Cuba have equality under the Constitution, which remains unchanged, but the updating of the country’s economic model raises a series of related questions concerning rights and equality, about issues such as modifications to the management of property and organization of work. All these changes represent a significant challenge to maintaining women’s rights established in the sphere of employment, and strengthening them under the new conditions.

Cuban women enter into this process with many advantages, such as having a high level of education and professional training. The challenge is how to overcome mental obstacles so that women feel empowered. Outdated subjectivity, by which a woman feels as though she can not fulfill a relevant role in the face of changes to the modes of management, must be tackled.

We must carry out relevant discussions with local governments to identify opportunities for female employment and how women can become more involved in agricultural spheres – working land in usufruct in rural areas – and all sources of employment in the country. These new conditions will help more women to enter into self-employment, as well as become proprietors and administrators, moving away from the role of employee, commonly assumed by women.

Potential risks however, can not be overlooked. These new modes of management can perpetuate the idea that women’s place is in services, care and that they only cook, make beds and clean the house…
We have a new woman who can not be easily exploited, but I am concerned that perhaps, finding a better paying job as a self employed person, running a bed-and-breakfast for example, she leaves a job in a different field, that she enjoys, to then go back and work in the home. There is no reason to be alarmed by this risk, but we must continue to work with women. I believe that women are in a good position in their work and those who embrace the new modes of management, do so because they are going to succeed.

How does this all fit in the context of low birth rates in the country?
The challenges we currently face, with the updating of the country’s economic model, as well as discussions held in the FMC Congress and women’s participation in the economic life of the country, have arisen due to the changes in fertility and birth rates. The transformations that took place in Cuba – women’s education and access to work and the professional world – were revolutionary, because they provided women with a better standard of living and greater social recognition. But, when we started to run the risk of a decreasing population rate, this became a concern, not specifically for women, but rather, for society.

Economic factors are also an influence. Postponing having children has frequently resulted in women having just one child. I think that it is a challenge for the country to construct the best conditions for the couple deciding to have a child. We must continue working; Cuba is aware of this issue and it has been discussed extensively by the Federation, in Congress and other spaces. Reproduction and birth are not just women’s issues, although they can’t be achieved without them. They are society’s problem, as it is society which needs to reproduce and therefore it is society which must tackle them.