March 8th in Cuba is No Day to Celebrate

By Irina Echarry

Claudia Genlui, a recent victim of police brutality in Havana.

HAVANA TIMES – March 8th this year is a little sadder because as Internet access has been growing on the island, more and more cases of abuse against women and girls have come to light. The year has had a rough start… in January alone, I discovered that there had been three femicides and two minors had been raped.

I’ve just discovered now that another Cuban woman was killed by her ex-partner in late February: she was 46 years old, had two sons and an 8-year-old daughter; she lived in Alamar’s El Progreso neighborhood. You may know of more recent cases.

According to the National Report presented at the XIV Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean last November, Cuba had a femicide rate of 0.99 per 100,000 women aged 15+ in 2016; we have to bear in mind that this figure only includes women who were killed by their intimate partners or former partners.

Just a few months ago, on November 21, 2019, a group of 40 Cuban citizens presented a Request for a Comprehensive Gender-based Violence Law to the National Assembly. The petition had 1000 signatures but was still not considered and added to the timeline of legislative changes last year.

This was despite the 2016 National Survey on Gender Equality which revealed that 39% of women had suffered some form of intimate partner violence.

This includes all kinds of violence, from the most subtle to the most extreme.

Women are socially disadvantaged generally-speaking, as they take on more domestic work and care. Even though they have greater access to the labor market than they did decades ago, they continue to carry this double burden. According to the survey, they spend 14 hours more per week doing household chores and looking after the family than men do.

Although we can’t forget that women make up 53.2% of Parliament, 48% in the State Council, 80% in the General Attorney’s Office; they are also the majority in the Supreme Court, and in the number of people who graduate from university, etc. All of these achievements should make us a more inclusive society, a more respectful and less violent society; but that isn’t the case.

For some people, violence only takes one form, and it does, but there are details that need to be given special attention. A Gender-based Violence law would help us to recognize the problem, develop public policy and have access to systematic and trustworthy statistics. 

While the existence of this law wouldn’t automatically mean its implementation, it would be an instrument for the justice system to punish abuse against women and girls, whether that is being committed by an individual, institution or even the Government itself.

Firmly rooted in concepts such as tradition or culture, our popular imaginary legitimizes gender-based violence and discrimination. We are living a dichotomy here on the island: on the one hand, we have rights that women are still demanding in other parts of the world, while our basic human rights are still being violated by the Government and its institutions. 

Women don’t escape this abuse, the Ladies in White are victims every Sunday, in the middle of the street, in plain sight. Environmental and animal rights activists, independent journalists, artists (although it doesn’t matter what you do really as long as you are dissenting) are victims of harassment, abuse, travel restrictions and even beatings.

Luis Manuel Otero has been arrested dozens of times for his critical artistic performances.

On March 1st, art curator Claudia Genlui (who was fired from her job at the City Historian’s Office because she thinks differently) was beaten by the police on a street when she tried to record the arrest of performance artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara.

Given the reprisals they have been victim to, some people asked themselves whether Claudia had been physically abused by the Police so that Luis Manuel (who was already inside the patrol car) would react violently, and they could then charge him with this.

Violence is always condemnable, if it was premeditated then it is twice as abominable, because an institution which is supposed to uphold law and order turned to beating a woman in order to achieve their objective; an objective which was also unjust: trying to build up a criminal record against artist Otero.

As a woman, as a human, I shiver and condemn any act of violence against a woman, also when the State is responsible.

Irina Echarry

Irina Echarry: I enjoy reading, going to the movies and spending time with my friends. Many of the people I love are dead, or are no longer in Cuba. I will do my best to transmit my thoughts, ideas or worries via these pages so you can get to know me. I will give an idea of my age, since it helps explain certain things. I’m over thirty-five, and I think that’s enough information. I don’t have any children yet, or nieces or nephews. There are days when I transform myself into a child with no age at all in order to see life from another angle. It helps me break the monotony and survive in this strange world.