Irina Echarry

Carrying firewood.
Carrying firewood.

HAVANA TIMES — For an urban woman fed up of the city, its noise and pollution, living in the country can seem like a beautiful alternative. What I wouldn’t do to wake up every morning to the sounds of crickets or cicadas chirping whilst enjoying the great number of bird songs you can hear at this time of day. Who doesn’t want the privilege of gazing at the intense hues of sunsets without being disturbed by city lights?

However, it took just a few days of visiting and living with some rural families to realize that rural life isn’t all a bunch of roses; much least for women.

For quite some time now, daily routines have transformed that popular phrase which once said: the man is supposed to support the family, because women have left their homes to share public life too, working and studying as equals to men.

Furthermore, women take on their children’s education, looking after them when they’re sick and all the domestic chores, no matter how much it hurts us to admit; a large percentage of any rural household’s daily activity relies heavily on a woman.


Although there are some guajiros (farmers) who make coffee at certain times of the day, it’s the rural women who spend the majority of their day cooking. An x-ray of their lungs would show the same results as that of any hardcore smoker as kitchens mainly use wood, installed in small premises and without hardly any ventilation. Inhaling this smoke for hours on end, the female cooks are subject to chronic respiratory diseases or lung cancer, as well as allergic reactions and conjunctivitis.

Before cooking, many of them have to first look for, carry and cut wooden logs into smaller pieces to be able to light the stove. And age isn’t a factor. I’ve seen elderly women in their 70s and 80s who still do this.

juntos y revueltosA lot of houses are also engaged in ram and pig breeding etc. Animals sleep in very close quarters to people so that they can look after and keep an eye on them. There these four-legged creatures happily urinate and shit on the single patio of the house where everyone passes by. A lot of the time, it’s the women who have to deal with the animals, feeding them, treating them and moving them around so they can eat fresh grass. The same goes for chickens, guineafowls… whatever you can think of… At sunset, just when the light is at its most beautiful, women are busy feeding animals and humans too. Most of the time, they miss seeing the beautiful twilight.

I’ve personally seen the unhappiness alcoholism creates in nearly all families. However, it’s nearly always a daily occurrence that the man gets drunk which brings out the worst in him, long-established prejudices and a most irritating state of joy. Rural women are always rubbing elbows with this drunkeness, whether it’s their husband, a brother, father or children. It always finds its way back to them and it seriously disturbs them.

Dando de comer a los animales.
Dando de comer a los animales.

Life for rural women isn’t poetic in any way, even though they don’t have to suffer the city’s aggressive nature and the hustle and bustle and even though they earn the same pay as men, they enjoy the same access to education and health services and can vote, with all of the benefits and drawbacks these issues have in the country’s social and political life.

Despite the gender equality workshops which are given at several agricultural cooperatives, women still bear the brunt of housework and family responsibility wherever they go. These workshops and some measures which aim to improve the lives of Cuban women as a whole, have helped them enter the workforce, in management roles, in jobs which aren’t typically “female”, and recognize their value as a social being. However, very few of them touch on the more personal subjects of family and tradition. In the countryside, women are still being exploited, are blamed if something goes wrong, are victims of prejudice and overburdened with work. Macho culture still gallants around the island’s rural areas, however beautiful they may be.

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.

9 thoughts on “Women in the Cuban Countryside

  • Does the government make you guys fill out a form for every animal born on a farm?

  • I think it may be that Canada and Cuba have similar problems. Just this moment I saw on Canadian television the Minister of Health, Jane Philpott, speaking about assisted dying legislation.
    She says that more than half of us, particularly those in rural areas, do not have access to high quality palliative care.
    What is the situation in Cuba regarding palliative care?

  • I think Ken that isolation has a considerable mental affect. Another factor is that in a country like Canada, many of the farmers practice mono-culture which means that there is little practical work to do for much of the year. You may have heard the comment about the lifestyle of prairie farmers being triple A: April, August, Arizona. which briefly describes sowing the crop in April, harvesting in August and then taking off as ‘snowbirds’ to Arizona for he winter. Visits to the north of Alberta, Slave Lake, Grand Prairie, the Peace River country confirm that isolation.
    Similarly the many of the small (tiny, being limited to about four acres)) farmers of Cuba are isolated seldom getting to town but they do have the advantage of being kept busy because they operate a mixture of crops and livestock.

  • This is from a report (2009) by the Canadian Mental Health Association
    The Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) [2002] indicates that across Canada, the self-rated health of Canadians declines from the most urban regions of the nation to the most rural and remote areas. Geographic location is thus a determinant of health. The CCHS reveals that men and women living in rural and small towns have a lower life expectancy than the average Canadian. These residents also have elevated rates of being overweight, smoking, arthritis/rheumatism and high blood pressure. Furthermore, individuals living in rural and northern areas have higher than average rates of major depressive disorder.

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