Women, the Revolution and Violence: A Happy Threesome

“If I can’t have you, no one can.”

Irina Echarry

Photo: Juan Suarez
Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Regrettably, the phrase above wasn’t pulled out of a cheap soap opera but from real life. According to the more popular version of events, those were the last words heard by the young, 16-year-old girl who, last week, stepped out of Alamar’s new cultural center with her boyfriend. An ex-boyfriend stabbed her several times under the cover of night. Some say she died, others that she is in hospital in grave condition.

We don’t have the official version of these events. In Cuba, it’s hard to obtain information on everyday crimes, including those prompted by male-chauvinistic mindsets. Placed under the dreadful category of “crimes of passion,” offenses, humiliation, beatings, mistreatment and even murders that take place every year are consigned to oblivion.

Only the Yearly Health Statistics Report publishes figures on deaths caused by aggression, but, as we have become accustomed to a total lack of transparency on these and other issues, we cannot help but be wary about such numbers. If we were to accept them as accurate, however, we’d know that, at least from 2009 to 2014, acts of aggression claimed more lives than AIDS and were among the first 35 most common causes of death in Cuba. Though the motives may differ and, according to the figures, more men die this way than women, bloody stories like the one involving the teenager (which not always end in death) are quite common.

Encouraged by the government, male chauvinism is described as a cultural problem. This way, it is naturalized and even justified. Our culture is of course patriarchal, but that does not mean it cannot be changed. The problem is that the government acts like a tyrannical male ruling over his house, deciding, among other things, what people can and cannot do.

The country lacks gender legislation and specialized mechanisms aimed at protecting the victims of mistreatment and punishing abusers severely. The population isn’t informed about this acts of violence and their consequences, as there is no site where one can access data on these types of crimes, the punishment dealt the aggressors or compensation afforded the victims.

Encouraged by the government, male chauvinism is described as a cultural problem. This way, it is naturalized and even justified.

It’s been more than fifty years since Fidel Castro stated that changing the situation of women in Cuba should be “a revolution within the revolution.” Many positive measures have been implemented since then, this is unquestionable. However, we continue to live in a society where men are molded in the conviction that they have to be combative, strong, aggressive and possessive. This is encouraged, among other things, by institutions such as State Security, the Cuban Radio and Television Institute, certain religious beliefs and study programs at different levels of education. The heroes we are taught to admire are always courageous, daring and triumphant, and the participation of men in Cuba’s struggles of independence are always highlighted, even though many women also actively participated in these.

Also, women have no protection in Cuba in matters involving stalkers and aggressors.

It is true that, at the Centers for Women and the Family set up by the Cuban Women’s Federation (FMC), there are psychologists that give guidance to women, but there’s no place a victim can turn to in order to get away from their aggressive environment. On the contrary, such women are forced to remain close to the person who harasses or beats them, either because they cannot leave their jobs or have no place to turn to. And we know that, if she is forced to live next to her abuser, she will not press charges out of fear of reprisals. Another serious issue is that police units are dominated by men and male chauvinistic women, and the victims who decide to press charges generally run into a wall of incomprehension and, many time, an accusatory tone. Law and order officials distrust the person and suggest such problems are to be solved by the couple, feeling the matter is outside of their domain.

Where, then, can a woman go if she is harassed, threatened or subjected to violence? How can we have an impact on the popular imaginary, such that people begin to defend such women when they are attacked by their partners, when the authorities wash their hands of this?

This past 14th of March, the UNDP administrator urged a number of countries (still behind on this issue) to criminalize domestic and marital violence, the violence that takes place indoors but is a public matter affecting the whole of society. Personally, I doubt Cuba will implement such a measure. It may do so formally and apply the law in specific circumstances, but daily reality will be quite different. How can a law that condemns this violence be put in practice if such violence has becoming established as a norm?

Violence also has many faces, including the psychological one. To feel devoid of protection, threatened, harassed, gagged, make people lose their self-esteem, believe that there’s no way out of their predicament and lose strength to bring about change in their lives.

The government hasn’t shown interest in setting up real mechanisms to protect women suffering mistreatment, quite the contrary. It is common for this government, in fact, to carry out acts of physical violence against dissident women (and men). This takes place in broad daylight, such that, in addition to being an abhorrent practice, it becomes a lesson for children and the young. Over these past few days, in which Raul Castro has publicly stated no human rights are violated in Cuba, many people have been thrashed, beating, dragged across the ground and humiliated out on the street.

Violence also has many faces, including the psychological one. To feel devoid of protection, threatened, harassed, gagged, make people lose their self-esteem, believe that there’s no way out of their predicament and lose strength to bring about change in their lives.

All of this takes place whether we are aware of the need for change or not. Most of the time, we accept certain attitudes that curtail our freedom, our right to speak out and move freely, as something normal.

To make domestic and marital violence a crime would be a great step forward, but it would not be enough. This law would have to be sustained by a true intention to change at the political, legal and social level. If approved, it would today be one of those many laws that are out there but are never enforced.

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.

2 thoughts on “Women, the Revolution and Violence: A Happy Threesome

  • How can we help you?

  • You are on to something very important. Lots of luck …JIm

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