Don’t Ask for Permission, Woman

Rosa Martinez

Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — I have a neighbor who can’t even leave to go to work before she’s told her husband where she’s going. And when she needs to run a few errands, she has to go into great details about the places she’s thinking of going to.

According to her, it’s not a trust issue or anything like that, they’re just used to it. But, it seems this tradition only applies to her because he comes and goes without anyone knowing where he’s going and this is what urges me to write this piece.

Another neighbor, who is very close to me, has been sick for a while now, with muscular pain which is unusual for a woman her age as she’s only 43 years old, and between looking after the kids, including a rebellious teenager, fighting with an alcoholic husband (a good for nothing) and taking care of her elderly parents, she doesn’t even have a minute to sit down and have a cup of tea, much less go to the doctor.

These are just two examples of many women who are close to me, who I hear complain about their lives over and over again.

Everybody knows that Cuban women were who suffered the most during the Special Period crisis in the ‘90s first and, later, when the economy still hasn’t managed to take off. 

Mothers were the ones who made the most sacrifices during those tough times when they had nothing to wash with, shoes to replace, clothes to wear or food to eat. Even though everyone struggled to put something on the plate so as to not die of starvation, many women spent whole days without eating so much as a biteful, leaving the little bits that cropped up for the youngest in the house and even for their husbands who went out to struggle. Quite a few women got sick because of malnutrition or lost their skin because they were washing with bleach only or the first invention that appeared.

Things have changed a great deal since then. The Special Period is a thing of the past, but average Cubans continue to live in a tough spot, better compared to the ‘90s of course, but machismo today is just about the same as it was back then.

The number of women who still take on full charge of educating and raising their children is still very high, even if they do live with the fathers of their children. They are also the ones who are responsible for going out and putting food on the table, although it’s not just them who work and contribute to the household’s economy. And they can’t rely on their husbands to help out with the domestic chores.

From the moment a woman opens her eyes in the morning, she carries an excessive burden on her shoulders. She is the one to make breakfast for everyone, lunch, a snack or reinforcement meal that the small ones take to school, she is also the one to wash, cook, iron, go to the market, calculate how to get to the end of the month and, to top that all off, there are even women who also have to put up with criticism, aggressive stares or beatings.

And even though many women have freed themselves from these kinds of ties, there are still some women who are considered the Trojan Horse who need to put up with everything for their family’s wellbeing, especially the wellbeing of their children.

When International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8th, national media emphasized the achievements women have made during 60 years of the Revolution.

You’d have to be blind to not see that some progress has been made in the gender equality struggle in the past six decades. We have managed to become more active in civil society and have won ourselves an image that goes beyond just our reproductive function, which was upheld before the Revolution.

We have free medical services, as well as sexual and reproductive healthcare, with excellent prenatal follow-up care via the Mother-Child Healthcare Program and we have a legal right to abort safely. We also have greater opportunities to earn a living and become independent through paid work. We are aware that women earn the same as men in similar positions in every job position and role.

According to reports published by the Federation of Cuban Women, women make up 45% of the total working population employed in the public sector and 46% hold management positions. Over 80% have graduated high school or have further education studies, the unemployment rate of women is currently 2.6%, the lowest it’s been in the last 6 years.

But, that’s not enough. There are still many things left to win in our fight for equality. And you only have to look at the female friend, work colleague, sister or neighbor in our daily lives who still hasn’t got all of her legitimate rights, who is abused or raped just because of her gender, or has to give up her own life in order to subject herself to her husband or other relatives’ wishes.

This isn’t about there not being any communication with the people they live with or that the family harmony they love so much isn’t being respected, but that doesn’t mean that we need to account for each and every step we take or dream we have. No, you don’t need to ask for permission, WOMAN!