Cuba Grapples with Gender Violence

Rosa Martinez

Mural in eastern Cuba. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, January 13— Yanet Argote separated from her husband Raul about three months ago but the relationship between the two remained cordial.  They knew that good communication between themselves as a mom and dad was the best thing for their son Manuel, who’s only six.

During the seven long years that the marriage lasted, young Yanet endured all types of abuse, but that story is now part of the past, because she left the house permanently and today she can smile and even style her curly hair like she hadn’t been able to do in ages.

She is cultural promoter at the September 28 Recreational Center, located on the south side of the city of Guantanamo.  Her co-workers say that she now seems like a different person; they have never seen her so cheerful and everybody believes the separation suited her well.

One day, Raul asked her to go with their boy to their former house to look for the fishbowl that he had promised the child for some time.  Both the mother and son went there.

What caught Yanet’s attention once inside was that her ex-husband had put a padlock on the security gate and had locked the door, but she didn’t say anything.  She was then astonished when she saw the machete that, for no reason whatsoever began to devastate her legs and arms.

She could hear their son’s desperate screams: “Dad, why? Leave my mom alone.”  She died quickly, and at least she didn’t see when the boy had his throat slit by his own father, who hung himself before the police and neighbors were able to get there.

This is a true story.  It happened barely a few months ago, but unfortunately it wasn’t the only one of its type last year, though it was indeed the most tragic.

The Guantanamo population was shaken by this event.  For days no one talked about anything else across the whole city, though the media local — as could be expected — said nothing of the tragedy, just as they have never said anything about the number of women murdered by their husbands, boyfriends or lovers in this most easterly part of the island.

Violence takes on another dimension

On May 13, 2010, Havana Times published my article “My Daddy Hit Her Again.”  Since then the phenomenon has not only worsened, but it has taken on a whole new dimension: like in Raul’s case, men are now not only murdering their wives, they’re also killing themselves and even their own children.

Mural in eastern Cuba. Photo: Caridad

In Cuba it is very difficult to obtain figures on the number of women murdered during any certain period because our country doesn’t provide public data on women’s deaths from gender violence, and the national press barely mentions it.  The problem with this is that if we hide the phenomenon or don’t reveal what it is, we won’t be able to eliminate the evil that affects so many of us.

According to several experts, Guantanamo is the Cuban city with the highest rate of female murders, though unfortunately it is a tragic fact that extends across the entire country and all over the world.

Though statistics on Guantanamo are eclipsed by the fact that 30 women are murdered in Latin America daily, this adversity here has seen an alarming rise in recent years.

Violence against women is an act based on gender and has as a possible result bodily, sexual or psychological injury, while it also includes threats, coercion, compromised freedom and of course death.

As was stated by Tatiana, an elementary school teacher, “Any type of violence against a female can lead to death since the psychological degrading of a woman can compel her to commit suicide; verbal abuse almost always leads to physical abuse, and this can lead directly to her the death.”

There are places to turn, but…

On this occasion I wanted to add special remarks concerning physical violence.

Women in eastern Cuba. Photo: Caridad

Domestic violence is an epidemic that extends to all regions of the planet.  According to the United Nations, one out of every four women is abused by her companion, and it is precisely in our geographical region (Latin America and the Caribbean) where most femicides occur.  Statistics from the World Health Organization suggest that gender violence is the main cause of the death of women between the ages of 15 and 44, surpassing even cancer and malaria.

In light of the increasing frequency of the phenomenon, several countries have enacted laws in attempts to reduce the number of cases.  For example, our nation was the first to sign the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and for more than 30 years working groups have existed to focus attention and to prevent family violence, though the results have been modest.

For more than fifteen years studies have been carried out on this social problem.  Likewise, two decades ago the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) founded Women and Family Orientation Centers with the objective of protecting females and informing them of their rights and how to defend themselves; women are also advised about their role within the family and are provided alternatives for their professional development.

In all the communities in Guantanamo, for example, Women and Family Orientation centers, sexual education centers and community mental health centers function as channels to support women and provide them with information on ways to react to any type of abuse.

Some people might wonder: If all these centers work regularly and there exists joint community work in which these organizations labor arduously and meet periodically with the head of the sector, the community sociologist, a youth officer, an educator, a member of the Veterans Association, a member of the FMC and the president of the Popular Council, then why are femicides increasing?

According to local psychologist Roxana Rodriguez, many women are still unaware of the existence of these help centers, while others don’t turn to them since they don’t recognize the problem that exits in their homes or because they want to keep it hidden; in addition, some women only see these centers as places where they can find work or receive developmental training.

Causes that trigger violence

Rodriguez, who also has a master’s degree in social psychiatry, explained: “The essence of the matter is that the causes that trigger violent situations remain, and other new ones have been added.”

Young women are more vulnerable at home. Photo: Caridad

Rodriguez said the main causes are: “poor economic conditions, whereby the basic needs of the individuals and family are not satisfied; inadequate housing conditions that force divorced couples to share the same housing with other relatives; the lack of communication between couples; drug abuse; the opening of Cuba to the world, because the mentalities of many people who travel are changed by the time return home; the greater incorporation of woman in work outside the home and their professionalization, since the home economy no longer depends exclusively on the man (on the contrary, there are many women with incomes higher than those of their husbands), and the non-utilization of health facilities that are offered to the public, among others.

In terms of localities with greater numbers of incidents, the psychologist suggested: “Murders generally occur in outlying neighborhoods where lower educational levels predominant, places where there are worse living conditions and people have the lowest wages.  All of this unleashes stress, powerlessness and finally violence between such couples, although cases are more isolated among professionals.”

Local opinions

To demonstrate another aspect of this worrisome situation, I spoke with several women in this investigation.

My first interviewee was a recently graduated doctor who has a neighbor that frequently beats his wife.  “Both are young professionals, cheerful, without serious economic problems.  They frequently throw parties that now no one wants to attend since by the end she always winds up being hurt.  More than once she’s ended up in the hospital.  I don’t know why he hits her so much?” she said.

According to the doctor, the fundamental causes of violence against woman are machismo passed from generation to generation and jealousy triggered by the social positions that today’s Cuban women have achieved.  She said that many men can’t accept that their wives have achieved social recognition, have succeeded professionally or that they earn more than these males do.  This makes the men feel inferior, so they react violently against their companions.  “I believe that it’s worse in Guantanamo than in other provinces,” she added.

Another woman, a fast-track teacher, attributes the whole situation to “machismo,” because thanks to that type of behavior, men feel they are the owners of their wives, which makes these men believe the woman should respond at their beck and call.

On what can be done to halt this terrifying evil, the young teacher said: “The most important thing is educational work.  From when a boy is born they should be instilled with love and respect toward women, only in that way will we be able to have a society with men who are less violent toward their female partners and friends.”

Sentences for killing a woman are very light

Marlene is a receptionist who was brought up in a sexist family, but ever since she was a young girl she had never seen any type of violence committed against women in her family.  “My mother was treated like a pretty little girl, with cuddles and affection, though she was of course an ‘obedient’ woman.”

Cuban women. Photo: Caridad

However, her sister, just like her mother, never made it past the 7th grade and she married very young to a guy who seemed to want her madly.  “It wasn’t even three months before the abuse began,” she recounted.  “Everybody tried to convince her that it wasn’t worth her while to stay with him, that she was still young and had an entire lifetime to find another man.  But she didn’t listen to anyone and she paid the price with her life,” she explained crying.

“I believe that all those who murder their wives should receive stiffer sentences.  If they understood that killing a woman would result in long prison sentences or their own execution, they would think twice before committing such an act.  If you give them only seven or eight years and offer them parole before they complete their sanctions, it’s as if nothing happened.  These murders that have taken the lives of so many wives in our city will continue to happen,” Marlene concluded.

Murderers who conceal their anger

The psychologist explained that gender-related murders cannot be predicted.  “Men who have shown themselves to be violence prone are generally not the ones who murder, because these men exteriorize their feelings easily and therefore can receive help.  However murderers hide their anger, bitterness and differences and when they exteriorize their feelings it’s to kill or to seriously injure someone,” she explained.

“I believe settings for participation among the public should be promoted, where healthy behaviors can be encouraged, like for example stable personnel and social support networks.  It’s also very important for there to be a perception of risk, many women sometimes don’t notice the risk of danger they’re running.”

Lastly, it’s important to mention the influence of the judicial system on the matter, because there doesn’t exist a law in our country that penalizes domestic violence, although there is legislation that punishes injury-producing crime — slightly.  That’s why the aggressors act outside the law.

“Right now it’s continuing.  When a woman reports her husband for committing abuse or threatening to kill her, they can only hold him for 72 hours.  That’s no big deal, so we should continue struggling for the vigorous sentencing of the perpetrators of violent acts in our homes,” said the psychologist.

Despite community work and the effort of several Guantanamo-area organizations to counteract such behavior, the number of women murdered has increased.  Society should continue studying the causes and consequences of gender-related violence and work to eliminate or reduce it.  It is our task as women, principally, to confront the issue to be able to live in peace.

We live in a well-educated and cultured society where women have achieved social recognition in all spheres because they have asserted their rights.  It is an institutional and individual duty to prevent deaths that are due to simple misunderstandings between partners and to put an end to violence against women.

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2 thoughts on “Cuba Grapples with Gender Violence

  • You can say that it is worse somewhere else, but it won’t minimize the fact that is a very common in Cuba to a husband to beat and kill his wife. I saw it in my own house, in my next door, and the above neighbor. Recently in calle Placencia a stepson decapitated his stepdad because he abused his mom constantly. And if that is not all for you, my ex-wife daughter was stabbed to death 19 time by her much older boyfriend (Calle J and 25) not too long ago. The cuban government would not give you this statistics, but I will, In fact where are you going to click to find anything oficial from Cuba? Just be for real and stop this partisan dishonest defense of a society who is as guilty of this violence as is the United Stated, Spain, or Israel. This is the legacy we are living in Cuba, this is “El hombre nuevo.”

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