Does Feminist Analysis Have a Place in a Socialist Society?

A gender-focused view of the economy, collective organization of the household and care of family members are some of young Cuban Marxists’ concerns.

By IPS Cuba

In Cuba, where the elderly population accounts for 20.1% of the total population of 11.2 million inhabitants, care responsibilities generally fall upon retired women or women over 40 years old.  Photo: Jorge Luis Banos/ IPS

HAVANA TIMES – A group of young people, mostly university students and mostly men, came together at the private studio/workshop La Marca, in Old Havana, to analyze pending gender issues in societies such as Cuba’s own, which follows Marxist precepts.

Held during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, the conference forms part of the independent project Trinchera Abierta’s actions, which has been promoting an open dialogue, without any dogmas, with regard to social science and national problems today, from a Marxist standpoint.

In spite of unfocused feminist ideas within classic Marxism, or rather ideas that refer to women’s issues, the group believes that key points can still be found to take a gender-based view of problems within Cuba, which has had a socialist government ever since 1961.

Feminism and care

The debate was chaired by Mario Castillo, a history professor and member of the independent Social Center and Libertarian Library ABRA, in Havana’s Lawton neighborhood.

Under the heading “Feminism and Marxism”, members from the Trinchera Abierta project talked about gender-based issues on the Caribbean island, from a Marxist standpoint.  Photo: IPS Cuba Archive

Taking Clara Zetkin’s example (1857-1933), a German politician and Communist, these young people asked themselves again what socialism meant for women, and how this social system responds or could respond to women’s specific needs.

The collective institutionalization of domestic spaces, which in the former Soviet Union had some valuable precedents such as communal clothes washing facilities and state-run daycare centers, opened one of the debates.

Many of these programs have been reproduced on the Caribbean island. However, the daycare situation in Cuba, with few openings and the poor state of the infrastructure, has been the center of intense public debate.

On the other hand, who is responsible for looking after old and sick people? the young people asked.

In Cuba, where the over 60 population accounts for 20.1% of the total population of 11.2 million inhabitants, care responsibilities generally (over 85% of the time) fall upon retired women or women over 40 years old.

According to studies, care without necessary support networks implies a significant physical and mental decline of the caregiver.  

Castillo gave the example of so-called “welfare states” in post-war Europe, where the Welfare State took on this responsibility, but it resulted in individualization and isolation in many cases. This can’t be the answer either, participants agreed.

According to the historian, everyday life should be at the center of the emancipation process and we need to put individual experiences within the political fabric so we can provide a response to these kinds of questions.

Taking a Marxist view of these problems, the relationship between production and “a reproduction of life that isn’t stifling”, Castillo proposes.

In the economy

A gender-based approach within the economy is still a debt to women in Cuba and an analysis and new public policies are needed.

The active population rate within the economy records the relationship between people of a working age and those who are actively working. In Cuba, the rate for women is 49.5%, while it stands at 76.9% for men, according to Cuba’s Office of Statistics and Information.

However, what is considered work within the economy’s norms? Joel Marill Domenech, an Economics student, put forward.

He highlighted the fact that there is still the concept that the economy is what produces value, following the rules of Capital. He insisted that, unfortunately, domestic work isn’t included within this equation.

However, how much of a man’s income should be given to a woman who stays at home? he asked. “The challenge lies in focusing economic measures so they protect women,” Marill said, in regard to gender equality policies.

The students agreed on the need to open up this debate further.

Some of the reasons why these kinds of questions still aren’t being addressed by Cuban society include the fact that there isn’t a visible leadership that takes on and pushes these issues to the forefront of the political agenda, said the students.

There is a mainstream story that women’s issues in Cuba are dealt with by the Federation of Cuban Women, and the rest is left out, Castillo said.

“The feminist movement isn’t very visible, it’s disconnected, there aren’t many interactions between other localities, and this lack of connection leads to a lack of relevance,” the conference speaker said.

Maybe the answer lies in the greater articulation of gender-focused projects, participants agreed.

One thought on “Does Feminist Analysis Have a Place in a Socialist Society?

  • December 3, 2019 at 11:07 pm

    Cuba is not a socialist society. It is a communist totalitarian state. People ought not to be fooled by the “new” constitution written by Raul Castro in which with the exception of the introduction stating that Cuba has only one political party, the Communist Party of Cuba, has replaced the words communist and communism with socialist and socialism. Lenin would be ashamed!

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