Being a responsible father is important for children to grow up in affectionate, respectful environments that send a positive message about gender equality.
HAVANA TIMES – The existence of traditional, budding and different fatherhoods in Cuba presents a challenge for public policies that aim to bridge the gender gap, along with necessary cultural changes in favor of equality.
“I was fortunate to get involved from the minute my daughter was conceived, looking after and raising her for nine years. I took on raising her when her mother went to work abroad between 2017 and 2019. It was a challenge, but it made me a better person,” engineer Raidel Mastrapa explains, a resident in Old Havana, one of the Cuban capital’s 15 municipalities.
This 38-year-old father admits that deeply-rooted machismo in Cuban society drives “many men today to leave almost all of their children’s upbringing to the mothers, while they limit themselves to providing financially, telling children off and maybe taking them out to play. Others get a divorce and want nothing to do with their children.”
In Cuba, there are very few statistics about men’s participation in the different stages of fatherhood, such as family planning, prenatal check-ups, presence at birth and postnatal care, etc.
A survey about responsible and active fatherhood in a child’s early years, carried out by UNICEF’s Cuban Office in 2018, discovered that only 34% of fathers took part in their children’s educational activities.
Only 1% of those surveyed said that they had a comprehensive understanding of the legal points of responsible fatherhood.
Being a “responsible father is important for children to grow up in affectionate, respectful environments that send a positive message about gender equality,” journalist and father Jesus Muñoz explained to IPS.
“A dialogue and closeness with the paternal figure positively impacts whether children can develop their self-esteem and ability to make decisions, Muñoz added, a member of the Iberoamerican and African Masculinities Network (RIAM).
Created in 2007, and coordinated from the island, RIAM is a project that seeks to raise awareness, via activism, about problems such as gender-based violence, stereotypes of masculinities, the role of the media in reproducing preconceptions and myths, new ways of being a man, fatherhood and similar issues.
Equal rights and responsibilities
Encouraging more inclusive and diverse family units, organizations such as the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) has been organizing Days of responsible motherhood and fatherhood, ever since 2014.
The ninth edition of these days take place from February 14th until April 4th, with the slogan, “Family life in equality”, and involves keynote speeches, workshops, postgraduate courses, online discussions and community activities.
These discussion spaces reflect upon more inclusive and diverse family models, as well as really exercizing parental rights.
The Days will coincide with the people’s discussion between February 1st-April 30th, in neighborhoods and communities in the island’s 168 municipalities, about the draft bill for the new Family Act, that will replace the current Act in force since 1975, if passed.
In addition to recognizing the plurality of ways this basic unit in society can form, the law is based on principles of equality, non-discrimination and every person’s right to form a family, which is a right protected by the Constitution, in force since 2019.
“The focus of this Act contributes elements for women, and also for men,” stressed sexologist Mariela Castro, CENESEX’s director, during a press conference about the beginning of the ninth edition of the Responsible Motherhood and Fatherhood Days.
“Being a plural (law), it recognizes that there aren’t only heterosexual mothers and fathers, but also a wide range of family units where homosexual parenthood is being recognized for the first time,” Castro explained in response to IPS’ question about equal parenting.
The draft Family Act was passed in December by the National Assembly of People’s Power, Cuba’s unicameral parliament. It will be subjected to a popular referendum in the second semester of 2022, including the opportunity for same-sex marriage to finally be legalized, as well as adoption by homosexual couples and surrogacy.
In tune with contemporary laws, the document proposes to modify the concept of parental rights for parental responsibility, which experts say is to move vertical and authoritarian family relationships towards a more horizontal paradigm in terms of parents, tutors, grandparents and other family members communicating, raising and educating children.
“The 1975 Family Act only dedicates five paragraphs to what it calls “Fathers’ Rights and Duties”, while the current draft bill includes 21 paragraphs about what it calls “Content of co-parenting responsibilities for mothers and fathers in regard to their children”, Cuban lawyer Alina Herrera, who now lives in Mexico, explained.
In a conversation with IPS via email, the lawyer believes this change to be “very positive”, stemming from “recognition of the principle of the best interests of the child and teenager, and also with a descriptive list of their rights.”
She added that the 21 paragraphs contribute “new values in our legal order, such as promoting looking after the environment, allowing children to freely develop their personalities, a positive upbringing with love and emotional stability, inclusive education, letting children participate in family decisions, being heard and accompanied in their progressive autonomy.”
Gaps and stereotypes in the statistics
In recent years, Cuba has adopted new policies to bridge gaps that stem from its patriarchal and machista culture, that continue to dominate social and family relationships.
Ever since the Program for Women’s Advancement was published on March 8, 2021, it became a State policy to not only push for women’s financial empowerment, but also to make headway in gender equality, eliminating sexist stereotypes and paying attention to acts of gender-based discrimination and violence, to name a few.
Mothers and fathers can agree between themselves who will take paid leave once postnatal leave ends – 12 weeks after birth – and up to 1 year of age, ever since Decree-Law No. 234 was enacted in 2003.
However, some 47,000 women and only 5 men received maternity/paternity benefits during the first 11 months of 2021, according to official statistics.
Statistics before that reveal that only 125 men chose paternity leave between 2006 and 2014, in this Caribbean island of 11.2 million inhabitants.
A study by the Women’s Studies Center, by the government-aligned NGO Federation of Cuban Women, corroborated that by the end of 2021, “heads of households held onto stereotypical ideas of maternity and paternity, believing that babies need to be closer to the maternal figure and that a man can’t look after a child in the same way a woman can.”
Before, the latest National Survey of Gender Equality, in 2016, revealed that Cuban women dedicated 14 hours more than men, on average, to unpaid work in the week, taking on most of domestic and care duties, while men worked 12 hours more than women in paid work.
“Working from different angles to promote responsible fatherhoods is one of the most viable ways to restructure the traditional relationship men have with care (and self-care) duties and affection,” Jesús Muñoz highlighted.
He believes that “working for co-responsible fatherhood gives back great benefits in terms of equality, because it helps men to understand the processes of planning, conceiving, raising, educating and being in a child’s life forever as a shared matter, as the entire family’s responsibility.”
Muñoz agrees that “men need to transcend their role of provider, of the person that imposes discipline, corrects or has the power to make decisions for other members of the family.”