Cuban experts in masculinities are pinning this problem as one of the reasons why men account for the majority of fatalities across the world, as a result of the pandemic.
HAVANA TIMES – Reasons are still being investigated worldwide, but experts who study masculinities in Cuba claim that a patriarchal culture, traditional gender norms and stereotypes and, as a result, machismo, increase risks for men more than for women during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While women take on the responsibility of caring for others more, and make up 70% of medical personnel worldwide (according to the World Health Organization), men don’t look after themselves as much and continue to do the things which lead to an excess in male deaths, under normal circumstances.
Coronavirus kills more men
While official statistics about Coronavirus infections and death rates broken down by sex are pratically non-existent, data compiled from global media indicate that more men are dying than women.
In Italy, the death rate amongst men is around 70%, while in New York City, it is over 60%. In Spain, 25% of infected men aged 80+ have died, while this figure drops to only 17% amongst women in the same age group.
As well as gender factors and a low risk of perception among the male population, researchers are exploring the cause in a different immune response in men and women.
Between the traditional, patriarchal and hegemonic design of masculinity, it appears that “men really do live their masculinity at all risk” and “in times of crisis, this risk skyrockets,” Cuban historian, anthropologist and feminist Julio Cesar Gonzalez Pages told IPS Cuba’s editorial team.
The COVID-19 Cuba Data website stated that, up until April 16th, men accounted for 49% of the 923 people who tested positive for the disease in Cuba.
Up until April 3rd, men represented 52% of people infected with Coronavirus in Cuba and 80% of patients in critical condition, according to Health minister Jose Angel Portal Miranda. There was also the unfortunate death of a 35-year-old man who sought medical help when it was already too late.
According to the founder of the Iberoamerican and African Masculinities Network (RIAM) and Program Officer for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, you just need to take a look at Havana’s streets to see “how men take less precautions, don’t wear masks and, if they do, have them hanging around their neck most of the time.”
Gender determinants in health
“The lack of concern for their health appears as an attribute linked to the construct of masculinity,” Lisandra Chaveco said, who wrote her Masters thesis on “Hegemonic masculinity as a social determinant in health” as part of the Cuban program at the Latin American Department of Social Sciences.
“Most educated men don’t worry about self-care and health. Many of them haven’t ever had medical check-ups and the majority of those who regularly do, only do so because it’s a requirement of their job,” the journalist from Editorial de la Mujer stated.
The “Masculinities in movement” handbook, written by RIAM as part of its contribution to the UN’s “Together” Campaign, states that this process begins in childhood and gains strength when “male teenagers begin a race to show off their manliness, which puts them at constant risk.”
According to the “Masculinities and Health in the Americas” study, published by the Pan American Health Organization in 2019, the excess of male deaths in the region as a result of gender determinants, among others, begins in adolescence and triples in early adult life for men.
Cuba’s Health Statistical Yearbooks in the past five years, has confirmed that more men die than women as a result of the nine out of ten top causes of death. In 2018, the death rate amongst men was higher than it was for women in all age groups, especially when 50+.
Old and new masculinities
Another risk lies in men’s traditional role as the provider. “Many feel like they need to run great risk to try and feed their families and look for anything linked to their survival, even if it means going all over the city from one side to another, going against all of the protection measures that have been established because of the virus,” Gonzalez Pages said.
Furthermore, the expert warned about the fact that in times of social distancing, violence of men against women, but also against their children, is increasing. “They aren’t used to living with them for such a long time and many of them have no idea how to deal with their children’s demands,” he explained.
While RIAM is monitoring what is happening with men at home, activists connected to the network have been taking part in a #100%Solidarity action since April 7th, to support 100 older people who live in the Central Havana municipality with their everyday shopping for food and medicine.
In the city of Holguin, in Cuba’s far northeast, groups of sports school graduates take food to the homes of older adults. Some men, who have more access to owning a car and moped than women do, are taking part in solidarity actions and supporting vulnerable people.
Fourth-year journalist student at Havana University, Mario Almeida, writes his Soul Logbook from an isolation center for people who are suspected to have or are infected with COVID-19, where he forms a part of a group of volunteers of young university students.
“It’s one thing to put yours and your family’s health at risk, and it’s another thing to show solidarity. And in this crisis, we have seen men who run risks just for fun, to be the macho in the movie, and also others who opt for a different kind of masculinity, with an advanced view of solidarity, which is more amicable in this situation,” Gonzalez Pages concluded.