HAVANA TIMES, May 13 – I was waiting with my sister in the medical office where cases of mental health are examined following a consultation with a psychologist. It was here that I saw a woman arrive who was 25 years old, according to her report, though she looked more like 35 or 40.
She lowered her head trying to hide her face, but it was unavoidable, all those present could she her. She was with her daughter, who was about nine. The mother looked for a place to sit for the child and alongside her began to stroke the girl’s face, which had become moist with tears.
A scar on the mother’s forehead betrayed an old wound, while her inflamed eyes —which she tried to camouflage between her hands— exhibited other more recent injuries.
“My daddy hit her again,” the little girl let slip through her lips, as if trying to satisfy the curiosity of everyone around. She added, “He did it because he was tired of telling her to stop working, but she didn’t want to. This time he hit her in front of me, and I’m not ever going to forgive him…”
The child didn’t say any more, because suddenly the nurse called the two of them in.
This is the story of a young woman who lives on the north side of the city of Guantanamo, but it could well be the story of Lourdes, beaten up in her house along with her mother, Esther, who was left disabled by a blow that damaged her spine.
Likewise, this could be the story of Eliza, who waits in anguish for her husband’s return. Eliza knows there’s no reason for him to be upset, but reasons are unnecessary to unchain his anger.
A simple conversation can end up with a good push or a punch. On several occasions she has had to turn to the hospital. She can expect no help from her neighbors or from her family, because at this point no one interferes in the frequent fights. The whole neighborhood knows she doesn’t dare report him, or leave him. She hasn’t found a way to escape the quagmire in which she lives.
These are only a few of the stories that are repeated in Guantanamo, Cuba, and around the world from the millions of women who are mentally and physically abused, raped or murdered each year.
Alarming increase of murdered women
The province of Guantanamo has seen an alarming increase in the number of women murdered, notwithstanding the work of institutional prevention efforts, education and social services providers. Nor has the work of the Police and other authorities stemmed these killings, which are becoming incessant.
In just one week, three women in Guantanamo were murdered. Last month 10 victims were added to the list, raising the death toll to 17 this year. In the municipality of El Salvador, for example, two young women died from stab wounds and another from multiple hacks of a machete. In all these cases, the murderers were the women’s husbands, former husbands or boyfriends.
Perhaps for some readers outside of Cuba, 10 murders in one month is not an alarming figure because they are accustomed to hearing that 30 women die daily in Latin America from this cause. For us, however, the figures are worrisome, not only because this is an issue that goes practically unspoken in our media, but also because it points to a rise in gender related violence.
Although these acts are not as frequent here as in many countries, the phenomenon does indeed have characteristics similar to those presented in the international media.
Violence against woman includes all violent acts based on the victim’s gender and that have the real or possible result of bodily, sexual or psychological injury. This violence includes threats, coercion, the denial of freedom, and of course death. This is a human rights violation and a crime.
In Cuba, violence in the home is the most common form, but not the sole one; it is also manifested at the social level, in workplaces and schools.
Each region of the planet has its own characteristics and traditions, and these determine the form in which people manifest this behavior. In Africa, for example, a wave of “feminicide” has been unleashed in male-dominated cultures which refuse to accept female homosexuality and considers it a tremendous insult to men. A lesbian on the Dark Continent lives under constant threat to her life. These murders are committed by men who are trying to change the sexual preferences of those women.
Drug abuse, housing situations, working women and jealousy
In the case of Guantanamo, there are several the factors that have influenced the considerable increase in feminicide in the province.
According to psychologist Roxana Rodriguez, the principal ones are drug abuse and conditions of cohabitation that force many couples to continue sharing the same house even after being divorced.
Other factors relate to wives joining the paid workforce, because the home economy currently cannot depend solely on the man. Another reason are marriages for economic interests between couples that barely know each other; and lastly, the present economic situation faced in Cuban society.
Couples find themselves in existential crises in which they come to question their way of life, what they have achieved, and what future they can expect. Such crises can end up with violent results.
Every time we hear of the murder of a woman in Guantanamo, thousands of rumors circulate through the streets concerning infidelity. People justify the actions of the murderers with popular sayings such as: “He did it because he was jealous,” “She had another boyfriend,” or “She was asking for it”; though rarely are these rumors true.
According to the Rodriguez, in most cases there’s no infidelity at all. “Cuban society has reached a high level of development, and this too is reflected in families. Many men allege that their partners are too liberal these days, or that women no longer want to assume the responsibilities of the home, and that wives don’t respect their husbands.
“Some comments in the streets (occasionally coming from women themselves) try to even justify the murderer’s position in some of these cases. There’s an almost automatic association of these crimes with infidelity, though that’s not the real motive,” Rodriguez explained.
The area in Guantanamo with the most incidents of these murders is the Caribe district, in the northern part of the city, where four out of every five of these crimes occur.
Internationally, many countries have passed laws that recognize that the violence committed by husbands should be looked at in the same way as that perpetrated by a stranger. Services like safe houses and violence hotlines have been introduced to offer support to the victims of this type of violence.
Cuba was the first country to sign the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Woman (CEDAW), and since the creation of the Cuban Federation of Women (FMC), in 1960, this organization has been actively interested in reforming the Family Code. Since 1977, it has sponsored the Social Working Group for Addressing and Preventing Family Violence, where national studies and research are carried out.
Concerning community work in Guantanamo, psychologist Rodriguez explained from her personal experience: “Every month, members of the Popular Councils in each neighborhood meet. These are mid-level government bodies that represent the community. Participating in each is their respective president, a youth officer, an educator, a member of the Veterans Association, a member to the FMC, the head of the sector and the community sociologist. In these meetings they analyze the problems of the community in depth and identify what it is needed to improve the quality of life of its residents.
For example, each member of the Popular Council outlines the problems they have detected, and personnel from the Health Department take charge of assisting high risk groups. An example of success through this community initiative is the almost total eradication of hustling in the province.
In Guantanamo the Health Department and the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) have made a special call to sociologists and psychologists to carry out a study on the behavior of men and the reasons for the increase in violence against their partners.
Cuban press should address domestic violence
According to social worker Maria Elena Garcia, in addition to promoting community work, the government should give wider treatment to the issue in the press, just as this was done with the campaign against AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, or as it did in the prevention of the A (H1N1) influenza.
“I think they should continue investigating the factors that determine such horrendous behavior so as to develop strategies and action plans that eliminate this type of violence. I also believe that sanctions against those who commit assault, battery, rape and murder should be more severe.
“Cuban prisons no longer resemble those of 40 years ago. Criminals have opportunities to become rehabilitated in jail by learning a trade or studying for a university degree – no matter what the crime they were sentenced for. Depending on their behavior, they can receive parole or have their sentences reduced. However, not all of them take advantage of these opportunities; once they’re back in the street, some of them commit repeat offenses, even murder,” said Garcia.
The flip side of the coin is that in each Cuban province there still exists an institution called the Center for Women and Family Orientation. These are services in which those who are mistreated can present their problems or report any threats that have been made against them to the police.
However, some choose to remain silent since they feel intimidated and fear the reactions of their spouses. In most of the cases they are single mothers with low levels of education, or they come from dysfunctional families. They don’t realize that they’re making serious errors, and when they finally decide to act, it’s often too late.