Violence against Women in Cuba, It Is My Business

Photo: Gustavo Perez

By Lucia Suarez  (Alas Tensas)

HAVANA TIMES – It’s a visible problem, although official media doesn’t tackle the subject in as much depth as it should. Some people have a warped vision about this kind of violence and believe that it only exists if there is physical aggression. However, violence against women takes many forms. Identifying them helps us to defend ourselves and to educate others to prevent ideas and actions which affect a woman’s dignity from being reproduced.

For example, I know of women who have had to listen to medical staff (women included) give them pep-talks in the delivery room at a hospital like the following: “Ah, now it hurts, and did it hurt when you were doing it? Now, deal with it!” When the pregnant woman is victim to this kind of insults and actions that are deliberately insensitive during pregnancy or birth, this is obstetric violence, one of the subcategories of violence against women.

If when you go outside, you have to avoid certain places because you know that a man (or several) are waiting for you ready to tell you how much they want you, to list the body parts they like or describe the clothes you are wearing… you are being a victim of street sexual harassment and this is violence too.

Another example of this kind of harassment occurs when we find ourselves in front of men who masturbate in public: we all know that every city in Cuba has at least one place where exhibitionists, who dedicate themselves to lying in wait for women concentrate, normally on peripheral roads, which lead to schools or student residences. So, if you can’t walk freely down the street and feel safe, a basic human right is being violated.

Whether that’s by men with a low educational level or by bosses with masters and PhDs who overwhelm their subordinates with sexual innuendos, sexual harassment is unacceptable in a country that aspires to make social progress. It’s time we stop sugarcoating the situation and referring to harassment as “gallantry, tradition, idiosyncrasies.” Many Latin American countries (as cheery and passionate as our own) penalize this kind of violence, as they have realized that this is a crime and that if it isn’t categorized, it could lead to much more serious incidents.

Out of all of the many forms violence against women takes, femicide is the most dangerous, harmful and irreversible of them all, that is to say, the murder of a woman just because she is a woman. Generally-speaking, this kind of crime is committed by a man who is close to the victim, nearly always a partner or ex-partner. Unfortunately, there isn’t a law in Cuba that grants femicide the special handling it needs. First of all, it is a crime that hasn’t been classified, which, of course, doesn’t mean that this crime doesn’t exist.

Women are dying at the hands of their partners or ex-partners every year. We can all think of at least one recent case: a neighbor, some woman close to a friend, or even a woman from our own family. This doesn’t make us worse than anyone else because femicide is also a reality in other societies. It’s just that the crime our neighbors also suffer shouldn’t serve as a reason to not recognize femicide, and other forms of violence against women. Cuban society needs to face them and start tackling them at a legislative level. Countries such as Mexico, Venezuela, Peru and Bolivia have enacted laws which classify femicide.

State institutions need to provide assistance to women and not discriminate (which is condemned by the current Constitution in force, although, there are clearly hidden forms of discrimination that still persist), giving them access to effective mechanisms that ensure their protection in high-risk situations. However, in order to do this, we need to first recognize the full extent of this problem and work together, we have to listen to women and Cuban families, find out their realities, their prejudices, expectations and proposals. Triumphalism doesn’t help us come to terms with such a complex social problem, that can take place right in front of us or can remain hidden within the four walls of a home. Triumphalism slows down any initiative to make progress and doesn’t help Cuban families become aware of the problem.

For example, in an article entitled “Violence against women… Is it my business?”, published in Granma newspaper on December 16, 2017, we can read a text from psychologist Mareelen Diaz in which she says: “Thanks to social policies implemented decades ago, the Cuban context reveals very favorable indicators. Many types of violence which still exist in other parts of the world have not been identified in Cuba.” It is always easier for us to talk about what isn’t happening, than focus on what really is happening in Cuba.

Plus, like Mareelen Diaz herself says, these are “social policies implemented decades ago.” As a result, these are policies which need to be updated and functional to meet the needs of Cuban society in the 21st century. A society which is more eager, diverse, complex and informed today.

On the other hand, in July, there was a jurist’s event called the XIV International Meeting: Havana Summer Camp 2018, and there was a discussion about violence against women. When this happened, some media outlets said that the following conclusion had been reached: “Today, we can say that the phenomenon of violence against women continues to exist, in unsubstantial numbers…”[1]

But, in face of such a triumphalist declaration, we are left asking ourselves: where are these figures? Nobody knows what they are, and we have been deprived of these statistics for decades. If they were “unsubstantial”, what is the standard they are using to compare it? Does it help a woman who is being victimized to know that she is case no. 2 or 6 this year?

We need to put our self-complacency to one side and assess what it is we still need and how we can go about achieving this. No matter how commonplace it is, violence in any of its forms is inadmissible: the vulgar comments, being forced to see exhibitionist acts, or the mockery a woman who is fighting to give birth receives, much less the blow as “deserved punishment”.

Rectifying this and protecting Cuban women would be a praiseworthy feat. Now that the Constitution is being changed, we will see if laws focus more on this pressing matter and we will stop patting ourselves on the back way too much for reasons that don’t have anything to do with our culture a lot of the time.

[1] See