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Gender-based violence

'The Cuban state is unwilling to address gender-based violence'

Two feminist activists and a former Cuban judge spoke to DIARIO DE CUBA about the need for a comprehensive law against gender violence on the island.

Illustration. Diario de Cuba

The 15 femicides verified in Cuba from January 1 to February 27, 2023 - thanks to the gender violence observatories of female platforms and the independent press - have given rise to more demands for a comprehensive law against gender violence on the island. But, why is this law so important if there is a Penal Code in which gender-based violence is already an aggravating circumstance?

Ileana Álvarez, director of the feminist magazine Alas Tensas, points out that, although gender violence appears in the Criminal Code, in it "feminicide has not been defined as a specific type of crime." Alvarez believes that the penal framework in Cuba is very weak, and that a comprehensive law would help strengthen it. But she emphasizes that "it should not be seen as just a punitive issue."

"A law would cover aspects that have to do with prevention, education at all levels, and questions of assistance. The point is to prevent femicides from happening," she told DIARIO DE CUBA.

"We know that a law is not going to solve all the problems that exist within a society. Gender-based violence is rooted in the patriarchal structures that are present throughout Cuban society, but a law would at least make it possible to prevent and eradicate behaviors that promotes gender-based violence."

"Such a law would include the creation of safe houses and police and health protocols. It also would entail the establishment of an observatory against gender-based violence, the collection of statistics, and making them public. That would help implement policies."

Feminist activist Kiana Anandra, meanwhile, points out that there is currently "some dispersion in the tools and civil and criminal competences across all the different authorities through which women pass. This is one of the main conflicts that has, as a consequence, a greater lack of protection for victims."

"In Cuba there is no unitary legal concept on gender violence, nor is the term femicide even recognized. However, gender-based violence has its own logic in relation to other types of violence, and this is something to be considered."

"State actions and public policies in Cuba are focused on criminalizing gender-based violence as yet another example of criminality, and the issue is more complex. A comprehensive law would take into account, first of all, the understanding that gender-based violence has different expressions and scenarios, beyond the family sphere, to which it is reduced in the Strategy implemented by the Government since 2021."

"Having the status of a law would allow it to become mainstreamed, and have a greater capacity compared to other regulations of lower legal hierarchy. It would recognize the state's involvement in and commitment to these issues, would force it to clarify a public budget supporting it, statistics in this regard, the type of measures to be implemented, and how the results are going to be evaluated."

"It would ensure specific prevention and reparation protocols for victims, legal and psychological counselling services, places of refuge, the protection of victims in the labor and education system, training from childhood on these issues, and at the professional level within the institutions that must receive and process cases of violence."

However, the latest femicides in Cuba also force us to ask ourselves whether this comprehensive law would be effective.

One of them was the murder of Leidy Bacallao, 17, at the hands of her ex-partner, a 49-year-old man. The teenager sought protection in the place where she was most likely to find it: a police station. She was killed right where she should have been safe. Would her story have had a different ending if there had been a comprehensive law against gender-based violence in Cuba?

Kiana Anandra thinks "probably."

Ileana Álvarez believes that what happened with Leidy has to do with a lack of police protocols. "Many things failed that have set off alarm bells. What was a minor doing with a man of that age? In this society, that is accepted as something normal. And the first ones who have internalized this kind of machismo are the police," she laments.

Former judge Maylin Fernández, who presided over the family section of the Santa Clara Municipal Court, points out that in Leidy's case "the Criminal Code did not fail, the murderer will be tried and convicted by the Cuban courts," but rather "the response, the implementation, the prevention, the state's effort to address gender violence before it occurs."

"It is important to note that nothing ensures that 100% of cases of gender-based violence will be averted, in any country in the world. But cases like this are what justify the urgency of a comprehensive law against gender violence in Cuba, so that women know that they can speak out, and that they will find support and assistance," added Fernández.

In addition, the figures should no longer be secret, the cases should be made visible, the problem of gender violence in Cuba should be placed in the media spotlight, with the same clarity that Díaz Canel says that we have a fishing law, but there are no fish.

"The media must play its part in preventing assailants from being arrested, and training women and girls so that they can identify themselves as victims, or identify others around them."

In the jurist’s view, the inclusion of gender violence in the current Criminal Code is also insufficient.

"Article 245 of the Criminal Code establishes penalties between 20 years and the death penalty for anyone who kills a woman in the context of gender-based violence. The law also contains special provisions but only for when the crime has already occurred. This limitation prevents general analysis of the phenomenon and action in other areas."

"Something just as important as the law are the mechanisms to implement it, the response of the authorities, the action protocols," she says.

"A law against gender-based violence would allow for its comprehensive handling, and facilitate the prevention, detection and deterrence of the aggressor. It would provide for institutional and judicial guardianship, as well as psychological support and assistance for victims."

"It would also necessitate the training of specialists, education, and the fight against machismo and patriarchal ideas in schools," concluded the former Cuban judge.

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