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What can Cuban women expect from the official program 'for the advancement of women?'

The main obstacle it will face is, precisely, the Federation of Cuban Women, subservient to the regime.

A woman and a man in Havana.
A woman and a man in Havana. Diario de Cuba

Unlike the National Program against Racism and Racial Discrimination, whose content seems a state secret one year after its announcement, there are several aspects that we already know about the National Program for the Advancement of Women, approved by the Council of Ministers on October 30.

Although the Mesa Redonda television show on November 12, 2020, dedicated to this program, spent more time touting the alleged advances of the Cuban Revolution in terms of women’s rights, at least the plan’s objectives were mentioned, which include: greater systematics in actions that promote the advancement of women, to tackle obstacles related to gender equality, and to make the issue of gender an integral part of curriculums at all levels of education.

Implementation will span areas such as the economic empowerment of women, the media, access to decision-making, sexual and reproductive health, the media, and legislation and law, among others.

It was also mentioned that the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), controlled by the Government, will be the national body charged with the advancement of women, as well as a theoretical and methodological reference point for gender issues. This has been the case since 1997, when the Beijing National Follow-up Action Plan was approved.

What was announced on October 30 was not the launch of a new program, but rather the revising of the aforementioned National Action Plan, "in a context of updating the economic model so that it corresponds to and can be embedded in the social economic development program through 2030, " according to Teresa Amarelle Baue, National Secretary of the FMC.

It is immediately obvious that the main obstacle the program will face in terms of the scope it aspires to, is, precisely, the FMC. Can this organization, created by Fidel Castro, and of which Vilma Espín, Raúl Castro’s wife, was a strident leader until her death, be the national mechanism for the advancement of women? Can it really represent all women?

Pro-regime journalist Arleen Rodríguez, the host of the Round Table, asked Teresa Amaralle to explain something that may be difficult for many to understand: the FMC is supposedly a "non-governmental organization." But, as the national instrument for the advancement of women, it is a "representative of the state. " If we are talking about a state that, according to Article 5 of the Constitution, is subordinated to the Communist Party of Cuba, just what portion of Cuban women does the FMC represent?

If this organization does nothing when the police attack the Ladies in White, or when an agent injures people like Omara Ruiz Urquiola, bursting a cancerous lesion; if it remains tight-lipped after complaints like that by activist Diasniurka Salcedo, who reported a rape while being driven in a patrol car; it cannot represent all the women in the country or constitute the national vehicle for their advancement.

A national program for the advancement of women that aims to be more than window dressing should not only take into account the new economic reality of the country, but also its political and social realities.

Those responsible for this program cannot continue to ignore the political diversity that exists in Cuba. Many Cuban dissidents, activists and independent journalists are being persecuted for their political opposition and criticism of the government.

The FMC should represent all Cuban women, regardless of their political sympathies, especially in a country where the authorities refuse to legally recognize any other organization that claims to defend women’s rights.

It is not only in the face of abuses against opponents, activists and independent journalists that the FMC looks the other way and defends the interests of the Government. There are many Cubans whose homes are in danger of collapsing, or that have already collapsed, such that they have been forced to seek shelter with their children in premises abandoned by the state, or to erect makeshift houses in settlements that the authorities classify as illegal. What has the FMC done when these mothers have been evicted or threatened with eviction by the police? Nothing.

The FMC cannot do anything because it represents the state, which prevents it from being impartial. How is it ever going to fairly evaluate, then, the state’s policies towards Cuban women?

What can be expected from a report on the Cuban state presented by the FMC to the UN Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women?

One million economically inactive women

One of the national program’s areas is the economic empowerment of women. According to Teresa Amarelle’s figures, there are one million economically inactive women in Cuba. "One of the most common reasons is that a large part of the country’s aging population is female, and another large percentage works as a caregiver for the elderly, " she explained.

Measures should be taken for this aging and neglected population, as well as for their caregivers. "A caregiver’s salary is not enough when these people, given their status or situation, do not have access to any economic empowerment."

Among these measures, consideration should be given to increasing the capacities of senior citizen centers, which allow the nuclear family nucleus to work and enjoy access to a salary. Also, the FMC has not justly addressed, in conjunction with the CTC, the layoffs that, for ideological reasons, are suffered by female dissidents and activists, with the consequent loss of financial support for their families. Society also suffers when a teacher is fired from a school, or a health professional from a hospital, for their activism or political ideas.

There is no comprehensive proposal for a law against gender violence

Teresa Amaralle states that "a woman who is a victim of violence, just one, is already an issue for us to analyze and discuss," and that "the issue of violence cuts across all the program’s objectives." However, the organization that she directs, and that supposedly represents all the women in the country, has not demanded from the National Assembly, which is mostly female, a comprehensive law against gender violence.

The First Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Justice, Rosabel Gamón, spoke at the Round Table about the importance of the area of legislation and law, the regulatory framework, and a protection system against all forms of discrimination and violence within the national program. She also referred to the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice in guaranteeing an inclusive language in terms of the drafting of laws and decree laws. But she did not mention the possibility of a law against gender violence, nor the approval of any specific regulation to guarantee protection against all forms of discrimination.

According to the vice minister, it is also necessary to educate students and legal professionals. Currently there is a gender focus within the bodies in charge of imparting justice, but its application depends on the personal initiative of each legal agent. Hence, we find a wide variety of sentences, some that vindicate the rights of women, and others in which, being victims, they are made to feel guilty; for example when it is suggested that a woman was raped for wearing too short a dress.

The fight against all forms of discrimination against women begins by listening to those who suffer it - regardless of whether the victim is a critic or defender of the Revolution - and by punishing the perpetrator, be it their partner, an average citizen, or an agent of the Police, or State Security. Institutional silence towards victims is also a form of violence.

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