Subject WHAT DO CUBAN WOMEN HAVE? WHAT DO CUBAN WOMEN HAVE? It has often been said that th

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Subject: WHAT DO CUBAN WOMEN HAVE? ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- WHAT DO CUBAN WOMEN HAVE? It has often been said that the world is divided between the "haves" and the "have-nots". In this division, the "have-nots" tend to come in disproportionate numbers from the developing nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America, and tend to be found especially among the very young and the very old -- and women. But it doesn't have to be that way. Since the Revolution in 1959, Cuban women are more noted for what they have than what they don't have -- and some of the things they don't have are those no woman would want: rape, prostitution, drug abuse, wife-beating, sweat-shops, poverty, racism, illiteracy, hunger. The following poem was written to give women of the world an idea of what it is like to be a woman in Cuba today. I HAVE I, Juana, woman Who before had nothing And today I have everything. Let's see, What do I have: I have, let me see, I have that I can walk down the street any street any time of day or night without fear of violence and without fear of scorn. I have that my decision to marry or not to marry, is mine alone. I have school for as long as I want to go. I have work in any field that interests me. I have that when I marry, I do so for love. I do so as an equal partner. I relinquish nothing. I have that my children and my house are equally my husband's and the work and responsibility they entail are both of ours. I have a job and an education and I am free to choose the kind of life I want to lead. I, Juana, woman What do I have? I have that when I am sick, I am healed by skilled and caring doctors and nurses I have a comprehensive health care system that is mine by right, free, because we working people have won that right. We earn it. It is not a gift. I have, let me see I have a country where infant mortality is not three hundred babies who die for every thousand born Or 150/1000 Or even 60/1000 as in our sister nations of Latin America, Africa, and Asia but 12/1000 a figure equal to that in the developed countries of the world (Better than in those countries because even there they have "pockets of misery" ghettos and barrios where the rates equal those of the Third World.) I have, let me see I have that when I go to school, no one tells me "This subject is only for boys" "You're wasting your time; that's a man's field". I have that half of all university students are women Half of all medical students women. I have that I can study to be an engineer, an agronomist a sculptor, a physicist a writer, a military officer a captain of a ship. I have that when I get a job the pay is equal to that of a man And we women make up 47% of the labor force. I have that when I, as a worker decide to have children I am granted 18 weeks paid maternity leave and a year's job security if I choose to stay home with my new child. I have, as a working mother, access to low-cost childcare centers where all my child's developmental, nutritional, health and nurturing needs are met, giving me the peace of mind that enables me to work. What do I have? I have the right to control my own body To learn how to have or not have children I have access to birth control information and devices And when necessary, abortion performed by qualified medical personnel in modern medical facilities. without cost and without stigma. I have a country that believes "sex education" means Not just learning about the "birds and the bees" but about equality of the sexes. And that starts teaching both the how to and the role concepts in pre-school and keeps teaching them at all levels through medical school. I, Juana, woman, What do I have? I have a society that does not sell products by advertising the semi-nude body of a woman. That does not need drugs to distract the mind from the misery of existence because our existence is full of hope. I have a society where I can raise children without fear for their future. I, Juana, black woman What do I have? I have that I walk down the street sit in a restaurant go to the theatre, to the beach, to a park together with my sisters of other colors and no one raises a hand to stop me. No one says: "For whites only" No one motions me to the servants entrance. I am no longer a maid a wet-nurse a governess a prostitute selling my body to feed my children. I have that nobody says, "Black mother, why do you waste your time trying to send your children to school? Send them to the cane fields where they can earn some money." My daughters are engineering students And I am earning my Ph.D. I, Juana, campesina Woman of the countryside What do I have? Let's see: I have my own plot of land that no landlord can take from me. I have a house with running water, electricity. My children do not run in bare feet with bellies swollen by parasites. My children go to school. My husband and I work the land cooperatively with the other campesinos Who before had nothing and today have everything. I, Juana, vieja Old woman, but no longer useless, no longer cast aside. What do I have? I have that I spend my days working in my block committee vaccinating the children of my block; working for the Women's Federation teaching young women the facts of life; working in the school as a valued volunteer. And I have that I spend my nights (when it is my turn) guarding the homes, the schools, the day care centers and the offices of my neighborhood which is now truly mine, truly ours. I, Juana, woman Still have many problems to face My country is underdeveloped It is attacked in many ways And there is the reality that Old ideas and habits are hard to change. But I have a Women's Federation 1.2 million women strong -- 82% of the women of my country. I have a government that is sensitive to the needs of women And pays close attention to the issues we raise in our community meetings or Women's Federation Congresses whether we are talking about jobs, education, health care or social problems; A government that moves, concretely to resolve the problems we point out. I have, let me see: I have a government that responds to all the people because the people are the government and women, slowly emerging from our centuries-old cocoon are already taking our place in that government participating at all levels in ever growing numbers. What do I have? Let's see: I have a gun training in the militia or in the regular army. I have the ability to defend my country, my people against any attack and the determination to fight to preserve the gains we have won through so much blood and tears. I have, let me see, I have a new awareness of my sisters around the globe. I'm no longer separated from them. I have the ability to reach out and help them as a teacher in Nicaragua a doctor in Angola an agricultural adviser in Vietnam And I know that my interests are the same as those of the Indian miner's wife in Bolivia the trade union organizer in Peru the artist in Kampuchea the pharmacist in Kenya the prisoner of the Bantustans in South Africa the sociologist in the Dominican Republic the mother whose child has "disappeared" in Chile the migrant farmworker in the California fields the black woman who can't get a job anywhere in the US the secretary who makes the coffee and suffers the humiliation of her lecherous boss in London, Tokyo, Paris or New York For all these women are my sisters And we can never be divided again. I, Juana, Cuban woman What do I have? I have, let's see, I have what I had to have. I have what I fought to have. And I will keep fighting until we all have what we have to have. ********************************************************** Karen Wald is a journalist from California who has visited and written about Cuba frequently since 1969. Her book on Cuban children (CHILDREN OF CHE) was published in English by Ramparts Press, California in 1978 and in Spainish. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Subject: CUBAN WOMEN IN DEFENSE ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- WOMEN IN DEFENSE by Karen Wald Women's role Cuba's armed forces, militias and other aspects of national defense was one of the theses prepared for the Congress, but was not a real topic of debate, since women seem to have encountered few problems in this area. In the last five years, in fact, their participation in all areas of national defense has multiplied impressively. This was most effectively documented in the film (shown the first night) entitled "Mama Goes to War". The documentary showed women going off to a militia training camp. They included housewives and construction workers, students and professionals, some very young, others grey-haired grandmothers. With humor and empathy, the film showed the variety of attitudes, abilities and problems of the women when they first began their training. The women themselves talked about the support -- or lack of it -- they got at home from husbands and family members, and at times from their workplaces. At the beginning of their training, most of the women had never held a gun before; many flinched, some cried. But by the end, when they were carrying out dress-rehearsals for a real invasion, every woman was in her place, carrying out her assigned job with aplomb. In his final speech to the Congress, Fidel Castro noted that women now make up 48% of the militias, as well as filling the civil defense units and health brigades. Twenty thousand women have received officer training in the militias. Women throughout the country have gone through practice drills, simulated invasions, and "war games" aimed at preparing the entire population for the possibility of a real invasion from the United States. (The Cuban government has been very edgy since Ronald Reagan's election brought a right-wing administration to Washington in l98l, and was convinced that his reelection presented the imminent danger of armed intervention in the country.) Calling women a "decisive force" in the country's defenses, Castro added: "This isn't just a Congress of women, it is a Congress of half of our Territorial Troops Militias, a Congress of the defenders of our country, a Congress of the new combatants and soldiers of the revolution!" He observed that the country feels "stronger, more secure, more invincible" because of this massive participation on the part of women. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Subject: CUBAN WOMEN - STILL A LONG WAY TO GO ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- CUBAN WOMEN - STILL A LONG WAY TO GO by Karen Wald A socialist revolution can make fundamental changes in the people's lives. By changing the economic and political structure of a country, it can lay the groundwork for the elimination of racism, sexism and class oppression. But a socialist revolution by itself cannot automatically eliminate sexism and sexual discrimination. It is up to the women and the men of each country to analyze the problems they have inherited and determine how to bring about the necessary changes. This is a long, slow process, but ultimately an extremely rewarding one. Nowhere is this more evident than in looking at the progression of demands and results expressed in the Congresses of the Cuban Women's Federation, the most recent of which was held this past March. Cuban women have clearly come a long way from the days when a proper young lady went out at night accompanied by a chaperone, and a virgin bride was transferred from father to husband like so much property. And the situation for both rural and urban poor was even worse. With almost no education or job-training, women who did not stay under the protective umbrella of husbands or fathers were generally forced to become either maids or prostitutes, and thus at the mercy of other men -- employers, "johns", pimps, racketeers -- because there was very little legitimate employment for women. These semi-feudal conditions, in which women were subjected to an inherited patriarchy that permitted them little or no leeway to live independent lives, have disappeared since the revolution. Women now study on a par with their male counterparts, and are entering the productive workforce in increasing numbers. They play an active part in the political, economic, military and social life of their country that would have been inconceivable for previous generations of Cuban women. The Revolutionary Government, spurred on by the Cuban Women's Federation (FMC), has enacted legislation and waged ideological campaigns to bring about equality for women. But it hasn't been an easy process, and it didn't take place overnight.In fact, in l962, when the First Congress of the Women's Federation took place, full equality wasn't even an immediate organizational goal, nor a realistic possibility. At that time, women who had already been taking part in the revolutionary process in a variety of ways were primarily concerned with how to involve more women, how to organize them, and how to start getting them out of their traditional role of homemaker. Just introducing the concept of education for women at that stage was revolutionary. Voluntary work was proposed as a way to accustom women to the role of worker, but the Federation did not yet make an attempt to get women involved in the productive workforce. No one was yet talking about women's liberation or the full equality of men and women. For a variety of reasons, the Second Congress wasn't held until l974 -- a span of 12 years. The changes were extraordinary. By then, 25% of the women were involved in the active work force, and concepts that would have seemed startling in l962 became basic demands. For the first time, the Federation began to talk about how to create conditions for the full equality of women in the society. It was then that Fidel Castro described the liberation of women as a "revolution within the revolution." In this sense the Second Congress of the FMC in l974 was a clear turning point. Women began to look at the ideological aspects of a women's movement and to understand the long-range work that would be needed to implement the goal that had been so clearly stated: to bring about full equality. By the time of the Third Congress in l980, adult women were being urged to complete their sixth grade education, and equal rights was no longer a concept to be established but a concrete objective to be won. Now the discussion was how to exercise those rights. A nationwide plan was set up to take on the ideological and practical work this entailed. A primary aspect of this Fourth Congress was to carry out an evaluation of that process. It asks the questions, What have we done, what have other organizations done, to fulfill these goals? What has women's participation in all spheres of life meant for the country? What has it meant for women? And perhaps most important, What remains to be done? The incredible spirit, the pure joy, which abounded in this Congress seemed to belie the immense job that still lies ahead. Perhaps it is that Cuban women, seeing how far they've come, are supremely confident of their ability to keep moving forward, despite what would look to an outsider like insuperable obstacles of built-in machismo interwoven with underdevelopment. The incorporation of women into the productive workforce has been much faster than the change in attitudes. The delegates to the Congress, in looking at both the progress over the last five years and at the remaining problems, made a series of proposals to strengthen and deepen what was already begun in the long effort to bring about full equality. In l959 there were fewer than 200,000 women in the active workforce. Today there are over one million, 38% of adult women. Getting women out of the house and into the productive life of the country was a combined effort of the FMC and the government, one passing needed legislation and setting guidelines, the other working door to door (and sometimes workplace to workplace) to change old ideas and attitudes. The superstructure has been built. There are 838 childcare centers serving 96,000 working mothers (still not nearly enough); a maternity law benefitting women workers that is one of the most generous in the world; a Family code, Constitution and labor regulations all mandating equality of women, equal pay for equal work, equality of opportunity. But all of these mean little if they are not fully implemented, and one of the jobs of the Women's Federation is to find out how well the system is functioning for women, where it is falling down, and why. If the problems a decade ago were to create the subjective and objective conditions to get women out of the kitchen and into the workplace, the job today is to eliminate the remaining vestiges of discriminatory attitudes toward (and sometimes by) women. The delegates attending this Congress confronted the problem, raised at the grass-roots meetings prior to the Congress and widely reported in the Cuban press, of job discrimination in both hiring and promotion: the male managers and administrators who don't want to hire women workers, the women who are loathe to take on additional responsibilities (or to give such responsibilities to other women). The subjective factors that lead to this situation are supplemented by the objective reality of women's continuing "double shift", which often translates into high absenteeism by women workers, or inability to attend evening meetings and work sessions. These same factors were cited as the primary reasons so few women hold position s of leadership in political as well as economic areas. In addition to calling for a frontal attack on the old attitudes, the FMC is taking a hard look at some of the objective factors. The failure in many homes to do any more than give lip- service to the Family Code requirement that all family members share equally in housework and responsibility for the children is one of these factors. Another is the custom of having only women care for sick family members, at home or when hospitalized. The custom was reinforced by the practice in work centers of giving sanctioned (but unpaid) leave for this purpose only to women, and by regulations that permitted women, but not men, to stay in hospitals to care for sick family members. The FMC is now officially challenging this practice. "Must it always necessarily be the woman who gets leave to care for the ill?" it asks in the draft thesis for the Congress, "Cuban Women: Twenty-five Years of Revolution". Calling for a change in both hospital regulations regarding access to wards and in work-center practices regarding the issuing of paid leave, the thesis suggests that whichever family member can most easily be spared from his or her work, or the loss of whose salary would least hurt the family income, be the one given leave. "It sometimes happens that a pediatrician or other female professional whose work is of great importance to society has to take leave to care for a sick family member", the thesis points out, "when her husband or some other male family member who isn't engaged in such fundamentally important work could do it as well." This point generated some of the liveliest and most prolonged debate of the Congress, joined in by pediatricians, hospital directors, the Minister of Public Health and Cuban President Fidel Castro, who sat in on most of the Congress, paying close attention, and often intervening to ask a question or raise a point. One of the issues was the question of who decides whose work is more important, and how? (Fidel Castro opted for letting each family unit decide.) A variety of doubts were raised, including those of the labor minister, who feared men would be less trustworthy than women and might use the pretext of caring for sick children as an excuse to slack off from work, and those of a woman who felt that the children should be given the choice of which parent they preferred (she was convinced most children would rather have their mother there). Both doubts were rejected by the majority of delegates. Aside from these concerns, the concept of men sharing the obligation with their wives of caring for hospitalized children gained ready acceptance. More highly debatable was the question of men caring for wives, mothers or sisters in women's wards of hospitals (most Cuban hospitals do not yet have such modern conveniences as curtains that can shut off one bed from view of another; an addition which Dr. Ada Ovies, l8-year director of a small-town hospital, suggested could resolve most of the problem). The question of men in women's hospital wards was left for further study, and for time, presumably, to prepare the Cuban population to accept this innovation. (Even Fidel Castro, who is usually extremely well-informed on almost all matters, was taken aback at the suggestion of several of the doctors that men accompany their wives during labor and delivery. He promised to visit her hospital soon to learn more about the modern practices she has quietly been implementing there.) The FMC recognizes that sometimes it is the old-fashioned attitudes of women themselves that perpetuate these discriminatory practices, and sets itself the task of changing these ideas. The thesis also comes down hard on those who, "counter to the established norms of the Revolution", try to "block women's access to non-traditional jobs," or who use the personal, family-related problems of women workers as an excuse to fire them or fail to promote them.The delegates also spoke out against the double- standard often applied to women when considering them for political or job-related posts. The thesis and resolutions of the Congress condemned applying any kind of moral or sexual criteria to women that were not also applied to men. It urges closer work with the organized labor movement to deal with such "flagrant injustice". Given both the objective and subjective obstacles, promoting women to positions of leadership is a major ongoing battle. The youngest members of the society suffer little from this problem, but it seems to increase with age. In the Jose Marti Pioneers organization, which includes children from fifth through ninth grades, girls in fact predominate in leadership, making up half the membership and 66.3% of the leadership. But as the children get older, it seems, female proportion of membership in student organizations increases -- and their percentage in leadership positions decreases. In the secondary school student organization (FEEM), 57% of the membership and 6l% of the leadership is female. By the time they reach college, young women -- who by now account for 59% of the membership -- have dropped to 48% of the leadership. And although girls outnumber boys in membership of mass-based student organizations at the high school and college levels, their membership in the more selective Young Communists League is lower -- only 41%. These figures are cause for concern to the Women's Federation, which also points out that the rise in female Party membership from 14.1% in l974 to 21.9% in l984 is encouraging, but far from satisfying. The FMC proposes that to enable more women to both work and assume leadership roles, three factors must come into play: l.) Help and understanding from family members, concretely, in taking on more household chores, not as a favor, but as an acknowledged responsibility of every family member; 2.) the elimination of subjective attitudes, prejudices and discrimination; and 3.) the creation of more services such as childcare centers, laundries, workers' cafeterias, etc. Of these three, there is little doubt number 2 will be the most difficult. The sharing of responsibilities in the household, mandated by the Family Code, is slowly but steadily gaining widespread acceptance. But there are still many men holding on to their privileged position in this regard, and too many women who are equally guilty in perpetuating the old style of relationships. Pointing out that the old division of labor that consigned women to the house bears no relation to today's reality, when so many wom en are working or studying, the FMC condemns such division of labor as "a profound injustice...that generates other injustices," and a bad example for the younger generation. (Among the "other injustices" the FMC thesis names is the failure to promote women or choose them as leaders because of their family responsibilities, whereas no one would ever consider the same criteria in evaluating a man. FMC President Vilma Espin explained that male administrators sometimes take on a paternalistic attitude, claiming that they "couldn't give that poor woman more responsibility, when she's got four kids and so much work to do around the house".) If the Family Code were really being implemented, there would be no reason to make such an assumption about a woman worker. The FMC calls for continued persistant work in raising consciousness on this issue. There are other aspects in which women are often judged differently from men when evaluating them for leadership positions. The thesis cites moral attitude and sex life among the criteria which are discriminatorily applied to women seeking job promotion or political leadership. This topic, too, raised some of the most interesting discussion in the Congress. Cases were cited in which women who were being considered for promotion or leadership positions were rejected because they were single mothers, or were having an affair with a married man. This presented a thorny issue for the Congress. No one wanted to appear to be condoning marital infidelity, on the one hand, or imposing a moral standard on the other. At least one older woman delegate expressed the opinion that when a worker loses prestige among her co-workers, she can no longer be considered eligible for leadership positions. Other delegates had to once again point out that male workers would not "lose prestige" for such behavior. "And what about the married man she was having an affair with?" asked one. "Would he lose prestige too? Would it even be a topic for discussion?" In the end, the FMC stated that no criteria should be applied to women that are not included in the official requirements for the position she is seeking, or that are not required of men. All these remaining problems, however vital, should not be allowed to overshadow the enormous gains made by women over these decades of revolution. The rate of incorporation of women into the labor force has continued to increase in each five-year period. More than 53% of middle-level technicians now are women, and if this figure is somewhat bolstered by the large number of women teachers and nurses (which are included in this category), it is encouraging that the FMC is actively calling on young men to take up these professions as well, as one more step in breaking down the traditional roles of men and women in the labor force. Women have, in fact, been slowly but steadily breaking into many non-traditional jobs, especially in the construction industry. Women now slightly outnumber men in the universities. They make up 48% of the Territorial Troop Militias, the mass-based fighting force which the country will depend on to resist any outside invasion, as well as a sizable chunk of the regular armed forces. Women make up a significant amount of the internationalist brigades of health, education, construction and other workers Cuba sends to more underdeveloped countries around the globe. While their problems sometimes seem massive, and frustrating after so many years of revolution, members of the French delegation attending the Congress as invited guests pointed out that French women and those in other developed countries have still not gained some of the basic rights Cuban women already take for granted, such as equal pay for equal work. And a Guatemalan woman observed that most other women in Cent ral America and the Caribbean "are just fighting for bare survival of our families." Unlike at the First Congress in l962, the goal of full equality has at last become immediate and realizable, not just a far-off dream. The first steps have already been taken. But the women at this Congress recognize all too clearly that it will still take a lot of hard work on the part of both women and men before they can say that the battle has been won. End main text. Via The N.Y. 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