What’s Cuba doing about violence against women?

By Yudarkis Veloz Sarduy  (Progreso Semanal)

HAVANA TIMES — One in four women across the world have been raped at some point in their lives. We think about violence against women and we think about rape, murder, beatings, the abusive husband. However, there are other forms of violence that we aren’t even conscious of.

In Cuba, we are advocating for an end to violence against women, but it continues to be institutionalized somewhat, justified by our idiosyncrasy, concealed by our kind of culture and in everyday life. Catcalling and flattery are very Cuban traits, sometimes they are done with good intention but it’s also true that sometimes…

Being a woman and conditioning her almost sine qua non to being an object of desire on two legs ends up being inevitable. “Ugly, then, girl,” is the least agressive comeback you can receive from someone you ignore. Victims of swear words and unpleasant acts from people who, as Cuban machos, believe they have the right to shout out the first thing that pops into their heads to you, while the woman continues walking on outraged, sometimes afraid, and other times not giving a crap because it happens on a day-to-day basis.

Nobody thinks about reporting the guy who shows you his penis from behind a tree while he clenches his teeth so as to swallow his salivary secretions, nor the guy who gets on the bus and pushes himself against you too much or puts his bag in front of him so that he can touch his penis or move it up and down while looking you in the eyes in a clear act of violence that we prefer to ignore, even though the movement of his elbow is the utmost expression of what he’s doing and that you’re not making it up.

A few years ago, a man called up my work asking for me and said that he had seen me on the TV while I was announcing a show at an Art Gallery. He said that he jumped out of his seat when I gave my office’s phone number in case anyone interested had any questions and so he would call every day to tell me how amazing my red curls were and my expressive eyes.

I politely said goodbye and then I would hear the phone ring every day with terror, as the guy confessed to being a criminal about to finish serving his sentence, just my bad luck, and that he would hunt me down anywhere to make me pay for my snub. My boss and I went to the police; I don’t need to describe the insult I received from the policeman on duty’s smile and comment: “A woman who doesn’t want these kinds of things to happen to her, shouldn’t go around giving out her phone number.”

The other, which is a cultural problem, is that aggressiveness has reached gigantic dimensions here in Cuba. Life itself or the day-to-day struggle have impacted our manners and gestures, in a kind of “Law of the Jungle” where you need to be on the defensive as if the process of natural selection was going to wipe us out as a species.

Therefore, it’s very normal for somebody to gesticulate in your face while you are demanding a simple right or just asking a question, it’s also very normal that when someone comes to fix your fridge and they see that you live alone, they start to say “what you need is a man like me” and then he ends up taking off his sweater because it bothers him while he’s working and he puts the lid on the bottle shouting out that you are a terribly “ungrateful person”.

Women’s vulnerability continues to be a weakness in a country where enough time has passed since Portrait of Teresa (Pastor Vega, 1979), for us to watch the opposite. According to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, in Cuba women make up 43.9% of the workforce, 66.6% of all medium and top level engineers and professionals are women, and today they make up 27.6% of Lawmakers in Parliament and 61% of prosecutors.

With the connotations that these statistics imply, it’s a real paradox that Cuban women continue to be victims of such different acts of obvious violence and the violence hidden in cultural manners.

The work of the Federation of Cuban Women, CENESEX, UNESCO’s Chairs on Women, National Days of No Violence against Women and Girls, the “You are More” campaign, which was born from an initiative set up by several young university students, are not enough. We need information, so that women – AND MEN – know which acts they are subject to or commit can be legally criminalized.

These acts need to be dealt with seriously from a legal standpoint and there needs to be a legal framwork. A few years ago, I heard a friend denouncing violence in Spain, saying that some Spanish women used to say “My husband hits me just the right amount”, when can a violent act be right?

While it’s true that we aren’t victims of acid attacks in Cuba like lots of women generally are, but we have called a lot of murders of women at the hands of their husband “crimes of passion”. There is a certain acceptance of this euphemism and it defends the attacker somewhat when we put him in the position of someone who had so much passion that they felt they needed to stab their wife to death.

It’s also true that we aren’t victims of any kind of genital mutilation disguised as cultural identity, but nobody tells a gynecologist that poor use of a speculum isn’t “anything but” a iatrogenic procedure. We don’t choose to abort or sell our daughters either like what happened in China, but nobody tells parents that the little game of “we found you in the garbage dump” is one of the most violent and marking phrases a girl will hear in her life.

There is a list somewhere that details the 21 kinds of violence against women, I would like to add silence, punishment, lies, promiscuity and the pulling of hair that boys do to girls when they fall in love in primary school. In Cuba, we need more than a stance: we need a law that is explicitly defined, centered around education and mentality. Let’s remember that a lack of protection is another (huge) form of violence.

  • Eden Wong

    Yes, Cuba does indeed have a big problem with Cuban-On-Cuban crime in general and Violence-Again-Women specifically. I am always kinda shocked when some guy is going nuts on this wife/girlfriend/mistress/etc. and a large crowd invariably gathers, but beyond some cat calling actual intervention is very rare.

    It’s a sad state of affairs.

  • Carlyle MacDuff

    The inheritance of the macho (note the word itself is Spanish) syndrome from Spain is a big problem in Cuba. But, how does one expect anything else when examining the history of Fidel, Raul and Che as leaders?