“Women’s Work: Gender Equality in Cuba and the Role of Women Building Cuba’s Future”

“When our revolution is judged in future years, one of the matters on which we will be judged is the manner in which our society and our homeland solved the problems of women.”  President Fidel Castro, November 30, 1974

“It’s really embarrassing that we have not solved this problem in more than half a century.”  President Raúl Castro, April 16, 2011

The Center for Democracy in the Americas has published the results of our two-year study on gender equality in Cuba.  In it, we write about Cuba’s gender equality achievements that have captured global attention, serious short-comings that hold Cuban women back and the prospects for gender equality as Cuba seeks to reverse its economic crisis.

CDA was able to tell this story with the aid of scholars in Cuba and the U.S., and after a comprehensive review of international academic research and studies on the comparative economic, social and political standing of women in Cuba and women globally.

Most of all, our on-the-ground research enabled us to interview dozens of Cuban women whose diverse views and candid voices ring vividly throughout our report.

“I was born in the Revolution.  It has given me opportunities.”

Emilia Fernández, an Afro-Cuban, who speaks Russian, English, and Spanish, to CDA.

The report begins in the 1950s, before the Cuban revolution came to power, describing the commitments it made to protect and expand the rights and opportunities of women and girls.

We focus on six policies that have since produced big changes in their lives: improvements in life expectancy, literacy, and health; a tripling of the number of working women; more women than men now getting college and graduate degrees; and advances giving Cuba the lowest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the region.  Cuba now meets the Millennium Development Goals for primary education, infant mortality, and gender equality.

Despite Cuba’s high rankings by organizations from Save the Children to the World Economic Forum, these accomplishments are met with skepticism even disbelief by some in the U.S.; because Cuba has a tiny economy, it is not capitalist or rich and, by U.S. standards, it is not free.

Yet, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“I’ve had the sad experience of a male boss telling me ‘Hey – don’t even think about having a baby, because you’re going to throw your career out the window. Don’t have a baby and don’t get married.’ The culture is still very machista.” Mimi Faguaga to CDA

Our research shows, and many Cuban women agree, that measured against key objectives of gender equality – do women have access to higher-paying jobs; can they achieve a fair division of labor at work and home; are they acceding to positions of real power in the communist party or government– Cuba has a long way to go.

“The current ‘updating’ of the economic model in the country could have repercussions on the development women have achieved.”  Norma Vasallo, President of the Women’s Studies Department at the University of Havana, to CDA

These issues really matter now, because actions taken by Cuba to restore its economy could also endanger gains made by women, even though there is broad agreement in development policy that gender equality is a human right and correlates to economic success and good governance.

So, our report concludes with policy recommendations so that Cuban women are able to play an expanding role in building their country’s future even as it navigates tough economic times.

The report is available for download here. To view pictures taken during our fact-finding missions in Cuba, please visit our Facebook page.

Para leer este resumen en español, haga clic aquí