The Cuban Women's Federation

We recently returned from the women's conference at the University of Havana and the ALCA (anti-globalization conference held in Cuba). At the conference, we attended a panel of university academics who comprise much of the leadership for the Cuban Women's Federation.

Before the revolution, there were several smaller groups designated to work with Cuban Women and these were combined into one large organization under the state known as the Cuban Women's Federation. Currently, the Federation has a membership of 3 million women and they consider themselves as a very powerful force in the Cuban society. They are similar to a ministry, yet they do not have legislative powers and admit this is a slight problem. However, they do have a permanent commission for youth and the equality of women where they have legislative powers.

They address the concerns of labor, health and education. A few facts --

     Pre-revolution -- 12% of women worked usually in domestic jobs. Currently -- Women comprise 43% of the work force with technical and professional posts at 66%; moreover, women comprise a very large percentage of the agricultural labor workforce. However in science, women do not have equal employment at approximately 45% of the total. The Federation has rallied for 72,000 new jobs be established for women and expect their demands will be met. However, the federation still estimates an 8.3% unemployment rate for women.

     Cuba was the first to ratify CEDAW and the second to redefine their constitution accordingly. In 1976 and 1992, constitutional provisions were added to insure equality across SES, gender, etc. Cuba has attained CEDAW consultative status. They are implementing the Beijing +5 initiatives and training small groups throughout to carry out the initiatives.

     The Federation insures that women are employed in relatively equal numbers over the last ten years -- however in the private sphere women still perform the majority of the labor and men are slow to change. Childcare is available for working women and is based on ability to pay. There have also been training programs in place for men who are against their wives participating in the workforce. The major problem is the one that universally resounds: WOMEN ARE OVERWORKED.

     Divorce is easy to obtain and is granted by mutual agreement where property is divided equally. There is joint custody of children but they remain with the primary caretaker, which defaults in most cases to the woman. Women comprise 35% of the head of households, and 40% of these are not married.

     There are civil codes against rape and domestic violence. But again, in the case of domestic violence, it may not be consistently enforced due to issues of secrecy, humiliation and public education. There are not shelters per se, but houses for women who suffer from a variety of problems such as impoverishment, illnesses, battering, etc.

     Birth control is practiced with condoms, IUD's and at times, pills. Abortion is legal and easy to obtain up to 12 weeks. After that, it can occur only with special permission. There is a six-month maternity leave policy for either the father or mother depending upon whom will be the primary caretaker.

     The University has added a women's study program which has flourished since its inception approximately five years ago. Many of the program's students are involved in research analyzing regional issues affecting women. Their research will be used in shaping future policy decisions.

     The Federation has found that in the home, boys are more severely punished whereas girls are more often spoken to. They are working to intervene on behalf of the male children.

    Hemispheric Meeting of the Fight Against the FTAA

     At the anti-globalization conference, which was attended by representatives from North and South America, the draft is online at Fidel was present and interested in the proceedings and spoke at great length about his concerns re: globalization and the further marginalization of the workers, which included women and indigenous peoples. He felt that we are losing our humanity in this process and although he knew this was serious, it was far more severe than he had previously thought. One common theme emerging from Mexico and the Latin American countries: globalization is increasing their exports and not significantly affecting their GDP's, which in the case of Mexico has shown the lowest growth rates in several decades. In Argentina, they are incurring more debt while producing more goods. Everywhere, subsidized American food products are destroying their agricultural industries. Their workers are being exploited by maquiadoras (the transnationals' factories); the indigenous peoples are losing their land and their cultures are being destroyed. Everywhere from Latin America to the Caribbean to Canada, there was a consensus that the environment is being destroyed.

     In the draft against globalization, indigenous peoples and we (GW) rallied for an amendment to add a specific gender policy which advocates women have proportional representation in the labor and trade unions and political parties. Brazil reaffirmed this. Yet although stronger wording was included in the final amendment, the specific reference to a gender policy was not included in the final legislation. The next meeting of the Social Alliance will be held in 2002 in Puerto Allegro.