Notes on a Cuban Experience: The Duality of Equality

Article excerpt

Notes on a CUBAN Experience: The Duality of Equality

by Mariana Canidad Cruz and Yalila Murciano, translated by Nancy Allan

The Cuban revolutionary government recognized even from its beginnings in 1959 through its policies the full equality of women and men; there was to be equal, active participation by both sexes in social, economic and political transformation. Women's participation in the national economy increased from 15 percent in 1965 to 43 percent in 1995, reflecting mainly their enlistment in waged work. Women readily took advantage of the proffered free education which allowed them to develop scientific and technical skills. In 1995, the percentage of women in technical occupations was 64.6, an increase of around seven percent over 1990. Their leadership roles, however, have increased less than a quarter of one percent over the same period, to 28.8 percent in 1995 from 28.6 in 1990.

Although figures show that women make up over 50 percent of the work force in health, education and tourism programs, they make up only 30 percent of the work force in the agricultural sector. Of that number, 30 percent are in technical positions and 11 percent in leadership positions. While it is plain that Cuban women are part of the country's economic life, it is also evident that there is no correlation between their high level of participation and competent technical skills on the one hand, and their leadership roles on the other.

Until the 1990's, Cuba had a secure foreign market for its main export, sugar. It enjoyed good credit rating, favourable exchange rates, and was able to import all the goods it required, including all its energy needs. The loss of this market in the early 90's threw the country into an acute economic crisis. Both imports and nationally produced goods became scarce and serious food shortages ensued. Petroleum imports fell to 5.7 million tons in the 90's from a high of about 13 million tons in the 70s, and sugar prices fell from over 60¢ per pound to 9.2¢. There were few funds available to invest in seeds to initiate and sustain national agricultural production.

This economic crisis became known as the "special period". Cuba had to develop multiple alternative solutions to deal with the food shortages. The government introduced provisional measures with the goal of having the people produce their own food. In the cities, every inch of free, state-owned property was authorized for use to produce food for direct consumption. This urban agriculture demanded maximum use of local resources.

For example, Havana has an area of 727 square kilometers, with more than 2 million inhabitants representing 20 percent of the country's population. As in other cities, even before the "special period" some citizens had sporadically cultivated produce, but with government initiatives and the new availability of plots, "people's gardens" began to proliferate. The Ministry of Agriculture organized institutions to provide technical advice and support at local levels to producers using organic methods.

This source of production has outlived the provisional period and an organic, city agriculture has evolved. Although achieving high yields was not originally an objective it has occurred in many instances. Some surplus products go to support educational and health institutions in the area, and there is often produce left over to be sold. Some 26,000 families in the area benefit.

The many ugly refuse dumps and weed-covered plots that had previously existed have disappeared, and the support of the housing and road-construction industries, as well as that of various city services has helped to make transformation possible. The transformation in gender roles has unfortunately not been as thorough.

There are two aspects of this situation to consider:

i) Women in Cuba carry all the weight of domestic responsibilities, which were made more difficult by scarcities during the "special period". …