Academic journal article Cuban Studies

A Cuban Policy Approach to Sex Education

Academic journal article Cuban Studies

A Cuban Policy Approach to Sex Education

Article excerpt

Initiatives in the field of sexology and sex education in prerevolutionary Cuba are barely known, as continuity between those experiences and the work carried out during the early years of the Cuban Revolution have not been researched. However, what is currently referred to as the Moncada Program and its references to the problems faced by women may be identified as the main bases of the revolutionary process.

Fidel Castro denounced the double exploitation of women in prerevolutionary Cuba, because of gender and social class, in his self-defense plea at the trial for the July 1953 attack on the Moncada garrison. Written while he was in jail and published subsequently as History Will Absolve Me,1 the plea became a political platform and blueprint for changing women's lives.

In 1959, women's organizations in the country-with different histories, views, and capacities for action-expressed their readiness to be involved in social, economic, political, and cultural change.2 In September, a Cuban commission was set up for the purpose of attending in November the first Latin American Women's Congress in Santiago de Chile, organized by the Women's International Democratic Federation (WIDF). This helped forge links between Cuba and leftist world struggles for equal rights for women. The Congress of Cuban Women for Latin American Liberation was created in the months that followed, to provide functional support for unifying the different organizations and calling on women to take part in the tasks organized in support of the revolution and to carry out the agreements adopted in Santiago de Chile. This in turn provided the window in which to begin planning the structure and functioning of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), set up in August 1960. The FMC joined WIDF that same year, occupying one of the vice presidencies.

The founding of the FMC must be considered a product of the long experience of political maturity of Cuban women during the first half of the twentieth century and their understanding that ''the Revolution offered them the chance to raise their human dignity.''3 At the same time, the concept of a comprehensive approach to development began to emerge, one that was not limited solely to economic growth but that also integrated aspects of social, political, and cultural transformation in each specific moment of the revolutionary process. Accordingly, state social policy embraced various social programs, whose greatest impact was felt in education, health care, welfare, and security, with a special emphasis on children, youth, and women.4

In the context of the broader social process, which has been a constant of the past fifty years, what follows periodizes the four main stages of institutionalizing sex education and signals its main challenges. The focus is on the problems of women as social subjects, in the context of work carried out by the FMC and the gradual incorporation of sex education, drawing on FMC archival holdings.5 Chronologically, the stages are 1959-1975 (women's rights and reproductive health), 1976-1989 (sex education, social policy, and structure), 1990-2003 (theory, methodology, and gender praxis), and 2003-2009 (sex education and sexual diversity).

First Stage, 1959-1975: Women's Rights and Reproductive Health

The first stage, from 1959 to 1975, was characterized essentially by the focus on equal rights for women and the promotion of their reproductive health, and it was closely linked with the creation and development of the FMC.6 Organized in a large network of voluntary activism, women carried out many initiaA tives that later became the policies, laws, and responsibilities of the new institutions created. It is important to highlight some of the processes that gave rise to the first moves to introduce sex education.

The efforts to organize the new National Public Health System (NPHS) revealed the sharp divides of social class, gender, race, geographical space, and other social circumstances, in the context of a shortage of medical and nursing personnel. …

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