Tag Archives: Gender Issues

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

The Author: Sarah Stephens of the Center for Democracy in the Americas has just published a study on gender equity in Cuba.

The complete report is available for download  CDA_Womens_Work[1]   The first part of the Executive Summary is presented below.

Ritter’s comment:

While this is an interesting study, the author seems to studiously avoid even the mention of some of the most courageous women in Cuba who are already having an influence on public policy and will likely play a more important role in building Cuba’s future than any of the women cited or interviewed for the study. I am referring of course to the independent journalists, pro-democracy activists, and those who dare to speak up in support of the genuine respect for the basic human rights that Cuba has signed on to in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

How could an organization labelled the Center for Democracy in the Americas not have spoken to individuals such as Yoani Sanchez, Miriam Celaya, the Ladies in White, or Miriam Leiva?

The immigration reform law would not likely have been passed at this time were it not for the unrelenting pressure of Yoani Sanchez and the international publicity this engendered and the shame the travel restrictions brought on the Cuban government.

Arch Ritter


“Women’s Work: Gender Equality in Cuba and the Role of Women Building Cuba’s Future,” a report by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, examines progress made by Cuban women toward gender equality since the 1950s and discusses how that progress can be sustained in the future.

Cuba is highly ranked by international organizations from Save the Children to the World Economic Forum for the health and well being of its mothers and children; the literacy and educational attainment of its population; and for meeting or progressing toward the Millennium Development Goals.

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 speak for themselves.

But, the data also demonstrate, 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.

Now, as Cuba faces an economic crisis driven by fiscal, competitive, and demographic pressures, the government is trying to update its economic model. But, several actions – such as cutting budgets and controlling costs in its public health and education systems, and shrinking state employment rolls and moving workers into private sector jobs – could put Cuba’s gender equality achievements at considerable risk. Many Cuban women are reluctant to make the transition from the state jobs where they found work and received benefits to private sector employment, because they lack training, job security and benefits, and access to capital.

With ample global evidence that broadening rather than constraining participation by women increases economic growth, social wellbeing, and family formation, Cuba can improve its prospects for addressing the crisis by preserving, and indeed, expanding its commitment to gender equality. Cuban women also want to expand their roles, their power, and their ability to participate in the building of Cuba’s future.

CDA believes it would serve the national and humanitarian interests of the U.S. to help Cuban women achieve greater economic success as their nation undergoes a stressful adjustment to a new economic model, and the report offers recommendations for doing so.

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Yoani Sánchez, “With Clitoris and With Rights”

Article printed from Generation Y: http://www.desdecuba.com/generationy

At times with good intentions – other times with not so good – someone tries to silence my complaints about the machismo in my country, telling me, “Cuban women don’t have it so badly… those in some African nations, where they are subjected to ablation, are worse off.” As an argument it’s a low blow, it hurts me in the groin, connects me to the cry of a defenseless teenager, mutilated, subjected to that ordeal by her own family.  But the rights of women should not be reduced only to the power to maintain their physical integrity and to defend their biological capacity to experience pleasure. The clitoris is not the only thing we can lose, there is a long list of social, economic and political possibilities, which are also snatched from us.

As I live in a country where the paths of civic protest have been severed and demonized, I dare to offer in this blog a list of the violations that still persist against women.

  • They do not allow us to establish our own women’s organizations, where we can unite and represent ourselves. Groups that are not channels of transmission from the government to the citizens, as sadly happens with the Federation of Cuban Women.
  • When they speak of women in the political class, it’s clear that they don’t have any real power but are there to fulfill quotas or assignments by gender.
  • The icon of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) – the only organization of this kind permitted by law – shows a figure with a rifle on her shoulder in clear allusion to the mother as soldier, to the female as a piece of the warring conflict cooked up from above.
  • The absence in the national press of reporting about domestic violence does not eliminate its real presence. Silence does not stop the aggressor from hitting. In the pages of our newspapers there should also be these stories of abuse, because otherwise we are not going to understand that we have a serious problem of assaults, silenced within the walls of so many homes.
  • Where can a wife go when she is beaten by her husband? Why are there no shelters or why doesn’t the media publicize the locations of these refuges for battered women?
  • Buying disposable diapers is almost a luxury in this society. Most new mothers still have to spend a good part of their time washing baby clothes by hand. Every emancipation needs a material infrastructure of freedom, otherwise it will remain so only in slogans and mottoes.
  • The high prices of all the products needed for motherhood and pregnancy are also a factor that influences the low birth rate. A crib with mattress costs the equivalent of $90 U.S. in a country where the average monthly salary doesn’t exceed $20.
  • The child support that a father must provide for his children after a divorce – as stipulated by law – doesn’t exceed, in many cases, the equivalent of $3 monthly, which leaves a woman economically powerless to raise her children.
  • The extremely high prices of food relative to wages keep Cuban women chained to the stove while performing economic pirouettes to put a plate of food on the table. It is the women and not the political-economic system that performs a daily miracle so that Cuban families eat, more or less well or more or less badly.
  • After so many slogans about emancipation and equality, we Cuban women are left with a double workday and dozens of cumbersome bureaucratic tasks. It’s enough to go outside to see the effects of this excess load: most women over forty have bitter faces, make no plans for the future, do not go out with their women friends to a bar, and have no escape from their family and the tedium.
  • When a woman decides to criticize the government, she is immediately reminded who wears the skirt; they accuse her of immorality, infidelity to her husband, being manipulated by some male mind, and call her “prostitute,” “cocky,” “hooker,” as many discriminating cutting insults as they can imagine.
  • You can’t try to liberate a specific social group in a society gripped by the lack of rights. To be a woman in the Cuba of today is to suffer these lacks twice.

In short, we want to have a clitoris and rights, to feel pleasure and to speak our opinions, to be known for our skirts, but especially for our ideas.

Family, Photo by Arch Ritter

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Still the “Bestest” and the “Worstest” and Maybe the Most Opaque: Cuba in the 2010 UNDP Human Development Report

By Arch Ritter

The 2010 UNDP Human Development Report , published on November 5, 2010, presents the definitive and much-awaited “Report Card” on the social, economic, political, environmental and security dimensions of development for all countries of the world. In this Report, Cuba fares well in some indices, badly on others, but is also “out-of-the-running” on the major UNDP Human Development Indices due to lack of reliable information.

The whole of the UNDP Human Development Report can be accessed here:   2010http://hdr.undp.org/en/mediacentre/

Here are a few of the interesting comparative insights and results for Cuba.

1.      Main Human Development Indices

Cuba is excluded from the main Human Development Indices that the UNDP presents, namely the Human Development Index (Table 1), the Inequality-adjusted Human development Index (HDI) (Table 2) and the Multidimensional Poverty Index (Table 5)  as well as the HDI Trends from 1980 to 2010 (Table 3). This is unfortunate because it is not possible this year to make a comparison of Cuba with other countries or with itself over time.

Due to the existence of the dual exchange rate system in which there is no reasonable single exchange rate, together with the complexity of the highly segmented markets – underground economy, rationing system, farmer’s markets, non-market allocation of some goods and services, and quasi-dollar stores – it was concluded by the UNDP that it was impossible at this time to construct a measure of GDP per capita in purchasing power terms as is done for some 169 other countries. . The UNDP apparently is working with the Government of Cuba to correct this situation. The UNDP’s explanation of the problem is presented in Appendix 1.

2.      Gender Inequality Index

Cuba comes first in Latin America and 47th in the world for this measure, which includes maternal mortality rates, adolescent fertility rate, share of parliamentary seats held by each sex, attainment at secondary and higher education, labor market participation rates, contraception availability, and births attended by health personnel (Table 4).

3.      “Empowerment”” Measures

In a new dimension of its analysis (Table 6), the UNDP brings together a variety of indicators of human “empowerment.”  Cuba fares uniformly badly, and indeed worst in Latin America for many measures:

  • “Democracy”: worst in Latin America;
  • “Press Freedom”: worst in the world, including China;
  • “Satisfaction with Freedom of Choice”: worst in Latin America, with 26% and 28% satisfaction for males and females respectively;
  • “Journalists Imprisoned”: worst in the world with the exception of  China;
  • “Human Rights Violations”: among the worst.

4.      Education

Cuba fares well in education generally (Table 13). One notable feature of Cuba’s comparative experience is that it has the largest tertiary education enrolment in the Hemisphere and the world at 121.5% compared to an average of 36.5% for all of Latin America.

How can this be? Presumably more people than are in the normal tertiary education age cohort are attending colleges or University. This is the result of increasing the supply of tertiary education, by creating alleged “Universities” in every Municipality, plus an increase in the demand for higher education by those who have been put out of work in various areas including the sugar sector. It is difficult to know without further information if the 121.5% figure represents an achievement or a gross misallocation of resources given that Cuba needs to produce real products in agriculture and industry, and seems to be overproducing university graduates – not unlike some higher income countries .

5.      Health

As is well-known, Cuba also fares well in health measures and has been particularly successful in squeezing strong health outcomes from very scarce resources (Table 14).

One interesting measure is the number of doctors per 10,000 people that stands at 64 for Cuba. This again is the highest ration by far in Latin America and the world. Again, this looks like an over-allocation of resources to the “doctor” category in health. However, given that the 30,000 doctors abroad are now the largest earner of foreign exchange for Cuba, it is likely that this over-abundant resource is now being used effectively.

6.      Access to Information and Communications Technology.

Cuba’s performance is in communications and access information is also the weakest in the Hemisphere. Here are a number of indicators noted by the UNDP (Table 16).

  • The access of Cubans to land-line and mobile telephones stands at 13%. This is by far the lowest in the Hemisphere. Even the lower income countries in the region have much higher access to telephones, with Haiti at 33%, Nicaragua 60%, Guatemala 120%; Grenada 86%, El Salvador 131%, Paraguay 103%m and Honduras 96%.
  • The cost of a mobile telephone connection in Cuba is by far the highest in the world, at $120.00.  Obviously this limits the demand for mobile connections and helps explain Cuba’s 13% access rate.
  • Access to the internet is particularly low at 12.9 per 100 persons, though not the lowest in the Hemisphere.
  • The proportion of the population with personal computers was estimated at 5.6 per 100 persons, again low but not the lowest in the Hemisphere.

This illustration shows the HDI trajectories for all countries of the world from 1980 to 2010, excepting Cuba and a few others.
Appendix !: Purchasing power parity conversions and the HDI: an illustration with the case of Cuba (Source: UNDP,  HDR 2010, p.138).

The HDI uses internationally comparable data on gross national income (GNI) per capita from the World Bank (2010g). These data are expressed using a conversion factor that allows comparisons of prices across countries. This conversion, known as purchasing power parity (PPP), is necessary to take into account differences in the value of a dollar across countries.  Four countries have data on all HDI components except for GNI: Cuba, Iraq, Marshall Islands and Palau. For three of these countries (Cuba, Marshall Islands and Palau) this is due to the fact that they do not participate in the International Comparisons Program. Iraq lacks information about GNI for the last 10 years.
To illustrate the options and problems that arise in attempting to reliably estimate GNI per capita in PPP terms, Cuba is used as an example. One well known approach to estimating GNI—used by the Center for International Comparisons of Production, Income and Prices at the University of Pennsylvania (Heston, Summers and Aten 2009)—is a regression that relies on data from the salaries of international civil servants converted at the official exchange rate. However, because the markets in which foreigners purchase goods and services tend to be separated from the rest of the economy, these data can be a weak guide to the prices citizens face in practice. The Center for International Comparisons of Production, Income and Prices recognizes this problem, rating its own estimate of Cuba’s GDP as a “D” (the lowest grade).
An alternative estimate applies the exchange rate used in Cuba and the PPP conversion of an economy with similar attributes, but this method goes against the principle of using a country’s legally recognized exchange rate and prices to convert its national aggregates to an international currency. Another option is to not apply any PPP correction factor to the official exchange rate for convertible pesos. Both of these options yield far lower estimated income than the PPP correction does. The wide variation in income estimates arising from these different techniques indicates that no single robust method exists in the absence of reliable data.
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