Independent Women's Groups Say 2019 Year of Progress in Cuba

HAVANA, Dec.17th (AP)  For 60 years, Cuba’s government has monopolized virtually every aspect of life on the island, including dozens of state-controlled organizations that serve as official advocates for groups ranging fromLGBT people to animal lovers. This year, one aspect of that state monopoly has begun to loosen, with the growth of tiny but active independent civil society groups pressuring the government for better protection.

As 2019 comes to a close, one of the most important of those new civil society causes is women’s rights. Women loosely organizing over Cuba’s year-old mobile internet have pushed the government for new protections against domestic abuse, and are publishing statistics on gender-motivated killings for the first time.

An online campaign brought international attention to the cases of Cuban women claiming assault and harassment by partners and co-workers. For example, a singer known as the Goddess of Cuba said she suffered long-term abuse at the hands of a partner and fellow performer.

They are small advances compared to the high-profile women’s rights movements in other Latin American countries. But Cuban women say any independent action is important in a country that has long claimed that its socialist revolution eliminated most institutionalized prejudice and other social problems.

After the victory of Fidel Castro’s rebel army in 1959, Cuba made abortion free and legal, granted a year of paid maternity leave, created free universal childcare and mandated equal pay for all.

Independent women’s activists say women remain underrepresented in high-ranking jobs and suffer street harassment and domestic abuse without sufficient public resources dedicated to the problem.

“In the first years of the revolution, Cuba passed laws that favored women, but left untouched many things that persist as part of the patriarchal culture,” said activist Marta María Ramírez. “They’re achievements that we have to update.”

Ramírez and hundreds of other women sent a petition demanding a law against gender violence to the National Assembly last month. It bore the signatures of 700 people, including singer/songwriter Haydée Milanés.