Cuba has arrived at March 8 (M8) with a crisis of femicides. It is accompanied and nourished by other crises, such as economic, food, medicine, migration… One cannot be explained without the others.
In recent days, three femicides have been confirmed almost consecutively, one of them announced by the Las Tunas Provincial Department of Public Health, and the other two by the civil society’s femicide observatories and feminist organizations.
During the first two months of 2023, 16 violent gender-based deaths of Cuban women have been reported, according to citizen observatories. Approximately two per week. In 2022 the total count for the year added up to 36. Hence, the frequency and number of the beginning of the year are worrying.
If any feminist agenda should be made visible for International Women’s Day in Cuba, it is that of femicides. They must take up the list of demands and problems to be resolved urgently.
For the first time, femicidal violence in the largest of the Caribbean islands strikes hard and recklessly.
The regional context
The fourth wave of feminisms in Latin America and the Caribbean is known as the “Ola Violeta” (Violet Wave). It has dyed purple the agendas and mobilizations of recent times in the region.
During 2021, around 12 gender-based violent deaths per day took place in Latin America and the Caribbean. In total, some 4,473 women were victims of femicide in 29 countries in the region, according to the latest official data reported by the countries to the Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean (GEO) of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
The highest rates of femicide in Latin America were recorded in Honduras (4.6),1 the Dominican Republic (2.7), El Salvador (2.4), Bolivia (1.8) and Brazil (1.7). In the Caribbean, 28 women died due to gender-based violence, according to the 11 countries and territories that provided information for 2021. Cuba is not among them. It does not have updated official figures for this indicator.
Of the 18 countries or territories in Latin America and the Caribbean that provided information, 11 had a rate equal to or greater than 1 victim of femicide for every 100,000 women.
The only femicide rate that has been officially published in Cuba2 amounts to 0.99. In this way, the island would be close to the standards of most countries in the region in its behavior regarding femicide.
The Cuban data is outdated (it dates from 2016) and constitutes an underreporting (it only takes into account the murders of women for gender-based reasons committed by partners and ex-partners), but it serves to place Cuba at some point on the regional map of femicidal violence.
Despite the limitations of the Cuban calculation (the figure will be higher if we incorporate femicides that occur outside of the couple’s relationship), the island is inserted in the bulk of countries in the region in which feminicide is around a rate of 1 victim for every 100,000 women.
What are statistics for?
Having a public registry of femicides is not a purely statistical matter. The figures and public information are for designing comprehensive public policies on gender-based violence. For this, it is important to know a series of data. The characteristics of the victims and the aggressors, the relationship between them, the contexts in which these crimes took place, the means used to cause the death. Whether or not the victim had filed a previous report or complaint against the aggressor.
A femicide counting system — which implies its legal recognition in the Penal Code or other legal instruments — is the essential prelude to more effective public policies for prevention. Hence its great importance.
In the last regional report in which Cuba published an official rate, the island did not occupy the worst places, but it did not occupy the best either. With the news of the first two months of 2023, the numbers have likely gotten worse on official records.
Despite the fact that Cuba announced two years ago the official creation of an Observatory on gender and femicide violence, nothing is known today about this essential initiative.
However, civil observatories operated by non-state feminist organizations have recorded several gender-based violent deaths of women. This can shed light on the current situation of femicides in Cuba.
The Femicide Observatory of Yo sí te creo en Cuba and the Gender Observatory of Alas Tensas, through collaborative work, have registered (it is not appropriate to consider it a complete registry because they do not have access to all the violent deaths of women) a total of 32 femicides in 2020; 36 in 2021; 36 in 2022. In the little that has elapsed in 2023, they add up to 16.
The increase in the records of femicide violence in Cuba is explained by various reasons. Among them, citizens’ greater acknowledgment of femicides; improvements in the registration and verification system by the observatories; greater visibility of the events on social networks and the media and, indeed, a regrettable rise in this type of crime.
In many other countries, there are femicide observatories independent of the State. It often happens that feminist organizations are dedicated exclusively to counting femicides in their nations. The press plays a fundamental role, as well as activism, feminist militancy and reports from attorney’s offices or district attorney’s offices.
In Mexico, the work of the National Citizen Observatory on Femicide (OCNF) has been crucial for counting the cases. The OCNF seeks to contribute to the eradication of gender-based violence, femicides and discrimination against women. Meanwhile, it monitors and systematizes information on the lack of prosecution and administration of justice for victims of femicide violence.
Also known in Mexico is María Salguero, who elaborated a map on femicides in the country, case by case.
In Argentina, Ahora que sí nos ven is dedicated to reporting femicides in Argentina and being an input for the design and implementation of public policies that guarantee a life free of violence.
In the Caribbean, Puerto Rico joins the list of countries with citizen observatories. The Gender Equity Observatory is a coalition of feminist and human rights organizations in the face of the increase in gender-based violence. The initiative aims to monitor and analyze the situation in the country, generate public policy recommendations, and oversee the response of government agencies to gender-based violence.
In Brazil there is the Gender-based Violence Observatory monitored by the Women’s Foundation; in Colombia, the Colombian Femicide Observatory is part of the information system of the Antimilitarist Feminist Network; in Chile, the Chilean Femicide Observatory; the Femicide Observatory in Panama. Thus, they exist throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Most work collaboratively with state agencies or institutions, even when their governments have official observatories.
Until now in Cuba, there are no indications of collaboration between non-state feminist initiatives and state and government institutions.
Multiplication of activism
Wide-ranging responses emerge from all crises. And forms of civil organization emerge to confront them. In Cuba the denunciations have multiplied. Their echo has penetrated deeper and deeper. There is no way to prevent Cuban women from organizing inside and outside the State in the face of an emergency that costs lives.
The work of the aforementioned Cuban femicide observatories takes time. But, in the absence of official statistics, the monitoring of civil platforms is increasingly consulted.
For its part, the discussion on gender-based violence and femicide has spread in the public sphere. Official communication on this type of crime has taken its first steps, despite errors or limitations in framing the subject.
Feminist organizations that had not ruled on the violent gender-based deaths of women have raised their voices in the face of the alarming situation.
On national television, the broadcast of programs that approach the subject has been expanded. The Cuban stages give space to the agenda against femicide. They also denounce parental abandonment, gender-based violence, the lack of shelters and specialized laws (for example, the play Padre Nuestro, which still has performances at the Bertolt Brecht Theater).
The femicide crisis and M8 also take place in a context of thirst for justice. Proof of this was the Bécquer case. To a large extent, the claims by civil society led to a review of the sentence. But, behind this desire for legal justice lies another much larger and complex one, which is social justice, and gender social justice.
The femicides that are occurring in Cuba are the expression of a deeper structural crisis that lacerates multiple dimensions of life (material and immaterial). The socioeconomic crisis brings with it a crisis of values, of collective senses, of paradigms of justice. In addition, there is an institutional crisis that is unable to process collective lawsuits or finish transforming pillars that help curb femicide violence.
State institutions must adjust policies and structures to current times. If Cuba increasingly resembles the regional context in terms of gender-based violence, government agencies must also imitate good practices; promote more dialogue with civil society initiatives and with women (cis, trans, lesbian, transvestite) who live in conditions of high vulnerability.
For example, since the creation of the Special District Attorney’s Office for the Crime of Femicide in 2019, of the Mexico City government, the number of femicides has been reduced by 27%. In addition, the number of violent deaths of women (gender-based or other) was reduced by 36%. Access to justice for victims of femicide increased by 171%.
In addition to the creation of the specialized District Attorney’s Office, twelve other actions and policies were implemented, among which are: creation of Las Lunas (thirteen Territorial Units for Attention and Prevention of Violence, which managed to reduce by 55.2% the risk of femicide in 1,826 cases); training of police forces in gender attention; creation of Lawyers for women (they have managed to open more than 42,000 investigation folders and processed 904 protection measures); creation of a public registry of sexual offenders; regulatory reforms to the crime of femicide; DNA bank (identification of a sexual offender); and collaboration strategies between victims, relatives of victims and feminist organizations.3
What can we do in Cuba?
A ministry of women and diversities that deals with the promotion of gender policies; specialized district attorney’s offices, courts and police; gender-based violence and femicide observatories; and collaboration between recognized non-state feminist organizations, are demands to integrate a feminist agenda focused on providing a life free of violence in Cuba.
ECLAC has stressed this: to stop femicide violence, four pillars must be strengthened: financing, prevention, public response and information systems.
It is known that the financing that a State provides to its entities depends to a great extent on the institutional rank. Therefore, the higher the rank (institutes, secretariats, or ministries), the higher the budget allocated to organizations dedicated to combating gender-based violence.
Prevention will not be possible if work is not done from an early age in an inclusive culture from a gender perspective. Hence, comprehensive sexuality programs in schools are cornerstones for deconstructing value systems sustained by machismo, sexism, misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and discrimination. In this, cultural products in art, the press and the media play a fundamental role.
Public response to the context
The public response covers both the emergency moment of gender-based violence and femicide (emergency telephone line, gender patrols, panic buttons, attention protocol, specialization of law enforcement agents, shelters or refuges) to public policies that do away with the structural gaps of gender-based inequality. Policies that are capable of creating a society of care and social support.
Information systems, for their part, must be characterized by transparency, updating, systematicity and visibility.
Barely three months ago, the 15th Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. There it was agreed to “promote the adoption and implementation of laws, policies, comprehensive and multisectoral action plans, and educational programs to raise awareness, to prevent, address, punish, and eradicate all forms of gender-based violence and discrimination against women, teenage girls and girls in all their diversity, in their different spheres and manifestations.”
Therefore, what is there to wait to approve a comprehensive Law against gender-based violence in Cuba; to create shelters and other emergency measures; to classify the gender-based murder of women as femicide; to listen to the demands of feminist activism and militancy; to implement radical policies that counteract inequality gaps?
This is how we arrived at M8 in Cuba. With a crisis of femicides and a thirst for justice, legal and social. But also with proposals to support the prevention and reparation of these events.
1 The rate is calculated per 100,000 women.
2 Voluntary National Report of the year 2019 before ECLAC on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030.
3 Some of these strategies are round tables, participation in some phases of implementation of gender-focused public policies, and the promotion of events on gender-based violence with the participation of victims, family members, organizations, and institutions. These are initiatives that have been systematically developed in the region in countries such as Mexico and Argentina.