The text Revictimizada mil veces” (Revictimized a Thousand Times), published in the daily Granma on August 18, unleashed a highly intense controversy on social networks. The author spoke of femicides and tried to argue a three-channel approach:
- There is a forced importation of initiatives that have arisen in other countries that end up in “a snobbish, fanatical, superficial feminism, assumed as a lifestyle, and for some opportunists, a source of benefits,”
- The largest audience that femicides in Cuba have today is a manipulation of those who officiate against the government, in this category enter the media “openly recognizable as part of the counterrevolution,” those “that have accreditation as foreign press media” and those “who receive funding under the camouflage of ‘independent media and journalism,’”
- The gross number of femicides in Cuba is lower than in other countries.
All three points have very serious problems.
With them, the author, and the platform that supports him, expropriate the people of their agency and qualifies them according to interested and arbitrary attributions. They define as a block everything that is not part of government institutions and thus the truly existing collective and individual subjects disappear. They don’t take advantage, annihilating it by criminalization, the democratizing and dialogical potential of Cuban feminist actors. They instrument the global and regionally recognized feminist agenda as a leftist and democratic agenda. They impede political analysis on the presence of the feminist agenda in Cuba and its difference from the turning into themes the issues related to women (not necessarily feminist). They simplify a dense and regrettable problem in our society and turn it into a caricature of political poles. They sentence the impossibility of establishing dialogues between state institutions and citizen projects and voices. Thus, they condemn the lives of women who are in cycles of violence and need a personal, collective and institutional solution. Finally, they contradict and challenge government gestures that seem, in recent times, they could promote active listening to civil society and generate spaces for more fluid collaboration.
Every day one comes across enunciations that are interestingly far-fetched, misplaced, misinformed, militants against rights, women, and justice. We deal with it. Nobody said it was easy.
Now, this text would be one more straw in the haystack of misogyny if it had not been published in an official press organ. Is “Revictimized a Thousand Times” announcing something?
That violence against women is a problem, was recognized in the Communist Party of Cuba Conference (2012), in the new Constitution of the Republic (2019), in the country’s official reports to ECLAC (2019), in conversation and institutional work, and in citizen calls; and that doesn’t contradict the guarantee of the right to abortion, universal education and health, the norm on equal pay or the presence of women in university classrooms.
In November 2019, forty women presented to the National Assembly of People’s Power (ANPP) a Request that a Comprehensive Law Against Gender Violence be included in the legislative schedule, which would be approved shortly thereafter. The difficult process was heard by Cuban civil society and political society.
The President of the Republic said at the ANPP session last December that “we must prepare to legislate, due to its high sensitivity, on gender violence” and on other issues. Weeks later, the ANPP coordinated a meeting with part of the signatories of the Request. The aforementioned Law was not considered, at least until now. However, the problem is already an issue in public spheres.
After that journey, the aforementioned text again narrates a polar politics. It defends that the only two existing areas are, on the one hand, the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) with projects or institutions that orbit around it (those that it mentions are: the Eres más, Evoluciona, y Únete campaigns, and the coordinated work with the United Nations and the Oscar Arnulfo Romero Center). On the other, the “mercenary press.” It’s not like that.
At this moment there are, making a quick count, at least sixty projects or organizations in the country that are declared feminist or with a feminist profile. By that I don’t mean projects that speak of women, but rather those that defend an agenda of justice in context, without mercenariness. A part of these efforts are institutional or function within them. Another is civil society projects that contribute to the organization, dynamism, density of Cuban society, many times they share institutional objectives and sometimes transcend them, because they have more capacity to operate with the subjectivities of young people, activists, etc. This is a very valuable fabric and many times tempered by the Latin American and global feminist power struggling for better worlds.
Organizations recognized as anti-government opposition have also included women’s rights issues on their agenda. It has been visible in recent times and they integrate that program to their own political ends. Those purposes are explicit and clear to anyone who is minimally observant.
It’s impossible to reduce on a par that map to institutions vs. mercenaries. At least a part of the Cuban feminist projects that I know are sustained with volunteers and without material resources or with minimal resources. With the power, time, creativity and strength of many women, some very young, inspired by those who have been in the same struggle for decades and by their peers in Latin America and the world.
Dispatching all of this is, by all accounts, a wrong, self-serving overgeneralization.
The press confirms the same diversity. Regarding the treatment of femicides, there are at least five ways.
Some media on Cuba make a perverse use of facts; they hunt them like carrion birds; they count them by vomiting them, drawing horror out of horror. They share photos and videos. They feed inhuman ghoulish incidents. They don’t denounce, they instrument the pain to gain digital traffic or, directly, to swell their anti-government political program.
Other media, although they have a similar political profile, have been more cautious in their form. They have little sensitivity or training on these issues but, in the face of criticism from civil society itself, they show some restraint in the way they communicate these contents.
On the other hand, unofficial communication efforts are trying to advance an agenda that is sensitive to feminisms, not without difficulty. Those spaces are the least, it’s true, but they are making a very clear effort to contribute to the analysis of the problem. They criticize both the morbid yellowishness and the silence. They show that covering a case of femicide implies an enormous responsibility where each word has to pass the filter of the question: does this contribute something to show some aspect of the problem, its complexities and possibilities for resolving it?
Fourth, some official media―provincial, essentially―have tried to advance these debates in recent years and, on occasion, have succeeded. Now there is much more analysis of gender inequalities in these spaces. Specifically regarding femicides, in 2018, for the first and only time an official media outlet, Cinco de Septiembre, covered a case. In addition to the provincial ones, the discussion on gender has also been installed in Cubadebate, with the Letras de Género column, which is gaining readers.
Finally, there are the media that persist in blocking the discussion about it, evade responsibilities, look at a country that doesn’t exist and ignore any contribution to the problems that afflict it.
That other minimal map, perhaps still simplified, is much more complex than what Javier Gómez Sánchez’s text talks about. In it, however, there is a debate on which to continue insisting: the obligation of all communication media and projects to respect the dignity of the victims and their families, and to contribute to thinking about the problem, without hiding it and without exploiting it. The press law to come should put this issue on its agenda. And that, then yes, it be for the common good.
Gender violence is a problem in Cuba. One of the “highly sensitive issues” of Cuban society, as President Díaz Canel has said. Femicides, as the bloodiest extreme of this violence, are also sensitive.
In 2019, Cuba was added to the list of countries that speak of femicides, although it’s not yet a criminal figure in the country. The official figure was given in a national report provided to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), on how the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is being addressed.
The 2019 report gave a femicide rate for 2016. In that year, the rate was 0.99 per 100,000 inhabitants of women population aged 15 years and over.1 According to the Office of National Statistics, in 2016 the women population in those ages was 4,752,137. Then, approximately 47 women were murdered in crimes described as femicides by Cuba. About one per week.
The data given to ECLAC, although valuable, underestimates the problem. Technically, within the crime of feminicide, some countries specify “intimate feminicides.” This includes the murders of women at the hands of their couples, ex-couples, relatives or partners. The Cuban cut, however, was even more specific: only couples or former couples. This definition makes it impossible to speak of femicide if the murderer is a partner other than the couple, for example.
Now then, that data allows other analyzes. According to the Statistical Yearbook on Health, 121 women died in 2016 as a result of assaults. The conclusion, in proportional terms, is the following: that year, 39% of the deaths of women due to assaults were femicides perpetrated by couples or ex-couples.
The Cuban rate of these femicides is lower than the global and Latin American rates (1.6 in 2017), but the proportion of total murders of women due to assaults is higher. According to a UN report published in November 2018, 34.48% of murders of women worldwide in 2017 were committed by their couples or ex-couples. Thus the Cuban proportion exceeds the global one. From there we can draw a conclusion and a clue: in Cuba and in relation to its own standards, the home and intimate relationships are a place of greatest danger compared to the world trend. This fact should be key for public policies and for citizen efforts in the fight against violence. And the kind of analysis that comes to that conclusion, too.
It’s necessary to talk femicides. Silence is an accomplice. We need to know the profile of the murders, in what circumstances they occur, how we can avoid it. In other countries, femicides are interrelated and enabled by the narco-state, transnational companies that colonize territories, or gangs; or the crime is very likely to go unpunished. In others, Cuba among them, the murders are not unpunished. But the other moments of violence can be due to different types of barriers related to the processes of violence.
According to UN Women, 35% of women around the world have suffered, at some point in their lives, physical and/or sexual violence by a romantic partner or sexual violence by someone other than their romantic partner. National studies give even higher figures.
In Cuba, 39.6% of women said in the last National Survey on Gender Equality that they had suffered some type of violence by their couple at “some point in their life.” The number could increase if violence outside the couple was considered.
This problem has been the object of work in institutional agendas. The Centers for the Care of Women and the Family of the Federation of Cuban Women have been considering the issue since 1990. In 1997, the National Group for the Prevention and Attention of Intrafamily Violence was created, which was later exhausted or left with a very low profile. At the meeting at the ANPP with part of the signatories of the Law request, it was announced that on November 11, 2019, the reactivation of that Group had been decided.
A few weeks ago, the approval of a guide for the implementation of a telephone line with national scope, led by the FMC to deal with cases of violence, was announced. The existence of an institutional telephone line for these cases is an old need, and its quick implementation is vital. It should produce an inter-institutional articulation and ensure the training of police and justice operators in much more efficient ways than those up to now.
Only 3.7% of women who have been victims of violence in their relationships have asked for outside help. Among the reasons for not asking for help are the barriers that exist in police and judicial procedures. The FMC itself has recognized this. These barriers, together with the very serious housing problems, the lesser economic autonomy of women, their greater responsibility with their sons and daughters, and the lack of education for gender equality and equity, make up a very complex scenario. To solve it, there has not been sufficient institutional capacity. There hasn’t been. There has to be. Achieving it is more agile and better if it’s done by many. What “Revictimized a Thousand Times” does is make sure, with treachery, that this doesn’t happen.
Sexist violence cannot be a drawer that is opened, on the one hand, to show off how well we have done or, on the other, to instrument the struggle of women based on a cause, which is mercenary, that in its results, goes against women. Lives are at stake here. And to protect those lives we have to think honestly about the inequalities that violence enables. Inequalities that operate in the form of unfair recognition and in the form of redistributive deficits. Both at the same time.
That is why, for me, fighting against sexist violence implies defending a broad program of social justice, which ensures recognition, redistribution, representation and participation. Universal education and health, inclusive standards, awareness programs, strong states that guarantee rights and social protection, listening to citizens, those who have been trying to intervene in this state of affairs for decades and those of us who do it today.
In Cuba it could be done, in spite of the interventionist mercenarism and misogynistic mercenarism of conscience; in spite of those who seek to implode just causes no matter how much they sweep away on that path.
1 For a similar period, this rate is low compared to countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico or Brazil; and high in relation to Peru, Chile or Panama.
Editor’s note: This text is not part of the Sin Filtro Column that Ailynn Torres Santana has published in OnCuba for several years and where she systematically writes on issues related to feminism, gender equality, the fight against violence against women, equality and social inclusion, but was originally posted on the author’s blog. OnCuba reproduces it as it is considered to be of central importance in understanding such sensitive and complex issues for Cuban society.