In part one of this text, I insisted that the discussion on social policy should be synchronous with that of economic policy.
I said that, for this, four fields need urgent attention. I paused on the first two: consider the effects of the foreign exchange market for inequality and see to impoverished social groups or those most vulnerable to falling into poverty.
Now I analyze the remaining two: consider the inequalities that constitute the non-state sector and open the debate and economic policy to the consideration of unpaid work as work and part of the economy.
Based on these reflections, I propose a decalogue of recommendations that constitutes a starting point for intervening in Cuban inequality orders, as well as in those of the economy.
- Consider the inequalities that constitute the non-state sector of the economy, which will now be promoted
Ensuring protection is essential and says a lot of the egalitarian will that organizes, or not, the life of a country, a home, an enterprise, a community. At the same time, it’s important to ensure equal opportunities to face crises as economic and social agents and not only as subjects of social protection. It’s not a matter of minimums, but of capacity, possibility and opportunity to be actors in this process, for the good of the national and domestic economies.
That’s why we need to also think about the way in which people can be integrated into the economic sectors that the reform announces will be promoted.
The proposed economic roadmap includes the intention of expanding the role of the non-state sector and promoting its reproduction. To do this, the path will be: a) expansion of the activities allowed in the private sector and flexibility of their content, b) recognition of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises with the capacity to associate with forms of state ownership and c) relaunching the process to encourage the creation of cooperatives. In the absence of conscious and intentional policies, the possibilities opened up by the strengthening of these sectors will be taken advantage by some groups, while others will remain on the margins.
According to the figures of the 2019 Statistical Yearbook, women represent only 17.99% of those who work in the non-state sector of the economy. Apparently, they have more barriers than men to access these spaces, since in the state sector the gap is much lower (45.77% of women compared to 54.23 of men). In non-agricultural cooperatives, women are 16.57% and in self-employment, 33.95%.
The unequal participation in these sectors is due to different related reasons: discriminatory social norms, less access to property and initial assets to start a business, care overload and lack of public services to guarantee it, absence of co-responsibility between men and women to ensure domestic and care work in homes, as well as lack of guarantee of labor rights, especially in the private sector.
If the boost to the private and cooperative sector is not accompanied by measures and policies that intervene in this order of things, the result will be that women will be left out of those labor markets, which promise to be more dynamic and ensure better incomes. The results of this have been widely debated around the world: decrease in the economic autonomy of women and their ability to negotiate inside and outside the home, barriers to get out of situations of violence due to lack of their own resources, devaluation and absence of recognition of domestic work and unpaid care and lack of availability of women’s workforce for the monetized economy. Inequality, in short.
In agriculture, the situation is no different. Women are only 12.92% of those who participate in agricultural cooperatives. Data from the Ministry of Agriculture in its Gender Strategy (2016) refer that more than 50,000 women lost their formal link with the state agricultural system in Cuba between 2010 and 2013. In 2017, for every 100 men employed in rural areas, there were 30 women. In short, fewer women than men have access to paid work in agriculture, have control of land, technologies and inputs to produce and hold positions of power. In agriculture, measures are also needed along this path.
Although black people have an almost equal participation in the private sector of the economy, it seems that the quality of their participation is different. The survey conducted by the German Institute of Global and Area Studies revealed the racialized stratification in income provided by the private sector. Black and mestizo people secure significantly lower incomes through that means due to the type of activity they carry out: they are more present as small-scale vendors, artisans and in small-scale gastronomic services. Meanwhile, white people are more represented in the two highest-income activities: as restaurant owners and in renting rooms and houses.
The result, again, is that not all people will be able to take advantage of the necessary promotion of the non-state sector of the economy in the same way, and this must be considered in order to intervene and shorten the gaps through intentional political actions. In favor of equity, specific credit policies for groups with structural exclusion, the guarantee of labor rights and non-discrimination, social awareness programs and incentives for the economic participation by diverse actors could work.
- Open the debate and economic policy to the consideration of unpaid work as work and part of the economy to be transformed
There is the economy, and lives, beyond monetized markets.
When crises ensue, sustaining life becomes more difficult and more time, work, and money has to be spent on it. Getting food and cooking it, planning meals, managing transport and with what to do the laundry, taking care of children, etc., is an even heavier burden, mainly carried by women. What happens in homes to sustain life is as vital to economic reflection as what happens in paid labor “factories.”
In Cuba, after the crisis of the 1990s, the progressive elimination or decrease of social policies (such as the content of the basic food basket, the workers’ canteens and others), of subsidies of products and the so-called “undue gratuities” had an incidence on the increase in unpaid domestic work. Households have increasingly occupied a key place for well-being and for being able to reproduce life by doing balancing acts to ensure the daily plate of food and the basic care of the most dependent people, that is, to prop up (literally or metaphorically) their columns.
The most recent National Survey that measured the use of time reported that in Cuba women dedicate 36.37 hours a week to domestic work and unpaid care. Men, 22.16 hours. The gap is around 14 hours per week “plus” for them.
To this is added the insufficient number of public services to ensure childcare1 and that of the elderly, the social norms that ensure that women must be caregivers and that they also do it better, and the lack of guarantees of labor rights in the private sector to make possible the reconciliation of domestic and care work and salaried work in decent conditions and for all people.
Having to carry out domestic and care work at home conditions the quantity and quality of the women’s workforce. This is also why they tend to participate less in labor markets and sometimes submit to informal, flexible and rights-free work regimes that allow them to reconcile their domestic and labor market responsibilities.
Therefore, it’s also necessary to consider that other crisis that exists, survives and conditions the economic orders of which the announced measures speak: the care crisis.
If caregiving is not subject to criticism and is redistributed―between men and women, families and the State, those who work and their employers―what “naturally” happens is that it becomes a difficult burden to carry. Arming inter-institutional bodies to address this situation is an emergency. Care is as important as other basic goods: food, water, health and education. They are part of the economic system; they are not external. We need to talk about them and connect some measures, those announced, with others, the necessary ones.
Incomplete decalogue of starting points
In addition, comprehensive economic policies that take into account the social effects of the announced roadmap are necessary and, on the other hand, that they ensure that different social groups can participate as economic agents, on equal terms. A reform of social policy is necessary to confront its distortions, as is being done with the economic reform.
From 2010 until now, the fundamental changes in social policy have been, above all, cuts. In order to accompany economic measures containing their social costs and circumventing the existing inequality, it’s necessary to reform social policy. That is why it’s so important to make the discussion on the matter the main subject along with the economic discussion, and weigh the opportunities, needs, challenges and balances. It’s also possible to carry out this other reform by stages; not everything can be done instantly, although it’s essential to develop some things as soon as possible. In any case, it’s necessary to talk about it.
Initial points to advance would be the following:
- Review of the social policy model in the country, systematization of the existing analyzes and production of others that help to identify the most impoverished or vulnerable groups to poverty.
- Debate on the possibility and relevance of combining universal policies with programs focused on specific groups that address Cuban diversity and reality.
- Transparent definition of how the economic activity of the private, cooperative and state sectors will contribute to social policy.
- Commitment from the beginning of the boosting of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises with the expansion and guarantee of labor rights, including non-spurious unionization of workers, co-responsibility in care, care, parental and sick leave, etc.
- Encouragement and guarantee of the economic participation of groups that we know are excluded from the non-state sector of the economy and that, at this juncture and with that sector in the foreground, could be more unfavored.
- Specific policies towards women in agriculture, to ensure their inclusion as economic agents and as owners.
- Creation of inter-sectoral and inter-institutional roundtables on care, which, taking advantage of national experience and that of other Latin American countries, make proposals on how to link, finance and address the confirmed care crisis in the country.
- Production of statistics that allow monitoring the process and periodically checking how the impacts of the crisis are taking place and measures to contain them.
- Enabling, strengthening and considering citizen participation in the course of the process, through civil society and institutional spokespersons.
The conditions in which Cuban society reaches this crisis are vastly different from those of the 1990s. The inequalities—socioeconomic and their intersection with gender, racial, territorial and generational inequalities—are more serious. Impoverishment, more evident. Universal and essential public education and health ensure significant levels of protection, but don’t prevent the acceleration of the processes of inequality.
So that an even more dramatic widening of social gaps doesn’t result from this crisis and the measures to face it, an intentional and systematic state policy is needed. Only then will the title of this text cease to be a question.
- Public daycare centers have the capacity to receive around 23% of preschool children in the country.