“Ensuring a fair and comprehensive law against gender-based violence is what concerns us now.” Thus ends a Request presented to the Cuban Parliament two years ago, on November 21, 2019. The initiative had forty signatures.
The formal delivery of the document contributed to a process of visibility on sexist violence, the role of civil society, institutional paths, the public sphere, feminisms. The issue had been on the Cuban agenda since the 1990s. The Request considered this path and relied on Cuban regulatory and institutional frameworks, the experience of other countries, contemporary feminist debates, national statistics and the need to establish alliances between civil and political societies.
The request to the National Assembly of People’s Power included three points:
- To include in the legislative schedule provided for in the thirteenth provision of the current Constitution of the Republic, the drafting of a Comprehensive Law against Gender-based Violence.
- To constitute an advisory group whose composition would be public knowledge, made up of people with work on the subject, to accompany the process of drafting the law. We request that the group have representation from different regions of the country and social sectors.
- To receive and process proposals from citizens in the process of drafting the Comprehensive Law against Gender-based Violence.
Two years have passed since that civic, legal, legitimate and, in several ways, unprecedented act. Gender-based violence continues to be a problem in Cuba and the world. The needs raised in 2019 continue to be present. At the same time, between November 2019 and 2021, a great deal has happened. Probably the issue of sexist violence is one of the areas that has experienced the most controversy and conflicts in recent Cuba. What has happened and what has not happened two years after the Request? Here’s an incomplete list:
- December 2019, President Miguel Díaz-Canel said, at the closing of the sessions of the National Assembly of People’s Power, that “in the coming months and years we must approve new laws and prepare to legislate on transcendent issues due to their high sensitivity, which includes some that are of concern to several people, related to gender-based violence, racism, animal abuse, and sexual diversity.”
- The Request was not accepted and in the legislative schedule approved at the end of December 2019 — which must transform or create more than a hundred Cuban regulations — a Comprehensive Law against gender-based violence was not included.
- From then on, official press media have made publications that present feminist struggles as manipulation strategies promoted by international actors, or directly the request for a Comprehensive Law against Gender-based Violence as a typical claim of liberal or arbitrary feminisms for the Cuban moment. An exclusive narrative was constructed between addressing the problem transversally in other legal norms vs formulating a Comprehensive Law. However, the possibility of a comprehensive Law continues to orbit in official statements as a possibility, although it is considered a step in the future with no date for the moment.
- Once the pandemic started, the civil society platform Yo sí te creo en Cuba, created in June 2019, set up a hotline to provide advice and support to victims of sexist violence. Through institutional channels, the Oscar Arnulfo Romero Center, which already had an in-person consultancy, set up its assistance service during the pandemic by means of email. So did the National Center for Sex Education, and the usual Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) telephones and a line from the Attorney General’s Office were announced as available.
- The state press has given more coverage and more frequently to issues related to gender-based violence and they continue to do so, see, for example, here and here.
- In 2020, a methodological guide was approved to answer complaints about gender-based violence by telephone (later it was announced that during the first nine months of the pandemic, 60 percent of the calls registered to line 103 requested psychological support due to situations of intra-family coexistence and 14 percent were related to gender-based violence).
- At the end of the year, the civil society platform Yo Sí Te Creo en Cuba inaugurated a citizen observatory of feminicides in the country, where the cases identified by this group can be consulted.
- In 2021, under the coordination of the FMC, an application for cell phones1 was created with a directory of telephone numbers to attend to victims of violence; the same organization announced the beginning of the Campaña Junt@s por la No Violencia; workshops on the subject have also been coordinated, qualitative studies have been promoted, and spaces for debate are being held in this regard with institutional actors and in different territories.
- From civil society, new projects were created, more or less present in the public debate in this regard, such as Chicas Poderosas en Cuba, the communication service Matria, Con/texto Magazine, Afrocubanas, Cimarronas. Likewise, others continued to function, such as the OnCuba Without Filter column, Semlac-Cuba and IPS in the field of the press, and blogs such as Negra Cubana Tenía que Ser and Lo Personal es Político.
- At least two specific Mesa Redonda TV programs have been held on gender-based violence in Cuba. One of them, on November 26, 2020 and the other on June 16, 2021. Also, a Palabra Precisa program was dedicated to the subject in 2021, and another on Mirada sin Excusas.
- 2021 began with the approval of Presidential Decree 198/2021 (GOC-2021-215-EX14), with the “National Program for the Advancement of Women” (PAM) that considers gender-based violence as among its central points, although it is one of the least developed.
- In March, the FMC announced the creation of a Gender Observatory that should collect updated records of feminicides in the country. The creation of the National Working Group for the Prevention and Attention of Intra-family Violence was also announced and it was reported that during 2020 more than 1,200 people requested help at the FMC Women’s and Family Orientation Houses, victims of some of the manifestations of gender-based and intra-family violence.
- Last May, the General Secretary of the FMC and Member of the Political Bureau Teresa Amarelle presented to a PAM working group a proposal for a “Comprehensive strategy for the prevention and attention to gender-based violence and violence in the family setting.” Its approval was announced in June.
- An article published by U.S. journalist Tracey Eaton reiterated that the USAID Funding Opportunity Notice in 2021 expressed interest in projects that would strengthen or promote the creation of inter-sectoral networks around issues related to marginalized and vulnerable populations, including, among others, youth, women, LGBTQI+, religious leaders, artists, musicians and people of Afro-Cuban descent. Tracking the funding destinations of the United States government with respect to Cuba shows that issues related to women and the LGBTQI+ population, and specifically violence, are of interest within its regime change programs. This is part of the complex map of Cuban politics and it is essential to take it into account. At the same time, it does not nullify or exhaust the legitimacy of non-institutional actors who work against sexist violence.
- On November 5, 2021, it was news that consultancies will be opened to attend to victims of violence in different territories coordinated by the FMC.
- During 2021, different versions of the new Family Code have been published, which must be brought to a referendum and which correctly addresses issues related to sexist violence in the family and other forms of violence, such as that involving child marriage. It is to be expected that other regulations to come will consider approaches to the same problem of gender-based violence in its different manifestations, such as the Public Health Law.
- During 2020 and 2021 the intersection between political violence and gender-based violence has gained visibility from different fronts. Women in civil society, whether or not they are opponents of the government, have denounced violent gender-based treatment during police arrests or interrogations. The reactivation of “acts of repudiation” as part of the repertoire of management of political conflicts, has also been a space where what has been said is verified, in which local representatives of mass organizations have participated, including the FMC. Likewise, the combination of political violence and gender-based violence in the form of threats or cyberattacks has been denounced from official media regarding women who are part of government institutions or agencies. This panorama verifies the problem as a matter of the public sphere and affirms the inevitability of its approach within the actions of both institutional and civil society.
I summarize here some of what has happened during the last two years. The listed milestones do not have the same entity. In some cases, they are announcements and the information is not yet public, which limits the evaluation of the scope of the steps and the possibility of gauging them. Others are ongoing processes. However, they show a disputed field where actions of different scope continue to be verified, sometimes complementary, sometimes parallel and sometimes in opposition, to politically process the problem.
At this point, during 2022 it is necessary and demanded that:
- In effect, the FMC’s feminicide observatory begin to function, which until now is an announcement, and that official data on cases and rates be given. At the end of 2021, work continues with an intimate feminicide rate of 2016, outdated and incomplete.
- The approved Comprehensive Strategy be made public as well as its execution procedures, and terms of accountability regarding its results. The same in relation to the actions carried out within the PAM.
- The prosecution service procedures be urgently reviewed since public data (fragmented and difficult to track) report serious problems. For example, during the aforementioned Mesa Redonda program last June it was announced that until the end of April of this year just over 200 complaints by women for violence had reached the Prosecutor’s Office and that only 36% of the cases had been resolved. Presumably, 64% of the cases had no solution or their solution had not been favorable for women. These data do not coincide with global trends that report that the percentages of false complaints are minimal and that complaints are often reached after long or acute processes of violence.
- The obligation to create shelters (state or in public-community-civil society alliances) for women in situations of sexist violence and their children be incorporated to the institutional strategies and actions.
- Women in situations of sexist violence be included as a priority group in housing programs and in the recently created neighborhood revitalization program.
- The intersections between political and gender-based violence be included in the Comprehensive Strategy and in the rest of the programs to address the problem.
- Civil society prevent the instrumentalization of the causes of women and LGTBIQ+ populations by U.S. federal agencies, within the United States-Cuba dispute.
- The criminalizing narrative of non-institutional feminist activisms be interrupted, which without proof or sense are classified en bloc as emissaries of U.S. policy. The foregoing not only blurs the importance of the victims but is allied to the arbitrarily polarizing policy that is affecting Cuba so much. Furthermore, the same thing instrumentalizes feminist struggles to the detriment of the entire society.
- Priority be given to the programmed new Law of Associations, which allows the formalization of spaces, projects and groups of civil society that at this time have to function in illegality or unlawfulness. This would also make it possible to create alliances with institutions and other areas of social life.
- There be a moving forward with haste and without pause on the path of a Comprehensive Law against Gender-based Violence.
Justice is also recognition, and what progress has been made in Cuba today in the field of gender-based violence is the result of a work carried out by many, whether it is assumed or not, whether it is made visible or not. Feminisms, for their part, have historically been uncomfortable spaces for rigid, convenient politics, for any obtuse litany, wherever it comes from; that they continue to be so is, at the very least, desirable. Feminisms are here, we are here, to turn what seems politically impossible into politically inevitable. The Comprehensive Law against Gender-based Violence is and should be that.
1 At the time this text was being written, the application was not available online.