In recent weeks, one of the most echoed and systematic debates in Cuba has been that of gender violence, especially in institutional voices, the media and the social media. Different elements have converged in that sense.
International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is celebrated every year on November 25. On that day, an extensive day of institutional activism is held in the country to make the problem visible and deepen the analysis of the issue. Community, cultural and different social projects have also joined.
In addition, Cuba is on the threshold of a huge regulatory change after the approval of the new Constitution of the Republic. More than 50 laws will be modified or created in the coming years. The calendar must be made public before April 2020. This process has established the question of what place will gender violence occupy in the new legal body.
Interest has been added to the matter by a citizen request to the National Assembly, delivered on November 21, 2019. The central request is the inclusion in the legislative calendar of an Integral Law against Gender Violence. This effort has contributed to making visible the two options that are being handled in the institutional space: 1) Integral Law against Violence or 2) inclusion of the issue within other laws.
Although the present debate indicates that the discussion is in an advanced stage, there are still basic questions on the table. Contributing to answer them is urgent to move forward quickly.
What is gender violence?
A common thesis is that which says: violence has no gender, all violence is equal, norms should not make an unnecessary differentiation.
Those who work on the subject have promoted the inclusion of gender violence in the institutional field and on the agenda of problems to be resolved in Cuba. The new Cuban Constitution recognizes it in its article 43.
However, commonly the specificity of gender violence is not yet recognized. The problem is not in the persons who believe so and who champion such theses, of course.
The main cause is the still little debate about it, which is not included in the citizens’ conversation.
As many victims know, as we women know and as international organizations have denounced for decades, gender-based violence is a specific and different form of violence and needs to be recognized as such in order to be resolved or mitigated.
There are different definitions. Most share key elements:
- gender violence refers to all conduct, action or omission that (re)produces an unequal power relationship based on the victim’s gender;
- can be expressed in public or private spaces;
- results in diminishing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise of the victim’s rights.
The victims of gender violence are those persons who are identified as women (of different sexual orientations, gender identities, ages, “racial” status, religious beliefs, etc.).
What does it mean that violence is based on gender and why are women the victims?
It means that the victim is subordinated because she/he is identified with a specific gender. Not for any other reason.
Although in reality different types of violence intersect, it would not be a case of gender violence, for example:
If the victim is victimized just because she/he is numerically disadvantaged with respect to her/his aggressors. Consider a man who is attacked by a group of four men.
If the victim is victimized just because she/he is in an irregular situation, as is the case of violence against a migrant.
If the victim is victimized just because she/he is in a situation of physical dependence. Consider the abuse, theft or restraint of a person with special mobility needs.
Any of these cases could be aggravated if, in addition, there is gender violence. But they are not cases of gender violence in themselves. They are another type of violence.
Gender-based violence, on the other hand, stems from patterns of male domination over women. These patterns of male domination are present throughout the world (although with different degrees and types of practices in each region and country) and are visible in:
cultural codes that subordinate women and that are expressed, for example, in social norms (a woman must be “feminine” and have few sexual partners throughout her life) and in expectations about us, our roles and our bodies (among our callings is to be mothers and if we are not we are not complete, we must be the caregivers of the offspring or whoever requires it, we must be sexual satisfiers of male partners, a woman must be able to optimally carry out salaried work and housework because it is what corresponds), etc. These expectations and norms do not exist with respect to men, but the problem is not that they are different, but that these expectations and norms subordinate women, limit their economic autonomy, restrict their rights.
economic structures and dynamics that exclude women. For example, throughout the world, women participate less than men in labor markets, we have less presence in higher income economic sectors, we own less economic assets, land, housing and, in many places, we earn less for equal work, etc.
visible political structures and dynamics, for example, in our lower presence in the political representation bodies and in leadership positions, or less political, social and cultural recognition of our contributions.
forms of social control and over the body of women, who are more victims of trafficking in persons, are partially or totally prohibited from interrupting of pregnancies in many parts of the world (although we are responsible for raising the children), they are constricted in health centers with inadequate gynecological procedures, or whose complaints are systematically disregarded by judicial systems that are blind or nearsighted as to inequality and violence.
At some time in their lives all women have been subjected to violence because they are women. At the same time, this violence manifests itself in different degrees, depending on what other exclusions she is subject to. It is not an additive issue. It is not that the more exclusions a woman accumulates, the more she is the object of violence. But there are contexts in which certain exclusions (socioeconomic, “race,” immigration status, etc.), and their convergence, accentuate the degrees of violence. The same could be said about men, who can receive violence because they are poor, migrant, elderly, racialized. But not because they are men.
Is there gender violence against men?
A man can also be subjected to violence, but that violence is not exercised on him because, due to his condition as a man, he is considered (implicitly or explicitly) inferior.
This man can be a victim of violence because he is poor, because he is black, because he is a farmer in an urban-centric society, because he is old or too young, because of his religious or political beliefs, etc. Those are other types of violence, essential to attend. They are not, however, gender violence.
The same does not happen in the case of women who, when they are victims of gender-based violence, behind that gesture there is a whole society that justifies or enables that violence towards her because she is a woman. Some examples may help to understand that such violence exists and is reproduced in ways that are different to other types of violence.
In societies with low rates of social violence, violence against women continues to exist and is high. Consider the case of Uruguay, one of the countries with the best social indicators of health and education in the region, and with low crime rates. However, feminicides continue to exist and the rates of violence against women are high. That suggests that this type of violence is being (re)produced through other means; just as it solves crime in general, it does not solve gender violence.
Second, although gender-based violence develops in both public and private spaces, the home and couple relationships are a particularly dangerous place for women, not for men.
According to a UN report, in 2017, 34.48 percent of the murders of women worldwide were committed by their partners or former partners. In the case of men, it is not so.
The murdered men are mostly in public spaces and by other men, not by women. It seems, then, that women are more victims of a type of violence that is different and has the home as one of its scenarios (not the only one).
Of the murders and violence within the couple, the vast majority of the perpetrators are men. In Spain, between 2008 and 2017 in 90 percent of cases of violence within the couple, the man was the aggressor.
Men are also the majority among aggressors in general, towards men and women. About 95 percent of the murders committed worldwide are by men.
Feminist analyzes argue that this statistic does not personally, individually portray men. The predominance of men in these numbers on violence is the result of the way in which our societies and power, economy, politics, culture, laws are organized.
This does not detract responsibility from specific persons, but it is noted that the solution is not only individual, because it is a major problem. The sexist form of social organization is detrimental to the whole. Men are socialized based on a canon in which their power will depend on the power (implicit or explicit) over women (mothers, sisters, couples, work colleagues, daughters).
In aggressions towards women, the appropriation of the body plays a major role, unlike in cases of violence against men. Rape before murder is very common.
Sexual violence on the body is also a mark of aggressions against women in public spaces. In cases of workplace harassment, for example, where it is possible that the victims are men or women, when the victims are women, access to the body is central, and the exercise of power is made possible much more frequently, in sexual submission. The same happens in situations of armed conflict or political violence.
In cases of child abuse, girls are more frequently victims than boys. Although they may have the same exposure to the situation, the girls are the most abused.
Many more examples could be mentioned.
The gross conclusion is that, although violence is a pandemic in our societies, the spaces and dynamics of violence against women show a specific pattern. Therefore, it also requires specific responses of prevention, citizenship education, penalization, accompaniment and reparation, including those of a legislative nature. If that is not done, violence against women and girls will not be resolved.
Is there gender violence in Cuba?
In Cuba there is gender violence and it is a problem that has gained public recognition. Different projects, institutional efforts and persons have contributed information and awareness on the subject since 1990, when the Federation of Cuban Women created the Women and Family Orientation Houses.
There are, however, no systematic figures on all forms and spaces of violence against women and girls. That is a great difficulty, because it makes it impossible to dimension the subject as a whole. However, there is sufficient information to demonstrate the growing existence of the problem.
In terms of part of couple relationships, Cuban violence rates are comparable with those in the rest of the world. According to UN Women, 35 percent of women worldwide have suffered physical and/or sexual violence by a partner or sexual violence by someone other than their partner.
In Cuba, the latest gender equality survey showed that about 39 percent of women said they had been victims of violence by their partners at some time in their lives. If we expand the volume and include other aggressors (not just the couple) it is likely more.
We also know that in 2016 around one woman was murdered per week by her partner or ex-partner. And that in 2013 the figure was higher, around 66 throughout the year. The specific rate for 2016 was 0.99 per 100,000 women aged 15 years or older. If that figure is compared to those of other countries for the same period of time, we see that Cuba has rates lower than some and higher than others. Therefore, we are part of the problem.
Street harassment is not accounted for, but records show that it is notable. Campaigns led by Cuban institutional consortiums work against this specific form of violence, which is wide-spread in the country.
Gender violence in work, student, cultural and media spaces is less accounted for. But judging by how it behaves in the rest of the spaces, it is expected that the rates are high.
Gender violence in Cuba is not only a cultural issue, although it is also reproduced in culture. It is sustained on structures of inequality that―despite universal policies, renovating and beneficiary measures for women from very early after 1959 and institutional work―are still reproduced with health.
For example, Cuban women’s labor participation rate is low. It is also true with our presence in sectors with better incomes, and we are less landowners.
We women do more hours of unpaid work at home (although we also do paid work outside the home), and public care programs for minors and dependents are scarce and insufficient, which overloads us and limits our possibilities of economic autonomy.
Cuban women have a lower presence in the private sector of the economy, where the guarantees of labor rights are lower and keeps us at a disadvantage (maternity leaves and for child care, the possibility of childcare centers, etc.).
We are less recognized in the national awards of all branches of culture and science (although we have a greater presence in universities). And cultural patterns ensure that we be the almost exclusively care for the home and children: after 11 years of authorized parental leave in the country (which is a tremendously progressive policy) only 125 men have use it.
Our greater attendance at university centers, our high participation in the political apparatus, and universal health and education policies, have not ensured the deactivation of gender inequality.
However, the answer is yes, in Cuba there is also gender violence, which is verified in a ground of inequality that we all must help to deactivate. That is why today, with honesty, justice and reasons, it is essential to discuss and put on the legislative table the problem to get specific regulations. Violence definitely does have gender.