Mariela Castro: Many Fall into the Campaigns’ Trap

Amid the National Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls, CubaSí interviewed Mariela Castro Espín, Head of the National Center for Sex Education, a Cuban woman who has earned the right to talk about all these subjects.

—When do these subjects start to be thought over and addressed in Cuba?

—Women earn less than men in both Europe and the US. In Cuba, the first law approved by the Revolutionary government — February 7th, 1959 — one month after the triumph of the Revolution, achieved equal pay for men and women. That is to say that such inequality was no longer a problem for us after January 1st, 1959. Other issues remained as Revolutions do not have magic wands, unfortunately. In this regard, we need to work harder to find better solutions. But we have not stopped working, not for a second.

“Cuba was the first country to sign and later ratify CEDAW. This subject was addressed by the Federation of Cuban Women since its earliest days with the existing knowledge on the issue back then, which developed gradually in our nation. In this line, the Federation of Cuban Women was always progressive and quite active in the eradication of violence against women, boys, and girls. I, daughter of a member of this organization, can confirm that my mother cared personally for women with very complex emergencies when these situations were not subjects of debates around the world yet; not even scientifically. From 1980s on, the Federation of Cuban Women has had delegates responsible for the care and prevention of domestic violence. Over the years, they have done an excellent job. Indeed, they involved researchers who were already working violence issues.

—And right now, what is the approach of the island’s efforts?

—In recent times, we are trying to grouping more institutions and organizations from the civil society and the State in order to foster alliances, campaigns, actual actions and thus, see how we introduce them to politics, how to introduce them to legislative changes resulting from the constitutional change, which aims to reviewing this reality, among other things.

“The work is being done here. The State has addressed the issue. In the first international symposium against gender-based violence, sexual tourism, human trafficking, and prostitution, a special attention to all forms of violence was agreed to be later discussed at the National Sex Education and Health Program. Then, we submitted in September the proposal of a comprehensive sex education policy and sexual rights to the Ministry of Public Health. Within such policy, the program for the attention to violence-related problems is being considered. We are nowadays working the best we can and with new legislations looming. This is actually being considered as it is captured in the Constitution.”

—However, we are the target of several questioning especially in social network.

—There have been attacks to discredit our institutions, people in general; for instance, me. OnCuba was the first to crusade against me, when I said in a documentary that there was no femicide in Cuba. But a Cuban journalist working for OnCuba focused on that little excerpt. And she quoted that alone, without the arguments. Then, there are people who switch their fashion chip on and adhere to every campaign coming from Miami and begin unfair, pointless attacks with deep ignorance, which by no means help in the development process of the subject.

“There is a lot of money on the table, especially from the US government to five major evangelical churches, which are the ones trying to undermine many initiatives. They are using this term of gender ideology, which was created by a Catholic bishop in the 1960s, precisely to discredit international advances in the field of women's rights and the Marxist view in relation to this subject. And our Revolution, as Fidel stated, has the right to defend itself, has the right to defend its social achievements, rights that have been endorsed in the Constitution and throughout the legislative system that is already being altered from the constitutional change. There are more than 50 laws on the list of those that are going to be reviewed; but commissions for each of them are to be created. It will be decided whether there will be a comprehensive law for the attention to violence against women or this law will be included in other laws. Work is already in progress.

—As a specialist and also an activist, as a Cuban woman, what is the main message to convey at this time?

—I think the first message is that we should study. We must be educated on this issue because there are many people who fall into the traps of campaigns to discredit our efforts. People who are poorly prepared and log in Facebook posting certain stuff. Besides, we must not act in isolation. We have to join forces, make alliances, because every time we make alliances and unite, we achieve effectiveness. We really make changes. Then, let’s not follow the game of the enemies of the Revolution. Let’s join forces, organizations and institutions that are really working, which are open to all the ideas committed to the revolutionary work that are truly sincere.

Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Díaz/CubaSí Translation Staff

  • Published in Now

Cuba bets on nonviolence, 16 days of activism

Cuba declares, observes itself and joins efforts to take new steps in favor of the rights of girls and women, an intention that has accompanied the Revolution since its first days.

With Santiago de Cuba as its main venue, the event takes place in complex times for Latin America, when indigenous women have been outraged with impunity in Bolivia and we are still moved by cases like that of the Chilean mime who appeared outraged and murdered in a square, while neoliberal winds season the old and current male chauvinist violence with race hatred and political differences…

In these times, Cuba declares, observes itself and joins efforts to take new steps in favor of the rights of girls and women, an intention that has accompanied the Revolution since its first years.

In a convergence of willingnesses, the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the Oscar Arnulfo Romero Center, the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), the Center for Youth Studies and the Cuban Multidisciplinary Society for Sexuality Studies have foreseen a broad program of activities that takes in nine provinces of the country and will last until next December 10.

This Thursday afternoon, the Pabellón Cuba (Cuba Pavilion) opens its doors to the central activity in Havana, which celebrates the first anniversary of the National Campaign “Evolve” (Campaña Nacional “Evoluciona”), with a great festival of #ArtesporlaNoViolencia (#ArtsforNoViolence), music, dance, body painting, sports exhibitions, turban workshops, contests, participation games, performance, a #Rap CypherBasta and concerts.

With the unconditional support of the Government and the direction of the Communist Party of Cuba in Santiago de Cuba, the activities have passed the borders of the main city to reach other municipalities, among them Palma Soriano and Segundo Frente, a must-visit destination, according to organizers, to pay tribute to Vilma Espín, that woman who did so much for female empowerment on the island.

Speeches, workshops with university students, workers, for example, from the Tobacco Factory 1 in Palma Soriano, religious communities, media outlets and institutions are taking place in Santiago de Cuba since last November 8, but activism does not stop and the event invites to the Community Intervention “Evoluciona y gana” (Evolve and Win), at Plaza de Marte, next December 8, at 9:00 am.

An hour later, Ferreiro Park will house the Youth Community Fair for no violence against women, which includes exhibitions, sports and cultural activities, performance of Fátima Paterson’s theater group, Play Back theater group, “Ojos de Estatuas Vivientes” project, Chaguitos, Community Dance (Danza Comunitaria), among other activities.

Actually, there have been more than sixteen days dedicated to reinforce the actions the island systematically carries out in this respect because panels, speeches, artistic presentations and audiovisual projections have been underway since the beginning of this month and besides Havana and Santiago, debates are being promoted in schools, workplaces, communities, as well as events and popular fiestas in such provinces as Pinar del Río, Matanzas, Villa Clara, Ciego de Ávila, Holguín, Las Tunas and Granma.

With an emphasis on young people (men and women), but open to all sectors of the Cuban population, initiatives like “Evolve” Campaign aim to dismantle standardized beliefs and imaginary that support expressions of violence towards women, and to promote other attitudes and changes in the discourses of hegemonic masculinity.

Translated Jorge Mesa Benjamín / CubaSi Translation Staff

Cuba’s role in comprehensive sexual education highlighted

National Program Officer of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFRA), Marisol Alonso de Armas, provided details on the issue.

“Cuba is one of the countries of Latin America that has progressed the most in implementing a comprehensive sexual education program (EIS)”, assured Marisol Alfonso de Armas, National Program Officer of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFRA).

When replying to some concerns to CubaSi, the officer mentioned the educational field where a ministerial resolution, in force since 2011, holds the main methodological elements aimed at the inclusion of such contents in the curricula and training of the teachers.

She commented the need for teenagers to be educated and informed on aspects of concern for this population segment, such as the first couple relations. It’s important they can negotiate in this stage of life –she stated–, for example whether they wish to begin sexually or not; under what conditions; whether they want to use any contraceptive.

And in that extent, UNFRA’s message seeks to inform them where they can go to look for information, either about the body, violence or any sexually transmitted infection. Likewise, it helps teachers in general improve their knowledge on gender topics.

Hence, the importance of the comprehensive sexual education (EIS) —as part of the curriculum— so, education be inclusive and qualitative.

The officer also highlighted that Cuba has been identified regionally within the successful experiences regarding the intersectoral work, which has allowed it to achieve satisfactory results in its aims.

This work not only includes the Ministry of Education, but also Higher Education, Justice, Culture and Public Health –within the latter the National Sex Education Center (CENSEX)– and civil society organizations, such as the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the National Union of Jurists of Cuba (UNJC), among others.

She acknowledged that such an effort has been well recognized because of the complexity to gather several institutions in a given issue. “Actually, should it is not done that way it is very difficult to achieve the aims at EIS, because it is necessary to know gender, human rights topics; to attain coherence among the communicative scope, that is, the media, what is taught at school, and what is ruled in our regulatory frameworks.

The official mentioned some interesting data that support the importance of working with and for teenagers, like the fact that in our country –according to the national fertility survey– the onset of sex life takes place around sixteen years. Boys a bit earlier than girls.

Although Cuba is one of the countries in the region that has the lowest adolescent pregnancy rates, it has been acknowledged this is an indicator that can be affected.

“We are trying to focus on those regions of the country where there are the largest pregnancy rates in adolescents, and we are also accompanying the ministries of Public Health and Education in this effort, supporting the investigations of the Center for Demographic Studies of the University of Havana”, she stressed.

Translated by Jorge Mesa Benjamin / Cubasi Translation Staff


Honduran Berta Caceres Is Still a Symbol

Havana, Jan 12 (Prensa Latina) The voice of Berta Caceres, a symbol today of the resistance of the poor and needy in Honduras and the rest of Latin America, still resonates in this capital through their daughters, who are bearers of an inheritance that transcends borders.

We want to continue the legacy of our mother, the warrior turned into a banner of the citizen and indigenous struggle and murdered in March 2016, Laura Zuñiga Caceres told Prensa Latina, from the headquarters of the National Sex Education Center (CENESEX).

Zuñiga stressed that this fact shows the way forward, and teaches what can be achieved when the peoples defend their sovereignty.

We are here as part of this international embrace, to walk in the country and carry the message of insurgency and justice for our mother, a woman, a leader who was not afraid to say things and get annoyed the powerful classes, the young social activist said.

We are very happy to be in Cuba as bearers of this cry of conscience, said Berta Zuñiga Caceres, who called to continue believing in the people.

We have to keep hope that our people will not forget the figure of Berta Caceres, who suffered all the violence of the capitalist system that has passed over our territory, the racist system that attacks the indigenous communities and the patriarchal system, which continues belittling women, she said.

Laura and Berta Zuñiga Caceres are participating in the activities on occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls, which will culminate in the Second International Symposium on Gender Violence, Prostitution, Sexual Tourism and Human Trafficking 'Berta Caceres in Memorian', to be held from January 23 to 25.

Berta Isabel Caceres Flores was a Lenca indigenous and feminist activist of the Honduran environment, who was killed on March 3, 2016, after several years receiving threats against her life.

  • Published in World

Sexual Rights, Human Rights for Everyone

The coordinator of the Young Network for Health and Sexual Rights at Cenesex speaks with CubaSí regarding the celebration of 9th Cuban Day against Homophobia and the Transphobia.  

"Attaining respect and acceptance was a long process that began with total incomprehension, mainly on behalf of my mother", answered Ulises Padrón Suárez to the question if he had suffered some sort of discrimination due to his orientation as homosexual.  

Interviewed by CubaSí, regarding the 9th Cuban Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia to begin next week - Ulises admitted to have "grown courage before the problems" and overcome the victimizing tag that so many times people receive, for their sexual orientation or gender identity.  

"That was also a learning, because our parents and relatives carry on their backs cultural practices that many times they are unaware of. Distinctive features of a patriarchal culture. For example, It’s not easy to hear that your way of loving is wrong or that they overlook your desires, simply for the fact that you have a different sexual orientation from the rest. Those are gaps that we also, somehow, replicate. It is a complex process ".  

The young Philology graduate started working recently at the editorial building of the National Center of Sexual Education (Cenesex) - institution that promotes, since 2008, every year in the month of May the celebration of this day - where they also coordinates the Young Network for Health and Sexual Rights, a space oriented not only to people from the LGBTI community (lesbians, gays, bisexual, transsexual and intersexual).  

Which is the network’s main objective?  

"Educate, sensitize in health and sexual rights, mainly as a full and responsible exercise. The network will be five years soon, created in 2011 from a communicative strategy originated through the commonweal campaign Dos iguales también hacen pareja (Two equals also make a couple). Allowing, from an investigation process, to know the needs and lacks existing in the Cuban youth on these topics, and make them visible in the LGBTI community.  

“Around five workshops were carried out and the Network was created later. From there we have spread and attained national reach and today we have presence in every Eastern provinces (Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba, Granma, Holguín, Las Tunas), in Camagüey, Sancti Spíritus, Ciego de Ávila, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, in Havana, and in the University of Computer Sciences (UCI), where there are young people from all over the country. Besides, there is an interesting project developing at UCI named Love at Second Sight, which promotes topics we work on."  

Is the Network solely integrated by people from the LGBTI community?  

"The Network doesn't segregate, it doesn't set limits, and neither discriminates against the sexual orientation or gender identity, neither for other racial, cultural or religious matters. Everybody is welcomed. Our projection of life is that we are a great family, those who wish to join us can do it freely, with their conflicts, reconciliations, affections and disaffections, findings and losses. We have built it like that for five years.  

"That is, our training workshops try to instruct in health and sexual rights the youths from all sexual orientations and gender identity, granting them certain inputs, but not only as an advice package, but to keep them updated and have them see how these topics are inserted in Cuban society.  

“It’s vital to know our rules system; to know how one can as a citizen carry out initiatives to trigger a legal change on this regard, how can sexual rights be worked, seeing them as human rights in our context, and how to expose also the topics of gender violence. All of that will allow us to become better people and have a much more systemic vision of the current Cuban reality".  

Regarding the 9th Cuban Day against the Homophobia and Transphobia, for the second time dedicated to the claim of work spaces, what can you tell me from your point of view as a Network coordinator?  

"This Day is dedicated to this topic for the second time and, therefore, the main focus is inclusive work spaces for people LGBTI seeking better conditions (both material as spiritual) while working.  

"That is, the goal is to earn respect from people in work spaces, regardless their sexual orientation or gender identity”.  

"By the way it comes to my mind a story I knew, a transsexual who was prohibited to go to work dressed as a woman. These are facts that tag people, that somehow influence in aspects that later will define the suitability at the work place or school. Evidently, it should not be approached like that, rather focusing on the working capacity.  

“These are situations that hunt people. It’s not the same with somebody who doesn't have this sort of conflicts, who go through life without problems. Evidently, opportunities are not seen in the same way at workplaces, therefore it’s necessary to struggle because the road is filled with such obstacles", said Ulises.

Mariela Castro awarded by Ontario unions

Ontario Federation of Labour gave the International Workplace Rights Award to Mariela Castro Espín, Director of the National Center for Sex Education in Cuba, during a ceremony held in this city.

  • Published in Cuba
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