Cuban women in post-pandemic times: worse inequalities and better politics?

Gender inequalities have widened in recent years as a result of the health crisis caused by Coronavirus Pandemic that turned into a global economic crisis. Women were more exposed to the virus as they were over-represented in healthcare facilities as medical or healthcare workers and in nursing work in homes.

With the isolation measures, they were responsible to a greater extent for ensuring the study of children and young people; the care of persons in need of care; to keep the houses disinfected; to maintain telework in unfavorable conditions; and it was they who warned against it from the first days gender violence should be released due to mobility restrictions in apartments. All in a global context of the feminization of poverty, an increase in single women as heads of households, an escalation of women in informal jobs, particularly for racialized, migrant, peripheral, rural and gender dissident people.

Cuba was no exception. From what we experienced in the 1990s with the so-called special period, we knew that women would suffer the worst part of any crisis. They had to reinvent life with limited resources, giving up paid formal work, prioritizing other, more vulnerable family members from patriarchal and sexist family mandates and schemes.

The pandemic does not discriminate; Do inequalities: women cushion the crisis

COVID-19 and the national economic restructuring that has taken place amid the global health and economic crisis have left Cuban women in worse conditions. Recently, the National Office for Statistics and Information (ONEI) published the 2021 statistical yearbook on its website, and it reflects the gender inequalities in figures. While these are not “new” vulnerabilities, some are worrisome.

inequality in numbers

In the realm of paid formal employment, Cuban men retain advantages. While they make up 61.1% of the labor force, women make up just 38.9%, according to 2021 data.

The state sector continues to be the one that employs Cuban women the most—particularly in education, public health, and social assistance—while the non-state sector is the one that perpetuates the most unequal gender gaps. For example, compared to 1,498,000 people who belong to the non-governmental economic sector, only 364,000 are women, which is about 24%. The difference to 76% of men is very large. If we compare it to 2020, when the percentage of women in this sector was 26%, the number has slightly decreased in the same proportion to the total number of people.

In self-employment in particular, women account for only 33% of the 596,000 women working in the sector, two percentage points less than in 2020.

Even after those employed in primary economic sectors (agriculture, livestock, fisheries, mining), secondary (manufacturing, construction and energy) and tertiary (trade, transport, services, etc.), women make up only 39% of the total, down from just under 16% in the primary school and 22% in secondary school, which are also jobs that earn a better average monthly salary. Tertiary jobs maintain a certain gender parity.

In terms of occupations, it is also noticeable that women will hold 31% of all management positions in 2021, compared to 38.7% in 2020, although the total number of employees has hardly changed in both years. This can be read as another impact of the crisis and the pandemic. These injustices are evident despite the fact that women complete more studies than men and despite the fact that they are the ones with the most college degrees (60% of women have a college degree compared to 40% of men).

What is invisible in the data: Intersectionality

Considering that there are few updated statistics broken down by gender, the situation worsens when we want to look at vectors such as race or skin color, gender identity, sexual orientation, mobility situation and others.

Skin color as an indicator considered by the ONEI is used very little. Gender identity and sexual orientation in some surveys only. At the same time much less. However, they are among the most affected population groups.

There are already several studies (institutional and non-institutional) in the field of social sciences that take into account this overlapping of structural inequalities, for which the indicator “women” is not sufficient.

How are racialized, transgender, migrant and disabled women living after the pandemic? What is your professional situation? How does discrimination behave in the real possibilities of reproducing their material life?

Precisely because these questions cannot be answered rigorously, it will be very difficult to develop effective solutions to these complex inequalities.

For example, it is known that racialized women hold the lowest paid positions in the government sector, have higher unemployment rates, are overrepresented in informal employment or self-employment, are in the majority as single householders, live in more precarious circumstances, that they have less access to foreign exchange, that they migrate the most within the country, that they suffer the most from maternal death and that they have a shorter life expectancy. Also that they are overrepresented in the prison population of their gender. Also that racialized teenagers are most affected by early or childhood pregnancy. But what are the numbers?

Afro women in Cuba and the task of reorganization (I)

It is also known that transgender women are self-reliant in the informal sector and often through sex work (including racialized women), that life expectancy does not exceed 50 years, that they face severe discrimination in schools and the workplace, that they are criminalized and that their rights are systematically violated.

These sectors often stay “at home” and live on the social fringes.

However, domestic and care work still does not update its contribution to gross domestic product (GDP); it is not yet part of the country’s economic estimates and calculations, as they are occupations so vital to supporting the nation and calling for “resistance” in the face of a crisis in all directions.

More and better politics

The National Program for the Advancement of Women has undoubtedly updated the national gender equality agenda and produced concrete actions as a result. One of its main objectives, articulated in seven different central points, is to achieve greater systematicity in the joint actions between the different government bodies at their different levels and to overcome the obstacles related to gender equality. And her first central point is dedicated specifically to the “economic empowerment of women”.

Although the Comprehensive Strategy against Gender-Based Violence responded to the same program in relation to violence, this is not observed in relation to economic inequalities, although we are in one of the worst crises of the last 30 years, and in relation to the so-called “Task of Reorganization” with the subsequent measures. Faced with a changing and unstable economic scenario, in which the possession of foreign currency is essential for the reproduction of life, with a greater opening to “entrepreneurship” aimed at private sector expansion and state sector retreat, women, in their essence different social conditions urgently need support from the state.

Motion for a comprehensive law against gender-based violence in Cuba

The widespread blackouts, inflation, and partial (but deepening) dollarization of the economy certainly cannot be reversed in the short term. However, policies that focus on gender (and other characteristics) can be enacted in favor of ‘liberating’ the non-governmental sector. The promotion of cooperatives, the creation of tax incentives, the granting of preferential loans, land or other real estate for the development of new economic activities, the promotion of supply solutions between the two sectors, the provision of programs to encourage the recruitment of women and gender dissidents, etc. are absolutely necessary for the current state of the economic and political panorama.

There is an increasing lack of better policies, policies that do not come from the sky and are drawn up from below, with the most impoverished sectors and less having benefited from the policies of the last decade. That the so-called “empowerment” to which the program hints, while already a fairly liberal term, at least does not remain in the unattainable cloud of “opportunities” that the country’s recent economic changes represent. Economic justice is needed through real policies formulated between the state and communities; this can be one of the ways to lead a decent life, despite the difficult conditions at the moment.

Alina Herrera Fuentes

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