Gender Inequality Persists Behind Closed Doors
By Ivet González
HAVANA, Apr 20, 2011 (IPS) - While gender roles have changed since
Cuba's 1959 revolution, inequalities persist among men and women in
private life, and young people are both accepting that and breaking with it.
"The more private a relationship is, the more blurred gender equality
becomes," Natividad Guerrero, director of the Centre for the Study of
Youth (CESJ), told IPS. "Women continue to be at a disadvantage,
although the state and citizens are interested" in changing the situation.
The burden of the household falls on its female members, Guerrero
deplores. Worldwide, women devote at least twice as much time as their
partners to domestic chores, according to the United Nations report "The
World's Women 2010: Trends and Statistics".
Having inherited women's emancipation as part of the Cuban Revolution,
some of today's young people nonetheless had a sexist upbringing. The
reproduction of female and male roles may be seen in many situations,
adds Ana Isabel Peñate, also a researcher with the CESJ.
Nevertheless, the youngest generations perceive as natural the changes
to gender roles, in terms of women as workers and students. When asked,
they also admit that males should share in domestic chores.
Ray Denis Matamoros runs the house: he is comfortable in the kitchen and
knows how to clean and iron. Participating in household chores has been
part of his routine since adolescence. However, "a man should never let
a woman disrespect him or try to show you that you are weak," he
asserted in a conversation with IPS.
Despite the relaxed tone of his voice, this 26-year-old longshoreman has
an unwavering principle: "The woman who is with me has to work. Nowadays
they can all do what they want."
In 2009, Cuban women between the ages of 15 and 24 had a 36 percent
participation rate in the national economy, according to the National
Office of Statistics (ONE) publication, Mujeres y Hombres en Cuba (Women
and Men in Cuba).
At the same time, education has a female face. According to the same
report, during the 2009-2010 school year women comprised 57.3 percent of
pre-university students, 37.2 percent of technical/professional
students, and 61.3 percent of university enrolment.
In fact, more women than men earn higher education degrees in Cuba, a
tendency that began in the 1980s and became stronger in the past decade,
according to specialised sources. At the end of the 2008-2009 school
year women made up 59.8 percent of university graduates in the country,
according to the ONE.
However, women tend to shoulder the burden of child raising and caring
for the elderly alone, at the cost of dropping out of the workforce. For
the last two years, Lorena Tápanes limits herself to domestic chores.
Since the birth of her son, this 23-year-old woman left her job as an
accountant in a business district of the capital.
Her time is spent in running after the toddler and her world is
basically limited to her neighbourhood. She is longing to return to
work. "I miss the independence of having my own money," the young woman
said. She had to stay home to take care of the baby, so that the family
budget was less affected.
Young women in this Caribbean island nation are the daughters of the
generations that led women's emancipation after the 1959 revolution.
However, the economic crisis of the 1990s plunged Cuban society into
questions of day-to-day survival.
Although it is not universal, "a process is underway of opposition to
the model represented by the mothers of today's young women,"
sociologist María Isabel Domínguez told IPS. They see the previous
generation of women as "very liberated and independent, but slaves to
everything and everyone, in the end," she says.
Domínguez highlights this "polarisation" among Cuban girls today. "There
is one group of women with high levels of education and another group of
young women who completed their secondary school education and do not
work," she explains. The latter aspire "to be housewives, married to a
'good catch'," she says.
In contrast, the first group fights to have relationships based on
equality, to postpone the start of life as part of a couple and put off
motherhood, questioning in defiance the social value assigned to "being
a mother," according to Domínguez, the director of the Centre for
Psychological and Sociological Research (CIPS).
Adriana de la Nuez pursues goals similar to those her mother sought
after when she was her age: to be an independent and active person. She
works and also studies at the University College of San Geronimo de La
Habana. She longs for a partner with whom she can grow as a person: he
must not smother her, or be her everything.
"In the relationships I have had, I shared everything with my partner,"
she says, referring to household chores. But those experiences occurred
when both she and her partners were students. It might be very
different, she says, when one or both are working and bringing home wages.
Men have not fully been behind "the accelerated and intense cultural
change" in the roles played by Cuban women, and that has had costs for
family stability. "Men have had to admit that the process has been a
necessary evil," Domínguez comments.
"They have no choice but to accept losing ground, but they don't give it
up voluntarily," she says.