Friday, June 17, 2011

Economic Reforms Hitting Women Hard

Economic Reforms Hitting Women Hard
By Dalia Acosta

HAVANA, Jun 16, 2011 (IPS) - Women in Cuba are gaining ground in public
life and earn the same wages as men. But the gender gap in the workplace
is still a challenge for women, who are finding the odds more heavily
stacked against them as the government of Raúl Castro adopts economic
reforms aimed at "updating" the country's socialist system.

"I don't know what to do," a 53-year-old Havana woman told IPS, after
finding herself for the first time ever without the security of a state job.

Another woman, 39 and highly qualified, remembers the times when she
sought an executive position in the tourism industry: "Nobody said as
much to me, but I heard that I didn't get the job because I have a young

As is the case with women around the world, despite the fact that
generations of Cuban women are well-educated, they continue to lag
behind in the most stable, best-remunerated sectors of the economy, says
sociologist Mayra Espina Prieto in her findings on poverty for the
Centre for Psychological and Sociological Research (CIPS).

According to official sources, women earn wages that are equivalent to
80 to 85 percent of what men earn, for reasons such as fewer days worked
because of having to care for a family member, above all children and
the elderly.

Men hold the majority of executive positions in joint ventures with
foreign capital and the tourism industry, and a good part of the jobs
that have possibilities of access to hard currency bonuses. The women
may be better-qualified, but they tend to hold intermediate management

Paid work for women is concentrated essentially in the state and civil
sector, where they total 42.7 percent of employees. And in 2009, women
held 59 percent of administrative jobs, according to the National Office
of Statistics (ONE).

But this is starting to change, under the decentralisation policies
aimed at overhauling the country's economic system, approved in April at
the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba. Some of the policies
began to be implemented prior to the party Congress, such as a major
reduction in inflated state-sector payrolls, which began in 2010.

The ultimate goal is to reduce public sector employment by more than one
million jobs, in this Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million people.
The number of private activities in which self-employment is allowed was
expanded to 178, and rules easing the tax burden were created, to
encourage more people to strike out on their own.

While President Castro called for avoiding "any manifestation of
favouritism, or discrimination based on gender or any other type" during
this process, the disadvantaged situation of women set off a red alert
among women's rights activists and experts.

"I don't see self-employment offering many assurances for the security
of that whole mass of people without work, the majority of whom are
going to be women," Zulema Hidalgo, of the nongovernmental Oscar Arnulfo
Romero Reflection and Solidarity Group (OAR), told IPS.

Women represent about 30 percent of those who opt for self-employment in
Cuba, and work in occupations that are traditionally identified with
women and have limited income potential, such as salespersons or hired
workers. And they almost never figure as the owners of family businesses.

Based on her experience in working with local communities since 1994,
Hidalgo says that women "need to start from scratch and overcome
obstacles" if they want to make progress in non-state initiatives. In
her opinion, greater business freedom is needed, and more knowledge
about marketing and selling products or making headway in a given market.

The heavy burden of domestic work that women bear and their
responsibility in taking care of their families limits their economic
participation. Hidalgo says more awareness is needed about the growing
number of women who have to leave their jobs to take care of sick
relatives or small children, or to work as homemakers.

Cuban women devote more than 34 hours a week on average to housework and
child-raising, while men devote about 12 hours, especially in support
tasks, according to studies.

Around the world, women tend to have more unstable and lower-paid jobs,
said María Ángeles Sallé, a Spanish expert on gender equality policies.

"Women do two-thirds of the work worldwide, earn 10 percent of the
income, and own one percent of the property," Sallé told IPS on a visit
to Havana early this year, citing United Nations statistics.

"It is not a question of incorporating more women into work: they work
all the time," she said. The sociologist believes what is most urgently
needed is to conquer key sectors of the economy, which currently are
being transferred to the private sector – a phenomenon that is taking a
toll on employment – as well as to redistribute the burden of domestic

In Cuba possibilities for state employment are now concentrated in
agriculture, where women have had minimal participation. According to
the ONE, only 3.2 percent of people hired in agriculture, livestock,
forestry and fishing are women.

More than 11,000 women have benefited so far from the process of
distributing idle land to farmers, launched in 2008 as part of a reform
to strengthen agriculture and boost food production.

Dilcia García, of the Cuban Association for Animal Production (ACPA),
advocated in a conversation with IPS "carrying out actions to solve or
narrow the gender gaps that still exist, and to overcome subjective
obstacles" to achieve greater participation by women in rural economic life.

"In all sectors of the country we have a patriarchal culture, and in
ours (farming) it may be a little stronger," García commented. In ACPA,
only 30 percent of about 36,000 members are women.

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