February 6, 2009, 10:13
Cuba's battle of the sexes goes on
Cuba is a world leader in the battle for gender equality. The number of
women in positions of power is among the highest in the world. But
campaigners say the battle is far from over.
Recma Cot Aguilera provides a good example. She is the first and only
woman Episcopal bishop in Cuba, and one of only a dozen in the world.
What is even more remarkable is that her appointment was backed by her
congregation and the Communist Party.
"Women feel free to express their problems to another woman. My
parishioners come to me with problems like family issues, often stories
of domestic violence; they need empowerment and guidance from another
woman, and that's why they come to me," Aguilera said.
Cuba is not immune to the domestic violence and abuse that plagues all
of Latin America, but when it comes to equal opportunity Cuba has come a
long way to ensure women are given a chance.
Natalia, a Ukrainian national for 35 years, says the island grew on her.
"When I left Ukraine they used to scare me by telling me awful things
about Cuba, but I've learnt to love it: the people, the weather, and the
system, I've never lived in any other system but the communist one,"
Women's rights were taken very seriously in post-revolutionary Cuba.
President Raul Castro's late wife, Vilma Espin, championed the cause.
Their daughter Mariela Castro, director of the National Center of
Sexuality, continues the battle.
She's broadened the front to include equal rights for gays and transsexuals.
"There are still the remains of machismo Cuba, but our goal is to change
popular perception and teach tolerance. Straight, gay or transsexual,
equal rights is what the Cuban version of socialism is all about,"
Mariela Castro says.
Despite successes on equality, there is an imbalance in other fields of
human rights. Those in the Ladies in White pressure-group say the
country's record is far from spotless. Their husbands are in jail,
prisoners of conscience say their wives, but U.S. agents or mercenaries
according to the Cuban government.
The wives of 75 prisoners have protested against their husbands'
imprisonment in the past. But each demonstration was suppressed, often
However, they were allowed to march freely on the recent World Human
Rights day for the first time ever.
Lady in White member Laura Pollan, wife of a political prisoner says she
hopes "all Cubans will be able to celebrate this day without political
prisoners, where peace and love and freedom will reign," she said.
These women insist they are not just pushing for their husband's
release. They say they're the last fighters in the final remaining
battle for equality in Cuba.