Faculty / Social Issues

Women’s Rights: Catching Up To Cuba

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Nataka Moore, Psy.D., is a professor in Adler’s Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology (Psy.D.) program. Her expertise includes effects of violence and racial discrimination on black children. She is also a member of the U.S. Women and Cuba Collaboration Delegation.

In late November I attended the U.S. Women and Cuba Collaboration Delegation 2015. On this trip I learned about Cuba’s history of progressing women’s rights. I gained a deeper appreciation for its commitment to this issue–and an inspiration to realize the same advances here in the United States.

After the revolution ended in 1959, the Federation of Cuban Women (La Federacion de Mujeres Cubanas, or FMC) was established to advance women’s rights in Cuba and ensure equity through oversight of national policy. That organization has been critical in establishing Cuba as a leader in women’s rights—one that has far exceeded the United States.

One of the more glaring disparities between the U.S. and Cuba’s records on women’s rights emerged nearly 40 years ago and persists today.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was put forth by the United Nations in 1979. CEDAW is the only treaty that focuses exclusively on the human rights of women and girls. It promotes equity in economic development and education, and reducing violence against women and girls.

Cuba was the first country to sign and the second country to ratify the treaty. While U.S. President Carter signed the treaty in 1980, the U.S. Senate has never ratified CEDAW–rendering Carter’s endorsement meaningless. The United States is one of only seven UN member countries—and the only industrialized country—to not have ratified the treaty.

Countries that ratify CEDAW are mandated to condemn all form of discrimination for women and girls in social, civil, economic, cultural, and political domains.  They are required at the local and national levels to monitor women’s human rights comprehensively and pass policies that would end all forms of discrimination.

Between ratifying CEDAW and forming an oversight institution, Cuba has built momentum in progressing women’s rights.

In 2003, Cuba’s maternity law was reviewed and adjusted. Benefits were extended from 12 weeks to a full year of leave at 60 percent of a parent’s paid salary. This is available to the mother or father, regardless of whether they are married.

Cuba’s women are also increasingly in positions of power and influence in the government and workforce. At the 2012 census, women represented 73.7 percent of Cuba’s attorneys and 47 percent of judges in the Supreme Court. Women in Cuba occupied positions in parliament more than any other country in the world. They also made up 63 percent of students in university and 65.6 percent of all professionals in the country.

While these statistics are impressive: I’m not saying Cuba is a utopia. There is a disparity between white and black Cuban women’s standards of living. However, the FMC acknowledges this and is making efforts to collect data and reduce racial disparities. The key, in my mind, is that they are continuously making progress, often at an aggressive pace relative to the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is holding to its 50-year-old trade embargo, which my colleague and fellow delegate Valerie Werner detailed in her recent post. The embargo’s devastating effects have compounded since the global economic crisis. Food instability and reduced access to health care have threatened women and their families even more in the last decade. This has also pulled resources away from improving women’s standards of living and eliminating discrimination

Being a delegate member reinforced for me that my liberation as a woman in the United States is tied to the women of Cuba and elsewhere. I feel a sense of solidarity and a responsibility to call for my country’s accountability. So, I’ll say this: The U.S. has a long way to go in catching up to Cuba’s standard for women’s rights. The least we can do in the meantime is stop holding them back.

  • haydee alonso – cubana

    I’m Cuban-American and have just gotten back from a two week visit. I can tell you first hand that although in some ways women right’s have been advanced in the country…afterall Haydee Santamaria was one of Fidel’s right hand women – Cuba remains an incredibly sexist country. I can tell you horror stories of things that happened to me on my visit. Racism too is quite engrained. I am mixed race but pass for white so people feel VERY comfortable being racist around me and they were. I love the country. I love the people. But i don’t want anyone to believe it’s some sort of Shangri-La when it comes to sexism and racism