By Mariela Castro Espín – May 17, 2020
The 1959 revolution meant the achievement of Cuban national sovereignty, the implementation of a project of justice and social equity, the beginning of the most profound and radical transformations in the history of the nation and its culture.
An event of such magnitude could not but completely modify policies in relation to gender and sexualities. It has been a complex process of cultural metamorphosis, propitiator of confrontations and dialogues between generations, cultural patterns, classes and social strata, in which women have been main protagonists and promoters.
The erosion of patriarchy as a paradigm of power
In this scenario of wide popular participation, the first actions were taken to implement the political, economic and social changes that modified the role of men and women in society and in the family, in their couple relationships, in sexualities, in intergenerational relationships.
Between 1959 and 1961, the young Revolutionary State passed very significant laws that responded to old longings frustrated by the politicking of traditional parties, their corruption and servility to the powerful nation of the north. Among them, the Fundamental Law of the Republic of Cuba stands out, approved on February 7, 1959, which established equal wages for men and women.
On August 23, 1960, the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) was officially established as an organized and massive movement of women in civil society; Since then, a project of empowerment as subjects of law has been articulated, with a profound impact on all of society, politics and culture.
Simultaneously, different initiatives of broad citizen participation were developed, such as popular mobilizations in defense of terrorist aggressions organized by the government of the United States of America; the women came to their houses dressed as militiamen and their images were shown daily in this new social role.
The wide incorporation of women into work and everything that happened publicly had a great impact on sexuality (Núñez, 2001). The new social condition of women contributed to change the real reproductive pattern of six children per woman, to less than one son or daughter per woman (Alfonso, 2006), although the latest National Fertility Survey reports that the reproductive ideal of women are 2.13 and men 2.31 (Onei, 2009).
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As a result of the joint work between the FMC and the new National Public Health System, in 1964 the National Family Planning Program was established and in 1965 the voluntary termination of pregnancy was institutionalized, as a free service, performed by professionals and institutions of public health.
This was done with the aim of reducing maternal mortality, as well as promoting and guaranteeing the right of women to make their own decisions about their bodies.
These decisions, together with other national programs, contributed to reducing maternal mortality, which in 1959 was 120 per 100,000 live births, and had already been reduced to 60 in 1966. Rigorous monitoring of this indicator to reduce its predictable causes is a permanent task and one of the most important of the Minsap Maternal and Child Program, which closed the year 2019 with a rate of 36 deaths per 100,000 live births.
Following its peculiar participation mechanisms, in 1972 the FMC established a multidisciplinary and intersectoral working group to develop a National Sex Education Program.
This initiative was intended to respond to one of the approaches expressed by women in their annual plenaries: prepare for sex education to better guide their daughters and sons, and thus avoid the vicissitudes they had suffered. With this premise, the National Sex Education Group is born.
The importance of sexuality education was recognized in the Second Congress of the FMC, in 1974, and in the First Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, in 1975. Since then, the education of sexuality has been expressed in the politics of the State, which recognized in the family and the school, the institutions of greater responsibility.
The policies of the 1960s were expressed in new laws during the 1970s, among which the Family Code approved in 1975 stands out, as a result of an extensive popular consultation process. Considered the most advanced for its time in the entire continent, it recognized the right of men and women to full sexuality and to share the same domestic and educational responsibilities.
As a consequence of the policy developed during the 1970s, Cuba was the first country to sign, and the second to ratify, government commitments to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw, 1979).
Respect for free sexual orientation and gender identities
Cuban culture has a strong Spanish-African patriarchal heritage, with a long homophobic tradition, a model of domination imposed by the Spanish colonial system and its official religion, along with a universal scientific production that stigmatized homosexuality.
When the revolution triumphed, throughout the world the medical, psychological, social and legal sciences spoke out against homosexuality, and considered it an example of disease, madness, moral decline and deviation from social norms.
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Unfortunately, the permanence of institutionalized homophobia in the first decades of the revolution has not been analyzed in all its complexity. This situation is taken advantage of by those who have only seen in it an opportunity to profit within the well-financed market of attacks against Cuba. Given this, it is essential to critically analyze, from our institutions, practices inconsistent with the humanistic spirit of the revolutionary process.
David Carter (2004), in his book Stonewall, the protests that ignited the gay revolution, wrote that, in 1961, the laws that penalized homosexuality in the United States were harsher than those applied in Cuba, Russia or East Germany, countries usually criticized by the US government for “despotic methods” (Carter D., p.16).
Understanding the current situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people (LGBTI +) in Cuba, and the need to place their care as a policy object, requires locating themselves in the historical evolution of the subject on the social agenda of the Cuban Revolution.
The National Sexual Education Working Group (Gntes, 1972), led by the FMC, became the National Center for Sexual Education (Cenesex) in 1988, and since then it has been subordinated to the Ministry of Public Health.
Cenesex has the mission of contributing to the development of Comprehensive Sexuality Education, Sexual Health and the recognition and guarantee of the sexual rights of the entire population. To do this, it develops educational and communicational strategies that include different national campaigns for the public good.
A significant impact on the mobilization of the social consciousness of the Cuban population has been the initiative to celebrate the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia since May 17, 2007.
We thus welcomed the proposal of the Franco-Caribbean professor, Louis-Georges Tin, to place the celebration of the day in which the World Health Organization approved the depathologization of homosexuality in national ephemeris, one of the reasons that has contributed to its stigma and discrimination, without scientific basis. This occurred on May 17, 1990.
Since 2008 we have dedicated the whole month of May to developing educational and communicational actions that promote respect for free sexual orientation and gender identities, as an exercise of justice and social equality, with the proper name of Cuban Days against Homophobia and Transphobia.
These days are coordinated by Cenesex, through the Minsap, along with other State institutions, the government and the indispensable support of the PCC at its various levels. Campaigns have been dedicated to the family, school, work space and, more recently, to the recognition of all rights for all people, without discrimination due to their sexual orientation and gender identities.
The Cuban Days against Homophobia and Transphobia have impacted, without a doubt, the vision of the country approved in the 7th. Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (2016) and in the National Assembly of People’s Power (2017) after a rigorous process of popular consultation.
The Conceptualization of the Cuban Economic and Social Model of Socialist Development and the National Plan for Economic and Social Development until 2030 make express mention of the need to face all forms of discrimination, including that motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity.
In full harmony with this, since 2019, our constitutional text recognizes sexual and reproductive rights, prohibits discrimination against people with non-heteronormative sexualities, protects family diversity and clearly regulates marriage as a legal institution to which all people can access without discrimination of any kind.
Of course, there is still a long way to go. That is why we educate for love and respectful coexistence, not for the perpetuation of relationships of domination or violence. We educate in the humanistic and democratic principles that are inspired by the emancipatory paradigm of socialism, in freedom as a complex individual and collective responsibility. We will continue working until all justice is achieved.
Translated by JRE/EF