Children, housework, income: women entrepreneurs push for change in Cuba
Cuba was one of the first to recognize women’s rights and equality after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. Women were placed in positions of power and responsibility, and the government legalized abortion and created day-care centers, measures which enabled women to join the labor market alongside men.
Yet Cuban women seeking to participate in the island’s gradual opening up to small independent businesses say they face unique challenges posed by a patriarchal society that favors both men and men-owned businesses.
At a recent trade show for women entrepreneurs, Natalhie Fonseca, owner of Carrete, an online business that she has started making and selling handmade decorations for children’s rooms, said the women are held back by the expectations of Cuban society that they are also housewives.
Ms Fonseca said she gets up at dawn, washes, cooks, takes care of her two daughters, cleans and works part-time in her husband’s cafe, in addition to working in her own business.
“Twenty-four a day is not enough,” she lamented. “If we had a little help.
Aiynn Torres, gender researcher at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, said that while Cuba “took a very big step” in the 1960s and 1970s in integrating women into the labor market, its efforts stalled.
She said 60% of Cuba’s university graduates are women, but most of them end up in the lowest-paid economic sectors, such as education or social assistance. Women make up only a third of the self-employed in Cuba, whose economy is still largely state-run, and they make up just over 20% of owners of small and medium-sized businesses, according to official figures.
âConscious and systematic actions by the state, not just talk, are absolutely essential to ensure greater participation of women,â Ms. Torres said.
She said there should be more credit available for women entrepreneurs and more care for children, the sick and the elderly, which are responsibilities that now fall mainly on Cuban women.
Beaten by low economic productivity as well as the obstacles presented by the US embargo, the Cuban government has begun a gradual opening up of the private sector over the past decade.
Then President Raul Castro added licenses to open private businesses, legalized real estate transactions and the sale of unused land, and made credit more accessible, among other measures.
According to official figures, in 2020 there were 602,000 independent Cubans, some of whom started their own businesses. About 210,000 of them were women.
In September, current President Miguel DÃaz-Canel approved the creation of private companies, which was once inconceivable after authorities shut down all private companies on the island in 1968.
Over the next five months, licenses were granted to an additional 1,014 private companies, 22% of which were for women.
But the theory turned into practice for Ena MarÃa Morales, who wanted to cultivate the plants necessary for her business to make all the organic handmade soaps. She said male farmers resisted her efforts to acquire the raw materials.
“It was my first encounter with a macho world …” she said. “The men would say to me, ‘You with that long hair, no, no, no.'”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also been a barrier for many women wanting to start their own businesses. With their children at home due to canceled schools and husbands or partners commuting to work, many have struggled to find time for entrepreneurship.
“It’s a very new thing that women are joining little by little and I hope that soon this will really change, because although we are the directors of the house, there are a lot of empowered women,” said Ana Mae Inda. , which sells children’s clothing. .
Women of color said race was another difficulty in opening businesses.
âBeing a woman and being black means that we face certain barriers, not only in the social world but also within entrepreneurship itself,â said Yurena ManfugÃ¡s in the clothing store she opened with her mother, Deyni Terry, to meet Afro-Cuban needs. women.
Ms. Terry, lawyer and feminist activist, said the real problem was the social construction of Cuba.
âThe constitution of the Republic of Cuba continues to speak in the masculine form. â¦ We come from a totally sexist culture, âshe said.
This story was reported by The Associated Press.