The situation in Holguín

Photo by Cubaraw

In the Province of Holguin, there are several communities where its population has very poor means and there is no possibility of gaining access to sources of technical or financial assistance. The worst conditions are found in the north of the province, in the Alcides Pinos neighborhood, known as La Chomba, and the other in the south of the province located in the Harlem neighborhood, known as La Fornet.

All of the above has created negative effects on the population, the consequences of which are expressed in a number of areas: an ignorance of civic values and of what constitutes the basis and content of a civil society, poor command of the concepts, values and fundamentals of citizenship, especially in women. All this is caused by the existence of a government that closes off the possibilities and capabilities of women, restricting their well-being and not meeting their needs.

The harm to women caused by the ignorance of their rights, in a setting of poverty and economic dissatisfaction, as well as within such a sexist culture, has led to high rates of prostitution and sexually transmitted diseases, especially among young mothers between 16 and 20 years old. However, the tentative openings in Cuba have made it possible to identify the source of the deficiencies in the State and in its policies, such as the absence of appropriate channels to fulfill the needs and address the concerns of these women, who are also simultaneously missing out on a range of basic social services in terms of education and health.

This has opened up the possibility for those of us from independent civil society for empowering women so that they could be taken care of, by seeking out those in a state of social abandonment due to the dominant ideology that might be limited by the knowledge of all their rights as women. We have taken as an initiative the realization of workshops for the empowerment of women, especially the women from those communities, giving greater attention to young women who have worked as prostitutes or who because of their living conditions are at greater risk of entering into it. This involves trying to build new forms of self-employment in pursuit of economic independence or in lodging complaints and demands to the institutions so that they might address the particular problems of these women by targeting those who are already following this path and simultaneously preventing others from falling into it. Our task is also to show them how prostitution can negatively affect the physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health of women, and in some settings, for example, increase the risk of contracting HIV.

There are also the high demands from younger women with young children, those that are pregnant and single, rendered defenseless by the government, living in subhuman conditions in these communities. The absence of freedom and along with the state of economic need leads them inevitably to practice prostitution with all the consequences that this entails.

The Cuban patriarchal and macho system, in which the stereotype that women are housewives meant to care for children and the elderly and for doing domestic work, still makes them victims of discrimination by a large segment of society, as well as of physical, verbal and sometimes even sexual violence.

Because of the work and research we have done with this group of women, we have been able to make comparisons and self-analyses in the working group. As for the pressure exerted by the State and society on these women, we were able to see that the violence that is having the greatest impact on them is psychological, since they are confronted by it in their daily lives – the burden of maintaining a home and the care of their children, the rejection from family and neighbors. Finally, there are also the repression, humiliation and cruel treatment to which they are subjected to by the police if they are arrested, which can also mean being subjected to large fines or prison sentences for performing these activities.

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