Women of Cuba consult Czech counterparts in preparation for political change

Fidel Castro

The world has been full of speculation over Cuba's future since President Fidel Castro's retreat from the political scene this summer. The 79-year old leader has transferred his duties to a governing body that is led by his brother Raul, who is 75. While Cuba insists that the transfer of power is only temporary, opposition activists believe Castro is too ill to return to politics.

For the Miami-based women's organisation Red Feminista Cubana the end of Castro's 47-year rule is nearing and Cuba's women need to prepare for the change in government. On Tuesday, the organisation asked Czech women to help by sharing their experiences with the transformation from totalitarianism to democracy. Dita Asiedu reports:

Dr Sandra Lopez-Quiroga Gomez is a Cuban-American physician, who travels to the island regularly to monitor women's health. Her description of the stressful first few hours of a day of the average Cuban woman, explains why the island has the highest incidence of female suicide on the entire Latin American continent:

"This is a Cuban woman who has two or three kids, a husband, and she lives with her mother, father, or an old uncle. They live in Havana inside a house, so when everybody wakes up in the morning, everybody goes to the bathroom. Nobody can flush the toilet because there is no water. So, after everybody has finished meeting their physiological needs, she gets a bucket of water and cleans the bathroom. After that she makes sure that the kids have clean clothes and something for breakfast before they go to school. But then again, we don't have enough food and we don't have detergent to clean the clothes. There's no electricity to iron the clothes but she makes it somehow. So, everybody gets something for breakfast, she and her husband go to work and the elderly stay in the house.

"She doesn't know if she's going to be able to catch a bus, so she also hitchhikes or walks to her place of work. She works like anybody else. For lunch, she has to come back home, probably by foot. Her kids are back from school and she is expected to make lunch. But she didn't have the time to stay in line in the grocery store to get whatever they are giving away that day, so I don't know how she makes lunch."

Women in Communist Czechoslovakia did not battle such harsh social conditions. Red Feminista Cubana president, author and human rights activist Ileana Fuentes, explains why that is irrelevant:

"There has already been some change in some spheres of Cuban society, for example led by Mr Raul Castro himself. We are certain that there are reformists in the Cuban elite and what we are concerned about and worried about is when that happens, women are not left out of those possibilities. That is where we are trying to be ahead of the game so that women are aware of what those changes could be as happened in the Czech Republic, so that women are aware that those things have been happening."

Red Feminista Cubana has opened up a branch in Prague and is working on projects in which Czech women will be able to offer guidance in areas like free speech and entrepreneurship. Cuban women can also learn from mistakes made or opportunities lost. Few Czech women, for example, have made it on the political scene and domestic violence continues to be high. The women's organisation says an analysis of the reasons behind this will also help Cuban women avoid the pitfalls that their sisters have faced in other countries.

Tuesday's gathering was held at the Prague office of Gender Studies. It was an accompanying event of Forum 2000.