Erlinda, the milkmaid

Erlinda

Erlinda Yero is the milkmaid in Pozo Cuadrado, a village nine kilometers away from Bayamo, the capital city in the eastern province of Granma.

Every day, she is the first one to get up and switch on the kitchen light to make coffee in the entire neighborhood. She then walks 1.5 kilometers to get to the cattle-raising farm where she works.

There are 67 buffalo cows and a stud awaiting her. After she milks the cows, she takes them all to graze under the sun, morning and afternoon. She calls them by their names: Pancho, the stud; Little One, Conga, Marisol, and the like. They are docile, but hate strangers.

As the farm is surrounded by rice growing fields, she has to keep an eye on them because they love not only the plants, but also the water that helps them cool down.

Wearing a long-sleeved shirt and a hat, she looks after these animals and is never the least bit afraid of them.

Born in 1954, Yero left her hometown in Sierra Maestra mountain range for Pozo Cuadrado 30 years ago, along with her two small children and old parents. Shortly after her arrival, she was given two jobs offers: office cleaner or milkmaid, and chose the latter.

She worked at La Bayamesa for 20 years, and has been working at the buffalo farm for six years now.

She has just been granted the Annual National Excellence Award by the Cuban Association for Animal Production (ACPA).

"This prize is awarded to women who make outstanding contributions to livestock production in the country," said ACPA gender project manager Dilcia García.

"It has helped bridge the gender gap and make women's role in production and society visible," she added.

Erlinda is much too good a worker

She actually hated having to go to Media Luna, 100 kilometers away from home, to receive the award. What she really loves is to give milking demonstration classes and encourage other women to act up.

"When they (the buffalo cows) want to stop milking calves, they simply throw themselves to the ground," she told SEMlac.

"I have worked really hard since I was a small girl. I merely finished the 5th grade. I used to weed coffee plantations and rear animals together with my father," she recalled. "These activities were usually taken up by men rather than women at that time," she noted.

"I got married when I turned 19, and had two children. I got divorced and left the mountains with my family a couple of years later," she commented.

Many local men do not understand why she decided to become milkmaid, a job that requires a lot of physical effort and is poorly paid.

"I usually get up at 4.00 a.m. If there are many cows with newborns, I am up at 1.00 a.m. I get back home at around 6.00 p.m., make dinner, look after the animals, and go to bed early," she stressed. She is ACPA representative in the area.

Established in 1974, the Association gathers together cattle raisers, technicians, researchers, and university professors related to livestock production.

Instituted in 2007, the Award is granted by a Selection Committee.

ACPA has been implementing a comprehensive gender training program in several Cuban provinces, covering both government agencies and grassroots organizations.

Pushing things along

Erlinda looks forward to learning more about gender equity and women's empowerment.

"We women can do whatever we want to," she indicated.

Her neighborhood is full of thatch-roofed houses and of women who see her as an example to follow.

A study on working women, which was submitted at the 3rd International Congress on Tropical Animal Production last November, concluded that working conditions are not always appropriate for women.

Conducted in Matanzas, Cienfuegos and Granma provinces by researchers at the National Institute of Animal Science (ICA), the study showed that only 10 percent of working women on the island have had some on-the-job training.

"And merely 20 percent of them are pleased with family support," said Yuley Martínez, a team member.

Involving a total of 60 women farmers and cattle raisers, the study revealed that there is a pressing need for gender-related sensitization campaigns.

Its recommendations included improving women's working conditions, implementing training actions, and introducing flexible work shifts for women with babies and small children.

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