Women need to have their rights, conflicts, experiences and life stories fully revealed, regardless of their actual situation (ordinary women, victims of gender violence, company managers, decision-makers in urban or rural areas, and the like).
Participants in the 8th International Meeting on Women in the 21st Century, which was recently held in the Cuban capital, strongly favored the idea of removing cultural traditions that associate women with second-class citizens, providing them with further training, launching new awareness-raising campaigns, and promoting successful experiences.
Organized by the University of Havana Women's Chair and the Federation of Cuban Women, the event was attended by experts of Cuba, Spain, the United States, Colombia, Guatemala, and Chile.
"Most of the papers to be presented here highlight the need to make problems affecting women visible and come up with effective solutions," said Chair president Norma Vasallo at the opening ceremony.
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.
Mariela Castro, director of the National Sex Education Center (CENESEX), indicated that the defense of free sexual orientation and gender identity by people, groups and social networks has made it possible to cover the entire country this month, when the 4th Cuban Meeting against Homophobia is being held.
"We organize activities all year round, but they are given a high profile only in May," she said at a press conference.
"The main ceremonies will take place in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba this year," she announced.
"These issues have been discussed on radio and TV shows, as well as in websites and blogs," she added.
There has been a social trend to separate, segregate and reject "strange" or "different" people in Cuba.
It is a fact that non-heterosexual people have often been made fun of, excluded and persecuted.
"We do not need to change words, but meanings," said Mariela Castro, director of the National Sex Education Center (CENESEX).
She delivered a lecture along these lines at a panel (Humanity Means Diversity) last May 4, at the Dulce M. Loynaz Cultural Center in Havana.
Local TV shows are not helping teenage boys and girls identify daily conflicts and take responsible sexual behavior.
Most programs, now on the air, are foreign series and soap operas that have little or nothing to do with Cuban cultural and social realities.
Yanabel Naranjo is an eighth-grade student who talked about these issues with SEMlac.
"We watch these shows, but find no answers to our questions. I had for years thought that I shouldn't touch and explore my body. When I saw Puberty (cartoons), I found that such a thing was normal," Naranjo indicated.
The 4th Cuban Meeting against Homophobia will be held next month all over the country.
Prior to the event, there have been sexual diversity talks and actions. Promoted mainly by the National Sex Education Center (CENESEX), they have involved lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and many other groups.
A large number of organizations and institutions will implement activities in May, seeking to further educate families and society at large, and promote respect for different sexual orientations and gender identity rights under equity and justice.
The main ceremony on the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (May 17) will take place in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba. Such a day was first observed on the island in 2008.
Love can end up in violence. Some signs of such a transition are visible; many others go unnoticed.
This is the case of Dalia Martínez, a 40-year-old professional living in Havana. "I could never imagine I would experience grief," she said.
She has a 12-year-old daughter whose father is still her husband and became her boyfriend when she was 18.
After 20 years of an apparently strong marriage, Martínez has had to take her case to court because her husband does not want to get divorced. "He has moved from passive opposition to threat and blackmail," she added.
A Hemispheric Forum on Women’s Leadership and Democracy was held last April 4-6 to discuss the negative impact of social and gender violence, poverty and male-chauvinism on women and citizen rights.
Attended by government ministers, MPs, feminists and representatives of the United Nations, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Women’s Commission (CIM), the event dealt with topics such as women’s participation in political life, the need for equal representation and pay, and women’s exclusion from social benefits.
Enrique Iglesias, head of the Iberian-American Secretariat, highlighted the need to put an end to non-inclusive, authoritarian and patriarchal traditions, and to provide women with the same opportunities as men.
OAS Secretary-General José M. Insulza said that male-chauvinistic culture remains despite significant progress in legislation and politics.
On March 28, twelve Latin American and Spanish-speaking Caribbean women’s organizations submitted sexual and reproductive rights violation cases to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.
Such a move was unprecedented in this Commission, which is under the umbrella of the Organization of American States (OAS) and is headed by U.S. Dinah Shelton.
She thanked those who testified in support of these cases. “What you have told us here is dramatic and shocking,” she indicated.
Colombian Commission member Rodrigo Escobar stressed that the cases deal with women’s physical and psychological health, dignity and human rights.
Martha was 18 when she got HIV-infected. "I simply never expected it," she told SEMlac 10 years after she was diagnosed.
"I had unsafe sex with my boyfriend and my life radically changed. I felt completely powerless," she added. "I have nothing to do with AIDS," she used to think.
The virus knows no race, sex or age. Men make up 81 percent of HIV-positive people in Cuba, and 89 percent of them are men having sex with men.
Women, however, are highly vulnerable and account for 19 percent of overall cases (around 14,000).