While men in the countryside have been taught to toil the land and support their families, women have been expected to stay at home, cooking, washing, cleaning, and looking after family members without getting paid. This is now changing, however.
Nervys Ferry was left alone with her grandmother in the easternmost province of Guantánamo, when her mother and five brothers decided to move to Havana. Some years later, she was trained as a veterinarian, got married and had three children.
"Our economic situation became so critical that my mother asked me to come and settle down in Havana too, shortly after my grandmother died," she told SEMlac. "This was 28 years ago," she recalled.
She started working here as a veterinarian, but she got pregnant again and decided to become self-employed. "My husband, who had always been a farmer, helped me change my mind," she added.
A new workshop on gender issues has just been held under the auspices of the Cuban Association for Animal Production (ACPA) in the capital city.
Simultaneously scheduled in the eastern provinces of Las Tunas and Granma, the three-day event was intended mainly for decision makers and heads of national organizations and agencies.
"We are, for the very first time, implementing a joint action of this kind," said Dilcia García, gender project manager at ACPA.
"The idea is to hold similar workshops in other provinces such as Camagüey, Mayabaque and Artemisa (these two former Havana), and in the Special Municipality of the Isle of Youth in the next 12 months," she announced.
Heroes are well known; they have monuments erected in their honor; their brave deeds are taught at school. There are heroines, however, who have remained anonymous over the years.
María C. Barcia, a history professor at the University of Havana, indicated that apparently simple, daily actions can be equally significant.
She delivered a lecture on Encarnación Varona, a woman who was born and lived in the eastern province of Camagüey and suffered real hardship during the First War of Independence (1868-1978), at an International Colloquium on Women and Emancipation in Latin America and the Caribbean in the 19th and 20th Centuries.
Held on February 21-25 at Casa de Las Américas in Havana, the event was presided over by essayist Luisa Campuzano and was attended by researchers, professors, writers, and gender experts of Mexico, Spain, Italy, Canada, and Cuba.
Women's issues were raised at the 20th International Book Fair, but gender-related productions failed to meet growing demand.
This came from Annalía Ramírez, a 21-year-old Social Communication student who attended the launching of Isabel Moya's Sin contraseñas: Género y transgresión mediática (No password: Gender and media transgression) and Julio C. González' Macho, varón, masculino (Macho men), at the Cuba Pavilion in Havana.
The former is the editor-in-chief of Women magazine and an expert in gender issues and communication. The latter is a history professor and the coordinator of the Iberian-American Network on Masculinity.
"We really need this kind of books," Ramírez told SEMlac. "They help us deal with gender issues in a responsible manner," she added.
Training and sensitization play a key role in the application of the gender approach by the media.
The gender theory involves critical issues such as cultural values, religious beliefs, sexual diversity, race, and even disabilities.
It seeks to make a comprehensive review of social phenomena like deeply rooted male chauvinism.
There is much to be done along these lines, however, in contemporary radio, television and press.
Women characters in Latin American films have been changing. They are now stronger and more visible than in the past.
"Mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives, femme fatales, and loving women often appeared on films made in the 1930s, '40s and '50s," said art historian and professor María C. Cumaná at the 8th Post-Graduate Course on Gender and Communication.
The event was organized by the José Martí International Institute of Journalism in Havana.
"Stereotypes are being left behind and new identities are being shaped. This is clearly shown in films by Argentina's María L. Bemberg and Mexico's María Novaro," Cumaná added. She is also the coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Film Portal.
Esmeralda is a 13-year-old junior-high-school student whose dream is to become a university graduate. This will be possible despite the fact that her mother is a harvester.
Since she was born, she has lived at a camp close to the biggest vegetable and fruit market (Central de Abasto) in Mexico City.
She accompanied her mother everywhere she went to until she turned six and a street teacher told her to take the girl to a shelter for boys, girls and teenagers in the area.
Located to the east of the capital city, the facility covers 304 hectares, markets 30 percent of domestic produce, has 1,881 fruit and vegetable stands and 338 grocery stores, and is visited by around 300,000 people every day.
Those living in the streets are often considered to be “dangerous”, but they really are victims of exclusion.
A survey by the Ministry of Social Development showed that there were 1,287 adults and over 700 children and teenagers under 18 years of age living in the streets of the city last year.
Seventy percent of them were men; 15 percent, women; and 15 percent, entire families, it revealed.
NGOs like Project 7, Doctors without Borders, and the Legal and Social Study Center estimate, however, that the actual overall number ranges from 10,000 to 15,000. The difference is due to the fact that the government does not consider people at risk, those evicted or likely to be evicted, and those living at hotels or shelters.
The number of local couples living together has grown, and the divorce rate has also followed a rising trend. This is one of the main findings in a recent socio-demographic studies.
The rate stood at 3.1 every 1,000 inhabitants, totaling 35,034 divorce rulings in 2009, according to the National Office of Statistics' Cuban Population Yearbook.
The number of divorce rulings every 100 marriages has almost tripled between 1970 and 2009, when there were 64 rulings every 100 marriages. The gross rate has moved from 0.41 every 1,000 inhabitants in 1955 up to 4.9 in 2009.
"Such an increase has been closely associated with socio-demographic variables other than the number of marriages," said María E. Benítez, a researcher at the University of Havana's Population Study Center (CEDEM).
Mariana cannot reflect all her grief in the short e-mail she sent me. She announces that "her mommy" is dead. What should I tell her? There is nothing like a warm embrace under these circumstances.
Santana, who played Mrs. Remigia on a popular TV show (San Nicolás del Peladero), was and still is a dear and respected mother. When the famous die, bosom friends usually speak of how close they had always been to them. But I can tell Mariana was always by her side, caring for and pampering her. Last February 4, she phoned me to let me know she was already suffering her loss.
As a journalist, I interviewed Santana, wrote about her performances on TV, and called her up until the day when she did not recognize my name. I understood that. The death of her adored and adoring husband Julio Vega had started to gradually take her away from this world.
She left Mariana, her spoiled daughter; Ramón Fajardo, her sincere historian; and Miguel Barnet, the poet who always admired her. Santana will certainly be useful after passing away. May her life provide an example for older people here and elsewhere!