“The Judiciary will review my case next May. I reported it last December. I had to see a forensic doctor and take psychological therapy under precautionary measures. As I do not have any money left to pay for therapy, I go to a public hospital where arranging a mental health appointment takes over five months,” said Florencia, a 47-year-old Peruvian woman who had been abused by her husband for years.
“I will start the process to get divorced after the sentence is passed,” she added. She has three daughters, a son and six grandchildren, lost most of her teeth in fights with her ex, and currently works at a street cleaning company.
“We had been separated for eight years, but it was only three years ago that I managed to get him out of the house. I was cooking when he approached me. I threatened him with the knife I was holding in my hand. When he tried to hit me, he slipped and pricked himself in the arm. He was so scared that he left us. My daughters witnessed everything,” she recalled.
According to the People’s Defense Council, 10 local women are attacked every hour and another 12 are seriously wounded or killed every day. Most victims are aged 15 to 45 and just a few manage to advance their cases in the Judiciary.
The number of women’s murders in the country has grown since the June 28 coup. This statement is contained in a report that the Resistance Feminists Coalition has submitted to the Organization of American States’ Human Rights Commission.
“The current situation is due to a lack of protection for victims and weakened human-rights institutions,” said Adelay Carías, a Coalition member who helped prepare a report on women’s rights violations in the last five months.
The Honduran National Autonomous University’s Violence Observatory and the United Nations Development Programme put together a study showing that a total of 312 women had been killed in 2008.
There have been around 30 women’s murders every month so far this year, totaling 325 by October, according to the Attorney’s Office for Women, which was established last year.
Women are the main characters in Mafia Dolls, the new local television soap opera that has been on the air for a month.
The series has sparked controversy over the role of the media in shaping femininity patterns.
Its director Luis A. Restrepo had produced The Boss on the life of Pablo Escobar and There is no paradise without women, on teenage girls practicing transactional sex to support their families.
The latest TV opera deals with six women who have sexual relationships with drug traffickers.
A new agricultural production modality is being introduced in Cuba today.
Alioni Ascencio, a 33-year-old farmer, in the eastern province of Granma, had never imagined to obtain high yields.
"When we began working at La Milagrosa farm 10 years ago, two farmers used to cover around 4.5 hectares. There are now five every nine hectares," he told SEMlac.
"We produced some 30 tons of banana, onion, tubers, tomato and other vegetables last year, and plan to close 2009 with over 60 tons," he added.
Olga L. García has been a hair stylist for over 10 years. While she cuts, shapes and dresses women's hair, they usually speak about a wide range of issues.
She works at Aphrodite hairdressing salon in El Cerro, a municipality in Havana where the project Beauty and Health has been implemented for several years. The idea has been to help prevent Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS, provide counseling services, and distribute free condoms.
"We were trained as health promoters for this purpose," she told SEMlac. "We always highlight the need to have safe sex (using condom)," she added.
"While the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Cuba has been affecting mainly men (80 percent of total cases), the number of infected women has been steadily growing in the last few years," said Ana L. Orman, national coordinator of the Women's Project at the National Prevention Center (CNP) for STIs, HIV and AIDS.
Irrigation plays a key role in agricultural production. Abel Almira, a farmer in Cueto, a municipality in the eastern province of Holguín, knows that really well.
"We lost the entire corn harvest last year due to drought," he told SEMlac. "We are very happy to have a sprinkler system installed. We are planning to sow a field with corn and beans," he added.
The irrigation project in question is part of a cooperation program that is being implemented by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) through its Community Development Fund.
Managed by Canada's CARE, the project counterparts are the Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forestry Technicians (ACTAF) and a local Agricultural Research, Training and Extension Unit (UEICA-H).
The messages that are being disseminated over local radio and television in connection with the new A/H1N1 influenza virus have made me recall my childhood.
I had been repeatedly told to wash my hands regularly, cover my mouth before coughing and my nose before sneezing, always have a handkerchief on me, not to get extremely close to other people while talking, and never call a friend in the street with screams or use somebody else's personal belongings. All this was a combination of respect for other people and individual health care.
The right to work was not contained in or enforced under the legislation in effect at the time. The poor had to be honest and well mannered to get even simple, badly paid jobs.
Against this background, I managed to incorporate these values and make my way in life.
Teaching women how to identify and face gender violence is a sine qua non for HIV/AIDS prevention work.
Damaris Rondón, a 37-year-old resident in Yara, a municipality in Granma province, 750 kilometers east of Havana, learnt it the hard way.
"My best friend got HIV-infected three years ago, after having been married to the man who became her boyfriend when they were in junior high. He had been having unsafe sex with somebody else. I was so terrified that I asked my husband to use condom. He did not talk to me and stayed away for over a month," she told SEMlac.
"I live in permanent fear because I am not 100-percent sure he is having sex only with me and we are using no protection," she added. Hers is not an isolated case in the province.
"We need to address personal growth, self-esteem, gender violence and many other issues. It is true that information alone can not change sexual behavior, but it is a good step," said Yenys Milanés, coordinator of a local project on women and HIV/AIDS.
Focusing on women aged 15 to 49, the project is being implemented by over 100 promoters.
"Gender violence results from deeply rooted male chauvinistic traditions. We have to talk about it before we deal with condom use negotiation and safe sex practices," stressed América Santoya, a psychologist who in charge of academic and research works under the project.
"Many local working women and housewives are abused by their husbands and often abuse their children," she indicated. "They are humiliated, undervalued and assailed," she noted.
"Most of them, especially housewives, do not even realize they are being abused," she commented.
"They ignore they can say NO to sex if they do not want to. They face a very difficult situation on a daily basis," she remarked.
Women and HIV
Women make up 48 percent of all HIV-positive people in the world today. They account for 25 percent in Latin America and 35 percent in the Caribbean
A report of the National Prevention Center for STIs, HIV and AIDS indicated last December that one every 1,000 people in the island was HIV-infected.
Men stand for 80 percent of the total number of cases. Over 86 percent of them are Men having Sex with Men (MSM).
The National Office of Statistics (ONE) conducted a survey on HIV/AIDS patients on outpatient care last year, showing that 31.6 percent of positive women were under 25 years of age and 39 percent were under 35.
While Havana is still the province exhibiting the highest prevalence rate, women in the central and eastern regions make up the majority of people living with HIV/AIDS, it revealed.
A previous study had concluded that only five percent of the sexually active population used condom on a regular basis.
While most local women are aware of the need to prevent the virus from further spreading, they believe they will never get infected. They simply trust their sexual partners, do not like condom, or have never used it.
A high prevalence rate among men is an indication that husbands are infecting wives.. "We women are always expected to accept whatever our sexual partners decide," Rondón emphasized.
"A report we prepared last month indicates that local women still have a low risk perception and little skills to negotiate condom use," Milanés told SEMlac.
"We have set up community centers to hold meetings for women," she announced. There are 105 promoters doing prevention work everywhere, including the media," she added.
These meetings deal with educational and cultural aspects, and are being regularly held in municipalities like Yara, Cauto, Guisa and Bayamo.
"One of the first meetings we organized took place in 2007 under a joint project with a foreign NGO (Médicos del Mundo)," she recalled.
"We made special emphasis then on using condom not only with occasional partners, but also with husbands," she stressed.
"We are now planning to train new promoters to cover all women," she anticipated.
"The number of meeting participants has been steadily growing over the years," she commented.
"One of our strengths has been to work in close coordination with the Provincial Sex Education Commission," she noted.
"We have not been improvising. People need to know what self-esteem, decision making and gender violence are all about to be able to use condom in a conscious manner and not to begin having sex at an early stage," stressed Zeyda Santiesteban, chairperson of the Commission and director of the local HIV/AIDS Prevention Center.
A new telephone counseling service seeking to help prevent and disseminate information about breast cancer is available in the island.
It was launched by Dr. Alexis Cantero, head of the Breast-Cancer Section at the Cuban Surgery Society, on October 20 (World Day against Breast Cancer). The celebration was held at the Manuel Fajardo Clinical-Surgical Hospital in Havana.
The service will be provided by activists and volunteers (former breast-cancer patients who have undergone surgery) every Tuesday and Thursday, from 2.00 p.m. to 4.00 p.m. The telephone numbers are: 836-99-36 and 836-99-37.
Local people are usually warm and kiss each other when they say hello. Those who are cautious, however, are thinking it twice before they do so, not to get infected with the A/H1N1 influenza virus.
Last October 9, 167 days after the virus was introduced in the country, the Ministry of Public Health announced that there were 621 cases and that three pregnant women had died of it.
“Like in many other countries, the most vulnerable population groups in Cuba include pregnant women and children under five years of age,” said Natacha Barrios, a doctor working at the Plaza Polyclinic in downtown Havana.