Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Cuban Women Crisis--The Reality of Women's Representation

Cuba ranks third when it comes to the percentage of women in nationally elected offices, with 49% of representatives being women[1]. Such a high proportion of women representatives is surprising amidst Cuba's political turmoil and social unrest. The single-party Communist state is known to commit regular violations of human rights, including political imprisonment, travel restrictions, and forced exile. According to Human Rights Watch, Cuba is the only Latin American country that still represses virtually all forms of political dissent [2]. Such repression begs one to ask what the role is of national political figures, and whether thy have any real authority in determining laws. Are the 49% of women used simply as figure-heads, or do they hold real power?

The Rise of Women's Rights
Prior to receiving the right to vote, women in Cuba held traditional housekeeping and child-rearing positions within patriarchal homes. Women were expected to abandon their personal desires and goals to focus solely on taking care of the family and supporting their husbands. Norms began to change in 1934, when women were granted the right to vote and run for office simultaneously[3].
In 1934 the percentages of Cuban women working outside the home, attending school, and practicing birth control surpassed the corresponding percentages in nearly every other Latin American country.

Women in Cuba had been elected to Cuba's House of Representatives and Senate, serving as mayors, judges, cabinet members, municipal counselors, and members of the Cuban foreign service. The return of Grau to government, under the auspices of President Fulgencio Batista provided for the Cuban Constitution of 1940, one of the most progressive in the Western Hemisphere with regard to women's status, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex and calling for equal pay for equal work.

After the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) was established as an NGO. The FMC was recognized by the Cuban government as "the national mechanism for the advancement of women in Cuba". The organization claims to have more than 3 million members, which constitutes 85.2% of all women over age 14. There is also a Women’s Training Center and a Women’s Publishing House at the national level. The group generally adheres to the Cuban government's objectives "to defend the Cuban Revolution". According to Cuban government statistics, women represent 49.5% of all graduates at higher educational levels and 62% of university students. Women constitute 35% of Parliamentary members, 61% of attorneys, 49% of judges, and 47% of Supreme Court justices.
Ladies in White
The Ladies in White march in January 2012

How so many women?
Cuba's national legislature, the National Assembly of People's Power, has 609 members who sit for five-year terms. Members of the National Assembly represent multiple-member constituencies (2 to 5 members per district), with one Deputy for each 20,000 inhabitants.

Candidates for the National Assembly are chosen by candidacy commissions chaired by local trade union officials and composed of elected representatives of "mass organisations" representing workers, youth, women, students and farmers.[citation needed] The provincial and municipal candidacy commissions submit nominations to the National Candidacy Commission.[7] The municipal candidacy commissions produce slates of recommended candidates for each electoral district, mainly submit nominations for candidates that are also municipal delegates, and first submit their nominations to their municipal assembly who may approve or replace nominations.[10] The final list of candidates for the National Assembly, one for each district, is drawn up by the National Candidacy Commission,[7] taking into account criteria such as candidates’ popularity, merit, patriotism, ethical values and “revolutionary history.”[11] At least half of the National Assembly candidates selected must have been previously elected as delegates to these assemblies.[12]

Although there is only one candidate per seat, candidates must obtain the support of 50% of voters to be elected. If a candidate fails to gain 50% of the vote, a new candidate must be chosen.

Reality of Women's Power

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