For March, SHWI gave its members a taste of Cuba and in the spirit of the theme also revolutionized its meeting format. Armed with delicious mojitos and limeade coolers from Blousey’s Bar we kicked off the meeting and sat down for ‘other business lite’, the new streamline version of our monthly updates. The draw for the coveted Denman bursaries was also announced, and five lucky ladies won £200 towards a Denman course of their choosing!
After a short coffee break/topping up of cocktails it was on to the main event: an insight into the lives of Cuban women entitled ‘Ten Things You Might Like To Know About Cuban Women’. I must admit, until now I knew very little about Cuba. If I had to list 10 things I knew at the beginning of the night, it would have ended after cigars and flip-flops. And then I’d have had to cross off flip-flops because it transpired Havana is actually the capital, not Havaiana.
As it turns out Cuba is full of surprises, both good and bad. Patricia Daniel from the Sheffield Cuba Solidarity Campaign first introduced us to the history of Cuba and the events leading to the revolution. Surprisingly women played a significant role in the revolution itself and in the running of revolutionary Cuba alongside Fidel Castro. During this time the women’s platoon was established, and they also became organised nationally in a federation that dwarfs the WI, boasting a membership comprising 85% of all women over the age of 14 in Cuba. They hold equal proportions of positions in public sector jobs and have a life expectancy inline with women born in the UK. Along with supportive legislation and free healthcare, this all helps to rank Cuba 15th in the world on the gender equality index (which is above the UK!).
Just as I was considering a bit of swift emigration, we were hit with the cloud beneath the silver lining. Due to the embargo placed upon Cuba by the US half a century ago Cuba has struggled to build an economy, an effort that was further hampered after the dissolution of the USSR, who previously supported Cuba. They have very limited medical supplies and food is hard to come by. To try and boost the deflated economy the government decided to increase tourism to the island. This created an imbalance in the socialist society Castro forged, and has fuelled resurgence of the prostitution industry around tourist hotspots. No matter your opinion on the sex industry, where there are prostitutes there are pimps and in a society that condemns and stigmatizes sex workers this invariably leads to the abuse of women.
By the end of the talk people were bursting with questions, and the topic seemed to spark intense debate, always a sign of an interesting presentation. It was a great introduction to the complicated and contradictory world of revolutionary Cuba. Not to mention the tasty world of Blousey’s cocktails.
To learn more about Cuba’s struggle or get involved with the Sheffield Solidarity Campaign, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Emily Strong SHWI member