Monday, March 07, 2005

 

What goes from Macho to Woman Power

International Women´s Day has taken roots in Cuba and not only because women, young and old, are given flowers or candy like on Valentine´s Day.
A lot of changes have taken place in the minds of men in this country and you can see them when a young father cleans his house, handles the family´s washing machine, or takes the baby for a walk around the block.
I come from Spanish families on both sides, one born in Spain and the other first-generation Cuban-born of Spanish origin. That may look the same, but it isn´t. Changes began slowly taking place since the wars for Independence in the 19th century. My mother´s family, for instance, was very dependent on one man. My grandfather worked at a tailor shop first and later put up his own business of shoe-making and repairs. He was tender with his grandchildren, which did not hide the fact that his three daughters were only allowed to work at home until they were married.
My mother took to sewing not because it was what she liked best, in fact what she really loved was teaching, but her contribution to the family´s income came from the dresses, bedspreads and lingerie she sewed. She and her sisters were allowed to study but then they had to work -at home. For example, my mother took shorthand and stenography lessons but could never work in an office. First, my grandfather forbid it and then, my father.
After my father´s premature death (36), however, she was confronted with a very hostile environment for a woman to work in. My dad had a retail store where animal feed and farm tools were sold for the small farms near the town of San Francisco de Paula, on the outskirts of Havana.
In 1959, everything began to change. A year later, to help my mother and younger sisters, I began to work before the authorized age of 18, for I was only 16, as a secretary. Reticent as she was to let me "out into the world", my mother gradually understood times were changing, for one could feel a new environment of respect for working people.
The sister following me volunteered for the Literacy campaign to teach farmers and their families to read and write. She was only 14. Then my younger sister chose a military career.
My own mother saw all her youth dreams of women taking their place in society come true. My father´s side of the family was more open to change and one of my aunts became my paradigm of women´s liberation. She taught us to defend our rights as women and demand respect to our beliefs.
Although Cuba had one of the more progressive constitutions in Latin America since the 1940´s, it was not until 1959 that it really began to mean something. Women could vote, could get divorced, which was not possible for our gender in most Latin American countries and became professionals.
Now, equality is a constitutional right, most of our scientists are women, there are women Ministers, Party officials, Members of Parliament. No barriers stand in the way of feminine ingenuity, on the contrary, it is stimulated.
Of course there are many vestiges of macho attitudes resisting change. Women are battered and harassed at home and at the workplace, but it becomes an ever less frequent reality.
Like a popular song goes, "we don´t live in a perfect society" but people in general are perfecting it every day.Image hosted by Photobucket.com
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