From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject Sexual Rights and Emancipation in Cuba
Date May 21, 2020 2:28 AM
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[ The 1959 revolution launched a project of social justice and
equity, an event that would change policies regarding gender and
sexualities, among profound, radical transformations in the nation and
its culture] [[link removed]]

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Mariela Castro Espín
May 18, 2020
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_ The 1959 revolution launched a project of social justice and
equity, an event that would change policies regarding gender and
sexualities, among profound, radical transformations in the nation and
its culture _

All rights for all people., Photo: Granma


The 1959 revolution represented Cuba’s achievement of national
sovereignty; the launching of a project of social justice and equity;
and the beginning of transformations in the nation and its culture,
the most profound and radical in their history.

An event of such magnitude could not but completely change policies
regarding gender and sexualities. This has been a process of complex
cultural metamorphosis, leading to confrontations and dialogue between
generations, cultural patterns, classes and social strata, in which
women have been protagonists and promoters.

In this scenario of broad popular participation, the first actions
were taken to implement political, economic and social changes that
modified the role of men and women in society and within the family,
in the relationships of couples, in sexualities, in intergenerational

Between 1959 and 1961, the young Revolutionary state approved
significant laws that responded to longstanding aspirations frustrated
by the politicking of traditional parties, their corruption and
servility to the powerful nation to the North. Outstanding among these
was the Fundamental Law of the Republic of Cuba, approved on February
7, 1959, which established equal salaries for men and women.

On August 23, 1960, the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) was officially
established as an organized mass movement of women in civil society.
Since then, women implemented our own project of empowerment as
subjects by law, with a profound impact on all of society, politics
and culture.

At the same time, different initiatives of broad citizen participation
emerged, such as popular mobilizations in defense of terrorist
aggressions organized by the government of the United States of
America; women came to their homes dressed as militia members and
their image in this new social role became everyday.

The broad incorporation of women into the workplace and a wide range
of public events had a great impact on sexuality (Núñez, 2001). The
new social condition of women contributed to changing the prevailing
reproductive pattern from six children per woman to less than one son
or daughter per woman (Alfonso, 2006), although the latest National
Fertility Survey reports that the reproductive ideal for women is 2.13
and for men 2.31 (ONEI, 2009).

As a result of joint work by the FMC and the new National Public
Health System, the National Family Planning Program was established in
1964 and in 1965 the voluntary termination of pregnancy was
institutionalized as a free service, performed by professionals in
public health institutions.

This was done with the goal of reducing maternal mortality and
promoting and guaranteeing women's right to make their own decisions
about their bodies.

These decisions, along with other national program, contributed to a
decrease in maternal mortality, which in 1959 was 120 per 100,000 live
births, and by 1966 had been reduced to 60. Rigorous monitoring of
this indicator to reduce its predictable causes is an ongoing task and
one of the most important components of the Ministry’s Mother and
Child Program, reporting a rate of 36 deaths per 100,000 live births
in 2019.

In accordance its own mechanisms of participation, in 1972, the FMC
established a multidisciplinary, inter-sectoral working group to
manage and develop a National Sex Education Program.

The goal of this initiative was to respond to one of the proposals
expressed by women in our annual plenary sessions: to prepare
themselves in sex education in order to better guide their daughters
and sons, and thus avoid the uncertainty they suffered. The National
Sex Education Working Group was created with this premise.

The importance of sex education was acknowledged at the Second
Congress of the FMC in 1974 and at the First Congress of the Communist
Party of Cuba in 1975. Since then, sexuality education has been
expressed in state policy, with families and schools recognized as the
institutions with the greatest responsibility in the matter.

The policies of the 1960s were expressed in new laws during the 1970s,
most notably the Family Code adopted in 1975 as a result of a broad
process of popular consultation. Considered the most advanced for its
time in the entire continent, it recognized the right of men and women
to full sexuality and to share the same domestic and educational

As a result of the policy developed during the 1970s, Cuba was the
first country to sign, and the second to ratify, government commitment
to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
against Women (CEDAW, 1979).

Cuban culture has a strong patriarchal Hispanic-African heritage, with
a long homophobic tradition, a model of domination imposed by the
Spanish colonial system and its official religion, along with a
worldwide scientific approach that stigmatized homosexuality.

When the Revolution triumphed, medical, psychological, social and
legal sciences around the world took positions against homosexuality,
and considered it an example of illness, insanity, moral decadence and
deviation from social norms.

Unfortunately, the permanence of institutionalized homophobia in the
first decades of the Revolution has not been analyzed in all its
complexity. This situation is exploited by those who only see it as an
opportunity to profit from the well-funded market of attacks on Cuba.
Given this reality, it is essential that our institutions critically
analyze practices that are inconsistent with the humanist spirit of
the revolutionary process.

David Carter (2004), in his book Stonewall, on the protests that
ignited the gay revolution, wrote, in 1961, that laws criminalizing
homosexuality in the United States were tougher than those in Cuba,
Russia or East Germany, countries customarily criticized by the U.S.
government for their "despotic methods" (Carter D., p.16).

Understanding the current situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans
and intersex (LGBTI+) persons in Cuba, and the need to address
attention to their needs as a question of policy, demands that we
understand the historical evolution of the issue within the Cuban
Revolution’s social agenda.

The National Working Group on Sex Education (Gntes, 1972), led by the
FMC, became the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex) in 1988,
and since then has been subordinated to the Ministry of Public Health

Cenesex's mission is to contribute to the development of comprehensive
education on sexuality, sexual health, recognition and guarantee of
the sexual rights of the entire population. Toward this end, the
Center develops educational and communication strategies that include
different national public welfare campaigns.

The initiative to celebrate the International Day against Homophobia
and Transphobia, beginning May 17, 2007, has had significant impact on
the mobilization of the Cuban population’s social conscience.

We welcomed the proposal by the French-Caribbean professor,
Louis-Georges Tin, to place the celebration on the date of the World
Health Organization’s decision to formally de-pathologize
homosexuality, leaving behind unscientific points of view that
contributed to stigma and discrimination. This occurred on May 17,

Since 2008, we have dedicated the entire month of May to developing
educational and communication activities that promote respect for free
sexual orientation and gender identities, as an exercise in justice
and social equity, under the name of Cuban Days against Homophobia and

These days are coordinated by CENESEX, through Minsap, along with
other state institutions, the government and the indispensable support
of the Party at all levels. Campaigns have been focused on the family,
school, work and, more recently, recognition of all rights for all
people, without discrimination due to their sexual orientation or
gender identity.

The Cuban Days against Homophobia and Transphobia have undoubtedly had
an impact on the vision of the country approved by the 7th Congress of
the Communist Party of Cuba (2016) and the National Assembly of
People's Power (2017) after a rigorous process of popular

The Conceptualization of the Cuban Economic and Social Model of
Socialist Development, and the National Plan of Economic and Social
Development through 2030, expressly mention the need to confront all
forms of discrimination, including that motivated by sexual
orientation or gender identity.

In total harmony with these decisions, since 2019, our Constitution
textually recognizes sexual and reproductive rights, prohibits
discrimination against persons with non-homonormative sexualities,
protects family diversity and clearly regulates marriage as a legal
institution accessible to all persons without discrimination of any

Of course, we still have a long way to go. That is why we educate for
love and respectful coexistence, not for the perpetuation of
relationships of domination or violence. We educate in the humanist
and democratic principles that are inspired by the emancipatory
paradigm of socialism, in freedom as a complex individual and
collective responsibility. We will continue working until all justice
is achieved.

_Mariela Castro is a Member of the Cuban Parliament (Asamblea Nacional
del Poder Popular de Cuba) and Director of the Cuban National Center
for Sex Education (CENESEX).  She is also president of the Cuban
Multidisciplinary Centre for the Study of Sexuality, president of the
National Commission for Treatment of Disturbances of Gender Identity,
member of the Direct Action Group for Preventing, Confronting, and
Combating AIDS, and an executive member of the World Association for
Sexual Health (WAS). She is also the director of the journal
Sexología y Sociedad, a magazine of sexology edited by CENESEX. She
has published 13 scholarly articles and nine books._

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