Cuban activists want law to protect women abused at home

Nov 17, 2022, 12:36 PM | Updated: 1:02 pm
Diana gives an interview in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. Diana said she endured screams, i...

Diana gives an interview in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. Diana said she endured screams, insults and confinement for seven years before she ended a seven year relationship with her boyfriend, but that she did not reach out to any institutions or programs that handled cases of violence against women because she had no faith that they could protect her. Diana asked that her last name not be published because she was afraid for her safety. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco)

(AP Photo/Ismael Francisco)

HAVANA (AP) — Screams, insults and confinement: that was what Diana endured in the seven years before she ended a relationship with her boyfriend.

Though she knew there were institutions and programs in Cuba that handled cases of violence against women, she didn’t reach out to any of them. She had no faith that they could really protect her.

“It’s not just getting beaten. Violence is (also) not speaking to you, ignoring you, restricting you. It was this horrible, extreme level of control,” the 37-year-old woman, an employee at a state institution, told The Associated Press. “I don’t know why I couldn’t get out of it, flee, find a proper solution.”

Diana asked that her last name not be published because she was afraid for her safety.

In recent years, visibility of violence against women in Cuba has grown thanks in large part to social media and rising feminist activism. Yet there is no recent public data on acts of femicide, because Cuban law doesn’t recognize it as a separate crime; intead, it lumps it in with all aggravated homicides.

Authorities argue that two recently passed measures — the Family Code and a new penal code — are enough to combat the abuse, but activists want more: They are pushing Parliament and campaigning on social media for a comprehensive law that would encourage and protect women who file complaints.

“Gender-based violence is structural and systematic, and therefore, the response needs to be have the same scope, not just be stuck in family or penal law,” social media platform YoSiTeCreo (“I Do Believe You”) said in an emailed response to questions from the AP. The platform emerged shortly after internet service on cellphones expanded in Cuba in 2018.

Between 1960 and 1990, the island advanced to the forefront of women’s rights: Women could get divorced when it was still restricted in surrounding Latin American and Caribbean countries across the region; they shared parental rights of their children; and they were included in higher education and the labor market following the 1959 revolution. They were also given pay equal to men and were granted a full year of maternity leave. In 1961, abortions were made legal and provided for free.

But violence against women stayed hidden, even as women’s movements in countries across the region advanced measures to fight and punish it.

Today, statistics on violence against women in Cuba are scarce and outdated. The government still cites data from it’s 2016 National Gender Survey, released in 2019. It shows that 26.6% of the island’s 5 million women were victims of some kind of abuse by their partners, while only 3.7% sought help.

Meanwhile, the death of women at the hands of their partners reached nearly 1 in every 100,000 women at the time, about 50 deaths per year.

YoSiTeCreo says it counted 32 femicides in 2020, 35 last year and 32 so far this year, including two “vicarious” homicides: attacks against others — usually children — carried out to hurt the woman.

In the first years of the revolution, domestic abuse was a taboo subject for many Cuban leaders. They considered it counterproductive to the image of the new society they were trying to build that was focused on social justice.

But in recent years it’s grown more visible. The government and the officially recognized organization Women’s Federation of Cuba have taken steps to combat violence against women, creating more than 150 care centers with specialized counseling, legal services for victims and a hotline. In March 2021, the National Program for the Advancement of Women was launched, a sort of official roadmap to empower and promote women’s leadership.

But Diana and other women who spoke with the AP expressed their doubts about the scope of these initiatives. Some said there’s still no public policy to effectively care for victims.

“The distrust that women have in Cuba is related to the police’s own actions,” said activist and entrepreneur Deyni Terry. “When they file a complaint, they don’t get the protection they need. Many are revictimized.”

Sometimes, uniformed officers either refuse to report the violence or call the abuser to confront or testify against the woman, she said.

Officers often say they don’t believe the women, and when women are finally able to make an official report, they have no other choice than to return with their children to the home where the abuser still lives.

Diana is one of those who never filed a report.

Asked why she didn’t ask for a restraining order against her ex-partner, she replied, nearly in tears, “And that works here? I thought about that solution. But where does the person (the victim) end up … when she has nowhere to live?”

For activists, the solution is a comprehensive law that takes into consideration prevention, punishment and the real care of victims. In November 2019, dozens of women asked the Cuban Parliament to form a commission that would receive citizen proposals and draft such a measure. The parliament rejected the request.

In September, the country ratified its new family code and, in December, the new penal code will take effect. Both focus more intently on violence against women than their predecessors did.

Under the Family Code, people with a violent history will have limited communication with their children, cannot be guardians or adopt, and may lose property in case of divorce or widowhood, among other sanctions.

Meanwhile, the penal code establishes that any crime that has gender violence as an aggravating factor will receive heightened sentences.

“It’s not enough to say that we dislike violence, that we repudiate violence … if, afterward, there’s no effective consequence,” said Ana María Álvarez-Tabío, a lawyer and professor at the University of Havana Law School. “That was what (in the old code) did not happen.”

Álvarez-Tabío said the new laws are good measures to have in place to combat the problem in the meantime, but she added, “It would be no small thing to have a general law against gender violence.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - A ferry berths as a partially illuminated Colombo Lotus Tower, a multi complex digital trans...
Associated Press

Sri Lanka marks independence anniversary amid economic woes

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka marked its 75th independence anniversary on Saturday as a bankrupt nation, with many citizens angry, anxious and in no mood to celebrate. Many Buddhists and Christian clergy had announced a boycott of the celebration in the capital, while activists and others expressed anger at what they see as […]
24 hours ago
FILE - President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Cong...
Associated Press

Biden makes progress on ‘unity agenda’ outlined in 2022

WASHINGTON (AP) — A year ago, President Joe Biden used his first State of the Union address to push top Democratic priorities that were sure to face a battle in the narrowly divided Congress but he also laid out a four-pronged “unity agenda” that would be an easier sell. Biden’s unity goals would be hard […]
24 hours ago
Associated Press

New California oil well ban put on hold for voters to decide

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California’s new law banning new oil and gas wells near homes, schools and other community sites has been put on hold until after voters decide next year whether to throw it out, officials announced Friday. Opponents of Senate Bill 1137 gathered more than 623,000 valid voter signatures to put a referendum […]
24 hours ago
FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks after being sworn in to begin his second term during an ina...
Associated Press

Florida lawmakers to meet next week on Disney, immigration

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida lawmakers will meet next week to complete a state takeover of Walt Disney World’s self-governing district and debate proposals on immigration and election crimes, as Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to leverage national political fissures ahead of an expected White House run. Republican leaders of the Legislature, in coordination with […]
24 hours ago
FILE - Johnny Thai, 11, receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a pediatric vaccine clinic for chil...
Associated Press

California won’t require COVID vaccine to attend schools

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Children in California won’t have to get the coronavirus vaccine to attend schools, state public health officials confirmed Friday, ending one of the last major restrictions of the pandemic in the nation’s most populous state. Gov. Gavin Newsom first announced the policy in 2021, saying it would eventually apply to all […]
24 hours ago
Part of the 988helpline.org website is photographed Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. A cyberattack caused a ne...
Associated Press

Feds say cyberattack caused suicide helpline’s outage

WASHINGTON (AP) — A cyberattack caused a nearly daylong outage of the nation’s new 988 mental health helpline late last year, federal officials told The Associated Press Friday. Lawmakers are now calling for the federal agency that oversees the program to prevent future attacks. “On December 1, the voice calling functionality of the 988 Lifeline […]
24 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
...
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
Cuban activists want law to protect women abused at home