Despite the gains made for women following the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Cuban feminists were slow to recognize the ongoing problem of violence against women. Certainly, the Cuban revolution had focused on the needs of women at the outset. It had established a number of principal mass organizations shortly after 1959 including the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) which set forth its initial objective as the incorporation women into the realm of productive labor. The FMC established day care centers, state-run cafeterias and take-out restaurants, and laundries as part of an effort to socialize domestic work. As a result, a ‘triumphalist discourse’ emerged which assumed that matters such as domestic violence would cease with changed material conditions.
Over time, however, Cubans recognized that domestic violence was an entrenched problem with grave consequences that called for research and resources. Through multidisciplinary efforts, Cuban scholars, policymakers, and activists have developed an approach to domestic violence that draws on its historical political culture and is distinguished by the socio-political norms that inform, if not characterize the Cuban revolution.
Domestic violence as a global feminist concern impacts localities differently. This paper examines an alternative approach to addressing gendered violence. It considers the circumstances in which domestic violence assumed heightened importance in Cuba, the framework within which Cubans approach the problem, and the principles means Cubans rely upon to address the issue.
CUBA IN THE INTERNATIONAL: HUMAN RIGHTS AS POLITICAL OPPORTUNITY STRUCTURES
Particular country conditions at any given time directly influence whether efforts to achieve gender-based reforms will be successful. For example, during times of political turmoil that threaten the stability of state regimes, when governments experience pressure – particularly in the form of external hostility – women may be reluctant to mount criticisms that target state practices. Under these circumstances, women are often forced to choose between defending their personal welfare or protecting their community or national wellbeing. For many complex reasons, they often choose the latter.
This dilemma describes the circumstances in Cuba with regard to domestic violence. It was not until the 1990s that feminists and the FMC publicly recognized the need to incorporate a gender analysis to assist in projects related to women's issues, including the problem of domestic violence. These developments occurred during the post-Soviet special period, when the United States increased its sanctions against Cuba.