Ever since 2019, a network of Cuban women distributed across ten Cuban municipalities have been accompanying and documenting experiences of domestic violence survivors. More than 400 testimonies have been collected by the Ministerio de Mujer a Mujer y de Hombre a Hombre project, which has provided a different approach to a national problem with very few statistics available.
The report Casa Escucha: Violencias basadas en Género en Cuba 2019-2020 compiles results from the project with the objective of contributing greater information and evidence about how gender-based violence works on the island.
Statistics compiled through the Casas Escuchas (listening houses), safe spaces where women “speak about the different experiences of violence they suffered and can discover their own solutions to get out of the cycle of violence,” the document explains. The 2020 pandemic meant that remote Phone-visits (by phone or online) were used for a while.
The project draws inspiration from Christianity, but it isn’t only available to believers. “We wanted to contribute to the Church so that it could be a conciliatory social body, involved in issues that affect the community, such as gender-based violence,” the project coordinators explained in the document.
What trends do survivor testimonies reveal?
Statistics compiled in the report confirm that the home is still the most dangerous place for women. Violence in a family or domestic setting accounts for 77% of the cases.
On the other hand, most of the women who told their stories (over 70%) have at least one child. The impact of this violence on children was one of the points included in the new Family Act, although other legal and social mechanisms are still needed to tackle specific forms of violence.
Another problem identified during these listening sessions was the revictimization of survivors by officials dealing with these complaints. According to the study, many women reported that officials dismiss testimonies, generally-speaking, and “send them home to solve their domestic violence problem.”
“This situation gives rise to distrust in institutions and reduces the chance for women to file a complaint,” the report points out.
The lack of or delayed assistance to victims leads to vulnerability, which not only makes it harder for these women to leave this cycle of violence, but also increases the danger of femicide. The report outlines two cases of femicide, where the victims had formed part of the Escucha project.
Testimonies and statistics prove the importance of specific legislation that combines civil and criminal proceedings, and that offers protection and compensation for women and their children – as women’s rights activists are demanding.
Shelters are also needed for survivors. “Spaces that allow people who need them to walk away from cycles of violence that they are stuck in and to save their lives,” the study recommends.
Psychological and emotional abuse (experienced by 95.6% of women accompanied by the project) is the most widespread form of violence, followed by physical violence (49.3%). Accessible and specialized services offering psychological support for domestic violence victims is another outstanding debt the Cuban State has.
It’s also significant that economic violence (24.5%) is the third highest form of violence, even more so than sexual violence (19.6%). Economic violence includes any act directed at limiting women’s access, retention of or loss of economic resources, assets, and patrimonial rights. In addition to making it harder for women to leave these cycles of violence, it increases economic inequality, which has been aggravated by successive crises in the country.
The study also identifies a lack of access to a dignified home, food insecurity, the lack of a dignified wage and less social protection as factors that make the issue of gender-based violence in Cuba worse.
Why do we need independent statistics?
The lack of updated statistics about gender-based violence and inequality has been pointed out more than once as a restriction in designing public policies that are effective at tackling the issue and to monitor assistance strategics. The latest official statistics in Cuba come from the National Survey on Gender Equality, which was carried out in November 2016 and published in 2019.
According to the government, new figures should be available on Cuba’s scientific observatory on gender equality’s website, in the first semester of 2023. Although they’ve been saying this since late 2021. The information will mainly be based on official statistics from Cuba’s Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), Ministries of Health, Labor and Social Security, bodies, academic centers, research centers and other institutions.
Even if they keep their promise, it’s reasonable to think that certain indicators such as state, political or institutional violence won’t be included in the official reports. Institutional and political violence recorded by Mujer a Mujer… stands at 8.9%, with the highest rate being reported in 2021, which correlates with increased repression after the July 11th protests.
Given this absence of official figures, efforts by independent projects such as the Observatory of Gender by Alas Tensas magazine, and the Observatory of Femicides by the Yo Si Te Creo platform in Cuba are worth highlighting. However, the reach of these projects is still limited with activism and civic action still considered a crime in Cuba.
Similar experiences of repression have been suffered by the directors of Mujer a Mujer…: “we still aren’t allowed to register as an independent organization here in Cuba. Worse still, we are persecuted for our work. This situation has led many women to abandon their work afraid of greater consequences and of suffering violence that ranges from institutional to medical,” the report points out.
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