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    Press Release No: UNIS/WOM/488
    Release Date:  20 June 2000
    Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee Takes Up Report of Cuba

      NEW YORK, 19 June (UN Headquarters) -- The representative of Cuba introduced her country’s fourth periodic report on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women this morning, highlighting for the monitoring body the many advances for Cuban women, despite the continued economic embargo placed on her country by the United States.

     Speaking to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Soledad Diaz, President of the Science and Technology Agency in Cuba’s Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment, said that the cultural, technical and professional advances made by women in her country, often under adverse conditions, could be considered nothing short of a “revolution within a revolution”.  The 1996 Helms-Burton Act and the continued economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States Government posed the most dangerous obstacle faced by the Cuban Government, as it attempted to implement the tenets of the Convention. 

     She went on to say that, while undoubtedly the blockade had not been designed and implemented with a gender perspective, its consequences had revealed a most severe impact on women.  It was not absurd to state that the blockade was "mercilessly taking a toll" on women, who dealt each day with the obstacles it imposed, in particular, the serious lack of school materials, medication and teaching supplies.

     While it was true that the blockade against Cuba had become harsher, she said, it was good to acknowledge that international solidarity had increased.  Material and moral support from Governments and non-governmental organizations had also helped women and men of the country face those difficulties.  In fact, that solidarity, which had often been promoted and organized by women, had contributed to counteract the negative effects of the blockade and put into practice projects to continue promoting the rights of women and girls in Cuba.

     Following the introduction of the report, several of the Committee’s experts posed questions to the Cuban delegation.  One expert was concerned about Cuba’s position on “prisoners of conscience” and the non-independence of the judiciary.  While every society had some limitations on freedom, if Cuba’s Government observed freedom of expression and fair trials, interviews with citizens by foreigners should be freely allowed.

     Rodolfo Reyes Rodriguez, of Cuba’s Bureau of Multilateral Affairs, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, said that his delegation could assure the Committee that there were no so-called prisoners of conscience in Cuba.  In fact, the Government encouraged freedom of expression.  There were, however, limitations imposed in consideration of national security, as in the case of sympathizers with embargo, as well as terrorists who had attacked Cuba’s tourist industry.  Punitive measures were carried out through due process and with a criminal code that followed international norms.

     Olga Miranda, Legal Counsellor of Cuba’s Tourism Ministry, added that the so-called “prisoners of conscience” referred to themselves in that way to try and achieve impunity for their actions.  An act carried out to jeopardize the independence of a State was another matter.  “Conscience” was a different thing entirely.

     The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to hear further comments and questions by experts.

    Committee Work Programme

     The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to consider the fourth periodic report of Cuba on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  The report (document CEDAW/C/CUB/4) contains an in-depth description of activities for the advancement of women and of the situation of women in Cuba during the period 1995-1996.

     According to the report, the main obstacle to the advancement of women in Cuba during the review period has been the stringent application of the economic, trade and financial embargo by the Government of the United States.  That embargo, which was imposed nearly four decades ago, was reinforced by the adoption of the Helms-Burton Act in 1996.  In this context, Cuba has adopted a strategy of survival, resistance and development in all areas of economic, political and social life.  The economy has been reorganized and mechanisms have been created and strengthened to protect, in particular, the rights and situation of women. 

     Efforts made during this reporting period are reflected in the ascending indicators of women's participation in the economy.  Since 1994, women's participation in the labour force has increased almost 4 per cent, and that change, as well as women's independence and contribution to the country's development, has undoubtedly contributed to their advancement. 

     On measures to pursue policies to eliminate discrimination against women (article 2), the report notes that Cuba's constitutional reforms in 1992 expanded and strengthened the country's prescribed principles on equality by further offering women the same opportunities and rights as men, with a view to securing their full participation in the country's development.  The reforms specifically reassert the institutional foundations, which made it possible for women to enjoy and exercise their basic human rights.  It is also of supreme importance that the Constitution stipulates that the State should endeavour to create all the conditions to facilitate the application of the principle of equality. 

     Cuba's National Plan of Action for follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women has the force of law and has played a fundamental role in assuring advancement of women in political, economic and cultural fields (article 3), according to the report.  The Plan, in conjunction with the Federation of Cuban Women, has helped the women of Cuba to achieve their full development and advancement.  Some new measures introduced during the reporting period include the creation of the National Group for Prevention and Treatment of Violence in the Family and the women's committees of the Ministry of Agriculture.  A process of legislative reform has also been undertaken with a view towards extending the legal protection of women. 

     According to the report, a new type of prostitution has emerged in the 1990s, which is basically associated with the rapid development of foreign tourism and, although the scale is small and concentrated, has received great attention for the Government and non-governmental institutions.  There is a serious endeavour to attack its causes, evaluate the means of eradicating it, and improve procedures in the common task of confronting and fighting it (article 6).  In fact, the Government's policy is to eliminate prostitution altogether, not through coercive means, but through a combination of counselling and persuasion tailored to different groups of women and to each individual.

     In its attempts to eliminate discrimination against women in education (article 10), Cuba's Ministry of Education is actively continuing its campaign of universal school enrolment, which is the basis for full equality of status in the educational system.  The country's teachers are well trained and have access to tools that will further their skills, most importantly in dealing with the residual effects of illiteracy.  All persons in Cuba are guaranteed study opportunities and have access to the scholarship system in secondary, polytechnic and university education.

     It is necessary, however, to draw attention to the embargo, since it has impeded the normal development of education.  That has required a great deal of understanding on the part of students and dedication on the part of teachers who must do their jobs without a proper supply of resources, such as textbooks and other teaching materials.  Despite the embargo, however, encouraging advances have been made in school attendance and in social and family education.  Cuba's schools constitute the community's most important and responsible cultural institutions.

     Cuban legislation guarantees non-discrimination against women in employment and vocational training and "equal pay for equal work" for men and women (article 11).  The report states that today Cuban women take an active part in all sectors and branches of the economy.  A continuous effort has been made to prevent any fall-off in the proportion of women in the workforce, and alternatives have been sought to offset the inevitable rationalization of jobs brought on by the country's economic difficulties in the first half of 1994.  

     According to the report, Cuba's health services were provided at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels.  Cuba also has important legislation and decrees on health protection, which constitute the legal framework for all its health work.  The basic statutory instrument governing health measures stipulates that all citizens are entitled to "care and protection of his or her health", and that the State "shall guarantee that right".  Cuba had also established the priority strategies and programmes for the National Health System for the period 1999-2000 with an eye to continuing the sustained development of the system and achieving better health indicators for the whole population.

     In order to deal with effects of the AIDS pandemic, Cuba set up a multi-disciplinary educational group to coordinate and organize the necessary measures on a permanent basis, to harmonize the objectives and use the potential of every agency and organization.  The report states that the fundamental working policies have focused on increasing the people's perception of risks and reducing the vulnerability of persons and groups within Cuba.  It was also important to note that certain patients are entirely exempted form paying for medicines:  persons infected with or carrying AIDS; persons suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis or occupational diseases; children with acute diarrhoeal diseases; and children requiring vaccinations. 

     The report notes that the embargo was a major obstacle in the treatment of HIV, contraception and treatment of other diseases, such as various forms of cancer.  The purchase of manufactured and patented goods had been severely hampered.  The embargo made it impossible for Cuba to buy pharmaceutical products and medical equipment or the raw materials required for their manufacture in Cuban laboratories.  It also affected, directly and indirectly, all the activities of the National Health System. 

     Cuba's rural population accounts for nearly 33 per cent of the country's total population, and nearly 47 per cent of rural dwellers are women.  The report highlights that, while there were many rural women working in the farming and sugar industries, women also made up nearly 10 per cent of all farm owners.  Rural women also had access to administrative posts in farm cooperatives and in grass-roots organizations.  It was important to note that various rural development programmes had been adversely affected since 1989.  The daily lives of rural families, in general, and women, in particular, were seriously affected, primarily with respect to electrical services, water supply, transport and communications.

    Introduction of Report

     SOLEDAD DIAZ, President of the Science and Technology Agency, Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment of Cuba, said that the cultural, technical and professional advances made by women in her country, often under adverse conditions, could be considered a “revolution within a revolution”.  In that regard, Cuba was especially proud to have been the world’s first country to sign and ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  The country’s true satisfaction, however, was having been consistent with the letter and spirit of the Convention and aware of its value as an international legal instrument in which women’s civil, political economic and social rights had been identified.  Her country had also expressed its political will by supporting and signing the Optional Protocol.

     She said, that during the period under review, 1996-2000, the Government of Cuba had adopted a number of measures to solve the pending problems and outline national middle- and long-term strategies in order to follow up on processes aimed at gender equality.  The Government, therefore, deemed it necessary to point out that there had thus far been “positive conditions” when attempting to implement the postulates of the Convention, as well as the Beijing Platform for Action.  Those conditions had been established some 40 years ago with the hopes of building the economic, social and cultural foundations that promote and ensure the exercise of equal rights among men and women.  Therefore, the achievements presented to the Committee today were being forged in a national programme that integrated its strategies and actions with the principles of equality and social justice of the revolution’s programme. 

     She went on to say that, following Beijing, the Cuban Government had favoured the development of actions aimed to publicize and socialize among the country’s main policy-making bodies the commitments of the Platform and the link between the implementation of measures to enforce it and the commitments to move forward the general and specific purposes of the Convention.  That dual analysis and linking of goals led to a national seminar, “The Cuban Woman from Beijing to 2000”, which raised the executive commitment of each State body in charge of implementing that sector’s policies.  Those aspects of the international commitments that were highly prized goals for the Cuban woman were explicitly incorporated into the national strategy for the promotion and advancement of women.

     Cuba's National Plan of Action to follow up Beijing, which entered force in 1997, has some 90 actions.  Those actions respond to the present needs, interests and perspectives in accordance with national priorities established in such areas as women’s employment, women’s access to decision-making, leadership or management positions, women’s image in the media, and expansion and improvement of women’s rights, as well as sexual and reproductive rights. Another favourable circumstance that had allowed Cuba to gain substantial advances in its implementation of the Convention was the country’s gradual and sustained economic recovery.  All Cuba’s efforts in that regard had been supported by the economy’s upswing, even in light of the drastic changes that occurred earlier in the decade with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of the socialist bloc in Eastern Europe.  The economic recovery allowed the Government to ensure a consistent policy favouring social programmes, particularly those that benefited women and children.

     In that regard, she continued, in the year 2000 the State had devoted 70 per cent of its budgeted current expenditures to priority social activities like education, health care, social security, housing maintenance and community services.  Hand in had with that, women’s employment had risen, particularly for professionals and technicians.  In the leadership category, the presence of women also increased.  Cuban women had provided a formidable contribution to the country’s recovery at all levels. 

     It was important to note, however, that those achievements had occurred amid growing adversity, she said.  In 1996, the Helms-Burton Act had been passed, which “legitimized the ignominy and criminal pretensions of killing an entire people by hunger and disease”.  The economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the Government of the United States was the “first impediment and most dangerous obstacle” faced by Cuban women, the people and the Government in their attempts to implement the tenets of the Platform, as well as the Convention.

     Undoubtedly, she added, it could not be said that the blockade in itself was designed and implemented with a gender perspective, but a study of its consequences had revealed the differences and magnitude of its impact on men and women.  In that regard, it was important to note that the negative effects of the blockade were shared by all members of the Cuban society:  men, women, boys and girls, as well as the elderly.  

     She went on to say that, although radical transformations had taken place, there were still a number of stereotypes that persisted in Cuban society.  Traditional sexist patterns continued to emerge with respect to the roles of men and women.  In many families, women continued to be primarily responsible for household chores, child care and caring for the sick and elderly.  Therefore, women were faced with problems that occurred in the preparation of food, procuring and administering medication and family hygiene.  So, it would not be absurd to state that the blockade was "mercilessly taking a toll" on women, who, on a daily basis, dealt with the obstacles imposed by the blockade.  The serious lack of school materials, medication and teaching supplies were only a few examples of that effect.

     While it was true that the blockade against Cuba had become harsher, she said, it was also good to acknowledge that international solidarity had increased.  Material and moral support of government and non-governmental organizations had also helped women and men of the country face those difficulties.  In fact, many of those attitudes of solidarity had been promoted and organized by women.  That had contributed, in a way, to counteract the negative effects of the blockade and put into practice projects to continue promoting the rights of women and girls in Cuba.

    Comments and Questions by Experts

     An expert said that, on the Family Code, in 1975 Cuba began to implement that Code.  Other countries in the region also adopted it as a model.  What were the reasons for the impending revision of the Family Code?  Would new crimes be included in it?  Moreover, in Cuba there was a single political party with representatives in the People’s National Assembly, as well as counsel people and mayors in different districts of the country.  She was curious to know how elections were carried out.  Was it mandatory to vote?  Was voting done in secret?  How were women elected?  By consensus?  Were there voting papers, ballots, and how were campaigns carried out?  Were they financed?  Were female candidates financed?  How did women reach the National Assembly and how were they elected to the different parliamentary groups?

     Another expert said that, since the ratification of the Convention, Cuban women had made significant progress in social and economic life.  Despite high levels of education, the access of women to managerial posts seemed relatively low.  How were they being incorporated into parliamentary positions?  Was it by a selective process?  Were special measures used to ensure women’s access to managerial positions?  Also, the report did not contain statistics on ethnic groups.  What was the representation of ethnic groups in Cuba? 
     
     The expert said that from independent sources the committee observed that the culture of "machismo" was still very much alive in Cuba.  Women, who were active outside the home, still carried out most of the domestic chores.  Had Cuba reviewed all teaching materials and had they been reprinted to include positive images of women?  How were women portrayed in the media?  Was there any ethical code on how women should be portrayed in the media?  That was a concern for a country that increasingly promoted tourism.  

     Continuing, the expert said that another area of concern was that of employment.  The wage rate was extremely low for women in the medical profession.  Was there a tendency among professional women to switch to the tourism or service sector, where wages were much higher?  What was the real situation for highly qualified women earning so little?  It seemed contradictory that women with such high educational levels earned so little money.  On the difference in wage levels between men and women, was there any visible discrimination?  Also, were child- care facilities free or were they subsidized?  Were there any provisions for women to become entrepreneurs?  Were there any micro-credit programmes?  How many women were entrepreneurs?

     Another expert said that, as for the programme of “prisoners of conscience” and the non-independence of the judiciary, the opinion expressed by the Cuban Government should be heard with more attention.  Every society had some limitation on freedom.  Cuba had passed through a severe economic crisis.  If the Government observed freedom of expression and fair trials, the interviewing of its citizens by foreigners should be allowed freely.  As for the independence of the judiciary, the actual independence of the judiciary was important.  More information should be made available to the outside.  

     On the issue of employment, the expert said that the problem of the growing disparity in income by the introduction of the “dollar economy” was most serious.  The report did not say much about that problem.  Half of the Cuban population had access to the dollar economy.  But for typical Cuban families, it seemed to be difficult to obtain daily necessities, sold almost exclusively at dollar shops.  That situation might provoke discontent.  How did the Government take measures to tackle that problem?  

     Also, he said, the proportion of women in the mixed and trading company sector was fairly low.  How difficult was it for women to find jobs in that sector as compared with the State sector?  If there were difficulties, what measures had been taken so far?  As to the high unemployment rate of young women, compared with their male counterparts, what were the specific difficulties for women in finding jobs?  

    Response by Cuba

     OLGA MIRANDA, Legal Counsellor of the Ministry of Tourism, said that, on changes to the Family Code, it was useful to recall that the Code was adopted in 1976.  At that time, it contained substantive aspects, as well as other aspects.  The Spanish Civil Code of the nineteenth century was still in force at the time it was adopted, which contained a section on family law.  Throughout the years, the Family Code had undergone amendment.  Fifteen articles of the Family Code were amended.  In 1994, further amendments were introduced.  In all, some 30 per cent of the original code had been modified over a period of 25 years.  

     All of those changes were included in previous reports to the Committee.  None of those amendments led to changes in the essential concept underlying the Family Code.  There was complete consistency.  Marriage was a voluntary union of man and woman with equal status.  None of the amendments made any change in the four fundamental articles concerning marital relations.  The report said a good deal about the Family Code because it was a sensitive subject.  Any legislative act might have implications for it.  One of the practical implications was the extent of alimony.  That was one additional reason why some legislation was still pending.

     HORTENSIA CARDOSO, Director of the “Liliana Dimitrova” Institute, said that the Cuban Family Code and Cuban Labour Code were based on the principle that there was equal pay for equal work -- the only differential in pay was a differentiation in quantity and quality of the work.

     On the “dollarization” of the Cuban economy, she said that all of the needs of families were met with the peso.  Health care and education were free of charge.  Any use of the dollar was in excess of basic necessities.  The calculation was not that easy to identify, but it was true that the peso attended to the basic needs of most families.  

     While it was true that the presence of women in the mental health and scientific sector was low, it was also true that jobs in that fields were of the highest priority for the entire country.  That sector was important not only because of the financial benefit, but also because it was a major source of higher paying jobs for women, as well as men.  Jobs in the fields of agriculture had also increased.

     RODOLFO REYES RODRIGUEZ, Bureau of Multilateral Affairs, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, said that the advancement of women was a shared effort in Cuba. The political system in Cuba was a single-party system that must be examined by looking closely at Cuba’s history.  No opinions could be drawn by comparing Cuban political life to that of other nations.  In fact, Cuba had experimented, without success, with the multi-party system.

     Voting, he continued, was not mandatory in Cuba, but the electoral process was characterized by broad participation.  Women were appointed to office in the same manner as men.  Elections in electoral districts were determined by residential criteria.  Candidates were not allowed to receive monetary contributions other than that given by the State.  Candidacies were based on merit. 

     In response to an expert’s questions about women in the work place, he said that affirmative action quotas for women were in place.  It was important to note that there were no racial minorities in Cuba.  “We are all one people”, he said.  “Cuban people, with varied interracial compositions -- African, Spanish and Asian.” It was important to note, however, that certain forms of racism persisted. All levels of society deplored this behaviour, he said.

     He said that he could assure the Committee that there were no so-called “prisoners of conscience” in Cuba.   There was no repression of people because of the way they thought.  In fact, the Government encouraged freedom of expression.  While civil policies guaranteed that freedom, the State could impose restrictions in consideration of national security.  Such limitations had occurred not just in retaliation to sympathizers with the United States embargo, but also terrorist acts and attacks on Cuba’s tourist industry, which had enjoyed the collaboration of the United States Government. Cuba had expressed no reservations to the expression of all political views.  And, if there were sympathizers within the country, they were punished through due process with a criminal code that followed international norms.

     MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, Secretary of Foreign Relations for the Federation of Cuban Women, also spoke on the Cuban political process and said that greater participation was now given to provincial municipalities to participate in the electoral system.  After a brief description of Cuba’s electoral process, she said that the presence of women had increased at the municipal level by 5 percentage points.  To overcome the disadvantages of women’s representation in the Government, she said that at many levels women in decision-making positions could propose nominees to posts at various organizational levels, so that the largest number of women could be considered.  Although men could also be nominated, priority was given to women.
     
     While women were still under-represented at the decision-making level, she continued, Cuba was among the top 10 counties in the world as far as overall posts held by women.  Cuba was not satisfied with its slow progress in that area, but would continue to work hard to support and promote women at the decision-making level.
     
     She went on to say that much research was being conducted by the Government to ensure the presence of women at senior levels.  There was a basic principle, however, which could not be breached.  That principle was that the person had to be the best-qualified person for that post.  In terms of access to education, one could see what had been done.  Women were better placed in terms of access to decision making posts. The Government had the utmost regard for the importance of the Committee’s concerns.  It should be noted that there had been a sharp increase in the proportion of women in the senior levels.

     Ms. MIRANDA, Legal Counsellor of the Ministry of Tourism, said that judges were appointed on behalf of the people.  That principle was laid down in the Cuban Constitution, which was adopted by popular referendum.  Moreover, no one could be condemned except by a competent tribunal.  Everyone accused had the right to a defence.  Violence could not be brought to bear to make people testify.  Any declaration achieved in violation of those rules was unconstitutional.  Appeals might be made to higher-level courts because of the decision of lower-level courts.  On the so-called “prisoners of conscience”, what had happened was that people tried to achieve impunity for their actions and they termed themselves “prisoners of conscience”.  An act carried out to jeopardize the independence of a State was another matter.  “Conscience” was a different thing entirely.

     SONIA BERETERVIDE, member of the National Secretariat of the Federation of Cuban Women, said that a group of temporal measures had been undertaken, including the Convention, to advance the status of women.  Affirmative action had been made of use.  Much had been done to ensure priority of access for women to employment.  As concerns access to decision-making posts, much had to do with the promotion of women to government at various levels.  The mass media had also been used to raise public awareness.  Discussion at the grass-roots level was also promoted.  Those were not isolated measures, but were being developed by the Government as part of a consistent overall strategy designed to promote the advancement of women.  

     She said that other actions were being taken to counter the persistence of sexist stereotypes, including training at various levels.  Women were included at various educational levels.  Access to cultural activities was also improving.  Schooling was also available for parents.  The Federation of Cuban Women was active in that regard.  Curricula were targeted to young girls.  A national sex education centre also worked with the Ministry of Health to prepare people for responsible parenting.  The theme of equality was stressed throughout the educational system and the work of the Federation was not just confined to women.  That was not to say that the problem of discrimination against women had been solved.  All actions were designed to speed up the process.  

     She said that machismo did still exist.  That was one of the things the revolution tackled from the earliest years.  One way of doing that was by assuring equal access to education.  Some attitudes still persisted, through language and the distribution of tasks within the family.  Cuba had not been able to update textbooks as much as it wished because of the blockade, which made paper scarce.  Although the entire population had access to education, there was a problem with access to books.  Once books had been used, they were repaired and recycled.  Teachers were trained to think critically about stereotypes.  The persistence of sexist attitudes called for constant vigilance.  There was room for improvement. Families could do a great deal to ensure that the right messages were communicated. 

     On childcare for working mothers, since 1971 a broad-based process for child-care facilities had been developed, she said.  Women’s organizations had done much to promote child-care facilities since the revolution, so that women could participate in the workforce.  By the end of the 1980s, the major concern of the Government had not just to do with the primary schooling, but its major effort -- despite economic deficiencies -- not to close a single primary school or to eliminate any of the guarantees, to ensure that women could continue to work.  It was a question not only of freeing women to work, but also of having a positive educational impact on children themselves. 

     She said that another measure was the children’s house, which was initiated in the 1990s for female agriculture workers.  The idea was to create conditions so that in certain places children’s homes could be set up, on an ad hoc basis, at the times of the sugar or tobacco harvests.  That would ensure that women could be made available to work.  The cost for the use of the facilities was 10 per cent of the wages paid to the workers concerned.

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