BY CINDY DOMINGO
In the recently released book, “Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice,” co-author, African American activist and scholar Loretta Ross, states that “Our (women of color) ability to control what happens to our bodies is constantly challenged by poverty, racism, environmental degradation, sexism, homophobia, and injustice in the United States.” Thus, lays the difference between those organizations like NAPAWF and other mainstream women’s organizations that focus solely on the narrow issue of choice rather than a broader view of the oppressions that affect a women’s reproductive health including the right to choose. This view is known as reproductive justice and it emphasizes the relationship of reproductive rights to human rights and economics justice. Reproductive justice is a major focus of NAPAWF’s work nationally and locally.
While the women’s movement in the United States is still struggling over the concept of reproductive justice and the implications for building a movement for women’s rights, women in Cuba have made decisive gains in integrating this perspective at every level of their government structures and, thus, in the every day lives of Cuban women and their families. Reproductive justice is tied with the women’s struggle for equality. For the Cubans, that means equal access to education, healthcare, employment opportunities, food, childcare and employment opportunities — human rights that Cubans were denied prior to the Cuban revolution.
Shortly after the Cuban revolution in 1959, the government embarked on a massive literacy campaign that resulted in 100,000 literary trainers into the countryside and helped re-train the 63,000 live-in female domestic workers. The Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), a non-governmental organization that now counts 86 percent of women and girls over 14 years old as members, was formed in part to lead in that successful campaign as well as the initiative to bring free healthcare to its people. Within two years, illiteracy was eradicated. Today, Cuba has a literacy rate of 98 percent and has one of the best free healthcare systems based on a system of prevention and incorporates non-traditional treatments, from a Western perspective, including acupuncture, massage, homeopathy and flower aroma therapy. Cuba has felt so strongly about healthcare as a human right that it continues to export and train medical personnel all over Latin and Central American, Caribbean and Africa. Recently, Cuba offered to send 1,100 doctors and medical personnel equipped with medical supplies to the United States to assist with the catastrophe caused by hurricane Katrina.
As part of this healthcare system, Cuban women have the right to complete reproductive healthcare including a more comprehensive approach to “choice.” Women have the right to abortion on demand, but if the choice is to have the baby, the state has made provisions to support that right. In 2004, the Cuban Constitution was amended to give women and men the right to one year of paid maternity leave with the provision that one can return to their job or an equivalent job at the end of that year. Pregnant women are given extra food to ensure healthy mothers and babies and children are given extra allotments of milk. Doctors keep track of every pregnant woman and make house calls if they forget their medical appointments. Cuba’s infant mortality at 5.8 per 1,000 is the lowest in all of Latin America. (The United States has an infant mortality rage of 7 per 1,000.)
Cuba’s constitution has gone through a number of revisions to ensure the full participation of women and to tear down the historical barriers towards equality in Cuban society. In 1975 the Family Code was adopted making it law that men and women must share equally in housework and childcare in the home. The Constitution also forbids any discrimination in housing, education, access to healthcare, employment or other services based on gender and race. Class was completely abolished as a result of the revolution.
The FMC formed the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) to develop programs and conduct education focusing on sexuality as part of healthy human development. CENESEX has major centers throughout Cuba and provides holistic, scientific and sexually accurate materials for school aged children on a variety of issues including birth control, sexuality, AIDS and abortion.
In the many times that I have visited Cuba, I have had the opportunity to see what a society looks like when women are truly empowered. This empowerment has resulted in the winning of a reproductive justice agenda for Cuban women using a holistic strategy tackling the “isms” that have traditionally oppressed women. I know now that when the power and imagination of women are unleashed it propels the development of democracy and vice versa. It is for those reasons that the United States has made it almost impossible to visit Cuba and why we must lift the 45 years old U.S. blockade against Cuba that prevents both economic trade between our countries and the development of a healthy people to people relationship.
The Seattle Chapter of NAPAWF is dedicated to forging a grassroots progressive movement for social and economic justice and the political empowerment of Asian and Pacific Islander women and girls. NAPAWF unites our diverse communities through organizing, education, and advocacy. Please check our Seattle Chapter website at www.napawf.org for more information. If you would like to get involved in NAPAWF, send us an email, [email protected] or sign up for our list serve [email protected] to receive up to date information about meetings, events, and postings. Our mailing address is NAPAWF Seattle Chapter P.O. Box 14115, Seattle, WA 98104