It can be said that in Cuba there is one rule: Women Rule. The role of women in Cuban society as compared to the United States shows that women in Cuba hold significantly more power than their neighbors 90 miles to the north. From the moment we touched down at Jose Martin International Airport, it was apparent that gender distinctions in employment are more limited in Cuba than the United States. For example, luggage carriers, a traditionally male job in the United States, is a position held by many women. Women holding traditional male roles did not just extend to blue-collar jobs, many professional positions are held by women. While in Cuba we had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Quintana, the president of Cuba’s Bar Association, who was a woman. When I talked to her about gender-based discrimination, she gave me a puzzled look and then laughed at my inquiry. Her response made me think about how I personally have viewed the limitations of women. As a young girl, I was always told that as a woman I would face gender-based discrimination in the workplace, thus I am always aware of it. These limitation, however, are created entirely out of fiction and it seems as thought the Cuban culture has evolved to the point of looking past the distinctions between men and women and has focused on individual ability based on the fact that we are all human.
One of the most power political groups in Cuba is the Federación de Mujeres Cubanas of the Federation of Cuban Women. (“FCM”) This group is 3 million strong and warrants respect from high-ranking State officials. The FMC is so powerful, their annual meetings attract such high ranking officials like the President of Cuba, Raul Castro. The power of women is also extended to the University setting. Our group had the opportunity to visit the University of Havana during our trip. During our excursion to the University, there are more female students than men. This fact demonstrates that the current trend of women having significant power will not be changing anytime soon as women continue to educate themselves to hold influential positions.
The form of a woman has special significance in much of the artwork in Cuba. While in an open market located in Havana there were many images depicting semi-erotic poses of women. Even though these would make most Americans uncomfortable, because women are so highly respected in Cuba, it is completely normal. The celebration of the female anatomy even extends to the state uniforms of women. These outfits would never be acceptable within the American Professional world, but since the Cuban culture is so respectful and appreciative of women, it has been completely normal to incorporate these values into state uniforms.
Finally, the most captivating characteristic that Cuban women have is the confidence they exude. Everywhere we went all of the women seemed so confident and proud – always walking with a swagger absent in the United States. I could not help but feel a little bit of jealousy because in the United States, such confidence is rare and usually only found in celebrities or larger than life personalities. In reflection, I believe that the Cuban culture has done a much better job at balancing the acceptance of actual gender differences while valuing individual contribution without regard to gender. Thus, women in Cuba enjoy living in a culture that celebrates those gender differences as well as having the opportunity to succeed based on their own individual ability.
My experience in Cuba and my opportunity to observe the women of the Cuban culture has made me question the gender norms in the United States. One thought that has continually crossed my mind is how the women in Cuba gain such confidence. In answering this question, I have continually returned to the thought that little girls growing up in Cuba are not influenced by the media to compare themselves to other women, nor are they bombarded with images of “what they are supposed to be.” Women in Cuba are accepted for who they are as both a woman and the individual contributions they provide to society. I hope that one day, culture of the United States will change to no longer see fictional gender distinctions and move towards instilling confidence and pride in our little girls.