Caregiving exacerbates the burden for women in Cuba
Caregiving exacerbates the burden for women in Cuba
SUNDAY, 24 AUGUST 2014 19:28
HAVANA, Cuba–Hortensia Ramírez feels like she needs more hands to care
for her 78-year-old mother, who suffers from arteriosclerosis, do the
housework, and make homemade baked goods which she sells to support her
She starts her day at 6:00am, putting the sheets that her mother wet
during the night-time to soak, before preparing the dough for the
pastries and making lunch for her two sons; one works in computers and
the other is in secondary school.
“Two years ago I quit my job as a nurse because my mother couldn’t be
alone, and although I have a brother who helps with the expenses, I
provide the day-to-day care,” the 57-year-old, who separated from her
second partner shortly before her mother started to need round-the-clock
care, told IPS.
“Since then my life has been reduced to taking care of her, but it’s
more and more complicated to put food on the table and to get her
medication – and don’t even mention disposable diapers on my limited
income…Well, let’s just say I end my day exhausted.”
Like the majority of middle-aged Cuban women, Ramírez feels the burden
of domestic responsibilities and family care, exacerbated by economic
hardship after more than 20 years of crisis in this socialist country.
The burden of caretaking traditionally falls to women, which sustains
gender inequalities and makes women vulnerable to the reforms undertaken
by the government of Raúl Castro since 2008, aimed at boosting
productivity and the efficiency of the economy, but without parallel
The reduction of the number of boarding schools where students combine
learning with agricultural work in rural areas, the closure of workplace
cafeterias, and cutbacks in the budget for social assistance have left
families on their own in areas where they used to receive support from
the state, and which affect, above all, the female half of the
population of 11.2 million.
“The state is passing part of the burden of caregiving and healthcare
and education to families, but economic development should take into
account the contributions made by families,” economist Teresa Lara told IPS.
If no one cooks, takes care of the collective hygiene, helps children
with homework or cares for older adults and the ill, then the workforce
won’t grow, the expert said.
But these tasks, which almost always fall to women, remain invisible and
Cuban women dedicate 71 percent of their working hours to unpaid
domestic work, according to the only Time Use Survey published until
now, carried out in 2002 by the National Office of Statistics and
The study, whose results remain valid today according to experts, found
that for every 100 hours of work by men, women worked 120, many of them
multitasking – cooking, cleaning, washing and caring for children.
Based on those tendencies, Lara estimates that unremunerated domestic
work and caregiving would be equivalent to 20 percent of GDP – a larger
proportion than manufacturing.
And that percentage could be even higher today given the complexity of
daily life in Cuba, the economist said.
Without laundries, dry cleaning services, industries that produce
precooked foods or other services that ease domestic tasks at affordable
prices, Cuban families have to redouble their efforts to meet household
To that is added the rundown conditions of homes for the elderly and
public daycare centres and the reduction of the state budget for social
assistance, from 656 million dollars in 2008 to 262 million in 2013,
according to the national statistics office (ONEI).
Women often end up stuck in lower level jobs, or dropping out of the job
market altogether, because of the burden of caretaking for children, the
ill or the elderly, on top of the other household duties.
Many women find it hard to cope financially with the burden of
caregiving, in a country where the average monthly salary is 20 dollars
a month while the minimum amount that a family needs is three times
that, even with subsidised prices for some food items and services.
ONEI statistics show that the female unemployment rate rose from two
percent in 2008 to 3.5 percent in 2013, parallel to the drastic pruning
of the government payroll, which could soon bring the number of people
left without a job up to one million.
Although the number of areas where private enterprise or self-employment
is permitted was expanded, they do not guarantee social security
coverage. Nor do they tap into the expertise accumulated by women, who
make up over 65 percent of the professional and technical workforce in
this Caribbean island nation.
Sociologist Magela Romero says that burdening women with the social role
of caretaker buttresses the unequal power relations between the genders,
with economic, emotional, psychological and sexual consequences for women.
A qualitative study of 80 women from Havana carried out by the
university professor in 2010, which IPS saw, concluded that a number of
those interviewed were caught up in an endless cycle of caregiving:
after they completed their studies they spent the rest of their lives
raising children and taking care of parents, parents-in-law,
grandparents, grandchildren, spouses and other family members.
This situation is especially complex in a country with an aging
demographic, where 18 percent of the population is over 60 and 40
percent of households include someone over that age.
Adriana Díaz, an accountant, was only able to work in her profession for
less than a decade.
“First my kids were born, and I raised them. Then I got divorced and I
went back to work for four years, which were the best years of my life.
But when my mother fell seriously ill, I quit again,” the 54-year-old
Nearly nine years taking care of her mother round the clock left Díaz
with a bad back and cardiovascular problems. Besides the fact that she
is entirely dependent on her children, who moved abroad.
Social researcher María del Carmen Zabala says the gender gaps in
employment that are a by-product of the fact that the responsibility for
care-giving falls almost exclusively on women require policies that
specifically address women, in line with the changes currently underway
in the country.
Citing the rise in the proportion of female-headed households to 45
percent, according to the 2012 Census on Population and Housing, Zabala
said specific policies targeting these families are needed, because they
are especially vulnerable.
Source: The Daily Herald -Caregiving exacerbates the burden for women in