Rural Women – Between Furrow And Domestic Labors
Rural Women: Between Furrow And Domestic Labors / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Alquizar (Artemisa), 30 January 2017 –In
Alquízar the red earth covers everything with a reddish layer. To Gladys
Montero that crimson powder gets into the wrinkles of the face. “I come
from the deep field,” she warns. In Cuba, 21% of women live in rural
areas, wake up when the rooster crows and make their lives at the rhythm
marked by the crops.
Formerly praised as a “loving guajira,” drawn in a bucolic environment
or photographed with her starving children, the peasant woman no longer
resembles any of these stereotypes. However, her peculiarities are
scarcely heard today amidst the bustle of urban centers and macho
Gladys is close to turning 70 and carries the memories of her childhood
as “fresh as a lettuce.” As a child, she helped her parents to plant
“corn, beans and squash.” She only finished the eighth grade, although
she detects with a glance whether a furrow was planted with dedication
Although in 2013 more than 142,300 women worked in the fields of the
island, in the popular imagination these tasks remain “a thing of
men.” The female workforce in the agricultural sector represents 19.2%
of the total workers and only 17.3% of the management positions in this
area are occupied by them.
Inside the houses the picture is totally different. 56% of rural women
are engaged in household chores. Statistics from the Ministry of
Agriculture indicate that for every 100 men with stable employment in
the countryside, there are scarcely 30 women.
As a young woman, Gladys also cut cane, hard work that is scary even for
many men. “I gave birth to my first child very young and shortly after
the second one came,” she recalls. When the children grew up, her mother
became ill and she took care of her until the end of her days.
The majority of her neighbors and relatives have gone through a similar
situation. Hundreds of miles from the village of Artemisa, where Gladys
lives, Rosa María also lives a life in front of the fire in Florida,
Camagüey. “There are nights when I go to bed, everything hurts and my
feet are very swollen.”
The main problems that both must overcome each day are linked to the
energy source with which they process food, the water supply, domestic
violence and economic difficulties. None have a hobby, they hardly
participate in social activities nor have they gone to the movies in the
last ten years.
The qualitative study, Fifty Voices And Faces Of Cuban Peasant Leaders,
sponsored by OXFAM-Canada and the Government of Andalusia, revealed that
the empowerment of rural women is failing on the overload of domestic
responsibilities and childcare, along with insufficient technical
preparation and sexist stereotypes, among other factors.
Across the country, females devote 71% of their working hours to unpaid
domestic work, according to a 2002 Time Use Survey. For every 100 hours
of men’s work, women perform 120, most of them simultaneous
activities. A situation that is aggravated in the towns and villages.
Specialist Mavis Álvarez Licea believes that “a still significant
majority of rural men behave with a strong hegemonic masculinity.” While
women “are still subjected to male power, perhaps not in the same degree
and condition as their predecessors but, overtly or openly, they are
repressed and discriminated against.”
The case of Teresa González is different. From the age of 17 she began
to keep the accounts at the José Antonio Echevarría credit and service
cooperative at Artemisa. Today she holds the presidency. “I spent the
day doing the accounts and at first the men who were in the field
thought that this was not work,” she recalls. Over time she has made
everyone respect her work.
In 2008, the government of Raúl Castro implemented a series of measures
to revive agricultural production. Among them was the delivery of idle
land in a form of leasing known as usufruct, under Decrees-Laws 259 and
300, but according to figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, four
years after the start of the process, of the 171,237 beneficiaries, only
9.5% were women.
Men continue to have property control over agricultural resources such
as land, water, inputs and credits, and make most of the decisions. Of
women, only 12,102 are landowners, for 11% of all landowners.
The Cuban authorities favor the figures comparing the situation between
men and women in terms of access to health, education, employment and
administrative positions. But little is published about the gender wage
differences and the contrasts of opportunities, especially those linked
to regional location.
In the middle of a furrow where she picks tomatoes, Marisol says she
always has something to do. “After this comes the harvesting of garlic
that pays better,” she tells 14ymedio. Her husband prefers to have her
“in the house all day polishing on the floor,” but economic constraints
have forced him to accept that she works in agriculture.
At her side, under the inclement sun, is Mirta, who, every day after
completing the tasks of reaping and arriving at her modest house,
carries the water from a nearby irrigation channel to bathe, wash
clothes and cook. “We do not have a television because the current comes
to us from a ‘clothesline’ (an informal wire run off someone else’s
line) and the voltage is very low.”
She has not been able to convince her children to stay in that house
surrounded by fields and pigsties. Her son decided to remain in the
military when he finished his military service and her daughter married
a man who “took her to Havana.”
Editorial Note: This report was made with the support of Howard G Buffet
Fund for Women Journalists of the International Women’s Media Foundation.
Source: Rural Women: Between Furrow And Domestic Labors / 14ymedio,
Zunilda Mata – Translating Cuba –