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Vol. 73/No. 12      March 30, 2009

Cuban women's leader
speaks at N.Y. campus
NEW YORK—Some 60 people heard Maritzel González, a leader of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), speak at Hunter College March 11. The Undergraduate Student Government, Hostos Puerto Rican Club, Latino Honor Society, Women's Rights Coalition, and the Young Socialists sponsored the meeting. González was in New York to attend the 53rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations.

The FMC is a mass organization founded in 1960 to advance the status of women in Cuba. “Before the revolution," González told the audience, "Cuban women could only work as teachers, nurses, caretakers, or secretaries—if you were pretty. Women were only 12 percent of the workforce, a majority of them illiterate. Today women are 46 percent of the workforce and are involved in all aspects of work.”

While women have made enormous social gains in Cuba, González explained, the FMC is still working to alleviate the burdens of childcare and household work so that women will feel free to take on more leadership roles. “In the FMC’s 176 casas (centers) throughout the island, we offer courses for young women and teach that domestic work is not only for women.”

Cuba's maternity leave laws were amended in 2001 and 2003, extending paid leave from six months to a year, and enabling couples to opt for the father to stay home with the child. The number of families choosing to have the father stay is growing, González said, "as ways of thinking are changing." If someone must stop work because a family member needs special care, the Cuban government maintains that person’s previous salary. “No one in Cuba is left to fend for themselves,” González said.

Responding to questions on domestic violence in Cuba, González stressed that the cases are few. She said while verbal abuse is a problem, violence is rarely used to resolve a conflict.

Abortion in Cuba is legal unless performed outside a medical facility. González said they are discussing how to address a declining birth rate, since more women are choosing to focus primarily on their career or their studies.

González also spoke on the case of five Cuban revolutionaries imprisoned in U.S. jails since 1998 on frame-up conspiracy charges. The FMC works with their families, who face great difficulties in visiting due to the Untied States denying them visas. Washington has prevented two of the wives from seeing their husbands since before their trial in 2000. González appealed to the audience to get out the truth of this case.

After the meeting, Kevin Mendez, a 21-year old premed student at Hunter, said, “I was impressed to hear the difference in conditions of women since the revolution, as well as the medical programs the Cubans carry out in Africa. It’s different than what’s taught in school about Cuba—a dictatorship with no rights, where women are treated worse. It’s ironic that the U.S. is holding Cuban prisoners who can’t even see their wives.”

Jessie Santos, 33, a Romance Language major, said it was her first time hearing from someone from Cuba. “You always only see the poverty and negative sides of Cuba. Communism is always labeled bad. Tonight was an opportunity to get the goods.”
Related articles:
Cuban 5 High Court appeal gains international support
Defender of travel to Cuba fights gov't probe
Cuban government replaces 10 high officials
Cuba’s revolutionary leadership
U.S. Treasury Dep’t fines company over business with Cuba  
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