Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women considers report of Cuba

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination 
Against Women

9 July 2013

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined seventh and eighth periodic report of Cuba on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report, Maria Esther Reus, Minister of Justice of Cuba and Head of the delegation, said that Cuban women were guaranteed equality under the Constitution, though the implementation of all human rights was impeded by the economic blockade on the country.  Cuba was reworking many of its legal, economic and social systems and this was a consultative process in which women had been clearly involved.  There were high levels of female participation in employment, education and the judiciary, with women completing degree courses in a range of traditional and non-traditional subjects.  A recent seminar had been held which considered and recommitted Cuba to the Convention, making 49 new recommendations to address current challenges.  Women worked in agriculture, owned their own lands, and were able to engage in employment as maternity services were freely available, as were social protection and family planning services.  Stereotypes and patriarchal attitudes needed to be addressed, as well as the lack of statistics to specifically analyse and address issues for women.
During the discussion, Committee Experts raised several issues of concern, including the lack of a specific description of discrimination in the Constitution and legislation on violence against women.  A recent study claimed there was no discrimination in the country and Experts wondered how this conclusion was drawn and which forms of discrimination it considered.  The connection between the Government and civil society was questioned and Experts inquired how independent institutions could engage with Government processes when they spoke on issues of gender.  Prostitution was also discussed and Experts raised questions about the extent of the problem and the nature of the assistance and orientation offered to former sex workers.  The representation of women was also raised along with questions about the potential for the over-feminisation of the education system, the lack of women in managerial positions in higher education, and quotas for political participation.  The rights of women in relation to land ownership and divorce were also addressed. 

In concluding remarks, Ms. Reus said that the frank, open and instructive dialogue helped Cuba remove obstacles to the realization of the Convention and reiterated Cuba’s firm commitment to the Convention and its permanent willingness to hear the opinions of the Committee.

Also in concluding remarks, Nicole Ameline, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue, and hoped that legislative reform would provide an opportunity to shed light on progress made.  Ms. Ameline hoped that the necessary measures would be taken on all the topics discussed. 

The delegation of Cuba consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Federation of Cuban Women, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Assembly of People's Power, Editorial de la mujer (Women’s Publishing House), the People's Supreme Court, the Permanent Mission of Cuba to the United Nations Office at Geneva, and the National Office of Information and Statistics.

The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday 10 July, at 10 a.m., to begin its consideration of the combined initial and second periodic report of Afghanistan (CEDAW/C/AFG/1-2).

Report of Cuba

The combined seventh and eighth periodic report of Cuba can be read here: (CEDAW/C/CUB/7-8). 

Presentation of the Report

MARIA ESTHER REUS, Minister of Justice of Cuba and Head of the Delegation, introducing the report (CEDAW/C/CUB/7-8), said that Cuban legislation explicitly guaranteed gender equality.  This was reinforced by many efforts and programmes and despite the economic blockade, which had an impact on many elements of life, and extreme climate events.  The Cuban Parliament had adopted guidelines to update the Cuban economic and social model on the basis of public consensus in which women were fully involved.  New norms addressed rights in relation to cooperatives, employment and land use.  Progress continued on the fine-tuning of the legal system and the overturning of patriarchal stereotypes.  A recent seminar had been a good opportunity to analyse the commitment to the Convention.  The preceding study had also been important to update Cuba’s Action Plan, contributing with 49 recommendations addressing current challenges.  The elections in 2013 saw the highest ever number of women, 48.86 per cent, holding seats.  In addition, more than half of the country’s provinces and over one third of the Ministries were now led by women.  Higher levels of women enrolment in universities had been seen and this had been translated into the professional sector.  More women had taken non-traditional courses and over half of the staff in higher education facilities was female. 

In the judiciary, over three-quarters of district attorneys and professional judges were women.  Cuban men and women received equal wages.  Maternity leave was guaranteed, as was social protection for one year following childbirth.  Healthcare provision was free and widespread.  Programmes were being rolled out to guarantee the participation of both parents in family care.  Sexual and reproductive rights, including the right to abortion, were guaranteed and both women and men enjoyed specialised family planning services and access to contraception.  Around 20 per cent of women worked in the agricultural and livestock sectors and made up just under half of the leaders in the National Association of Small Farmers.  More than 17,000 women had been granted full ownership of land.  Women were also involved in disaster prevention and their participation in projects of international cooperation had been outstanding.  Measures to address women’s needs, such as the elimination of stereotypes and inequalities and the combat against all forms of violence, should continue to be adopted.  Statistics should be improved for a better analysis of the causes of issues affecting women.  The limited problem of prostitution also needed to be tackled. 

Cuba had submitted the ratification instruments of the protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, and the protocol against the smuggling of migrants.  This provided a further illustration of the Cuban will to fully realise human rights. 

Questions by Experts

Experts noted that there was no description of discrimination, direct or indirect, in the Cuban Constitution.  According to the report, a study into discrimination in Cuba had found no scientific evidence to support the concept in the country; did this mean that there was no discrimination against women in Cuba?  What about instances of violence against women?  This was clearly a form of discrimination.  The report also noted issues related to data collection.  What was being done to raise awareness of indirect discrimination in Cuba and why was there no action plan to implement the Convention more effectively?  Did Cuba have plans to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention? Would Parliament be involved in the implementation of the concluding comments from the Committee? 

How were so many activities against discrimination and for equality carried out and how were they measured?  Was there data available on the situation of women with disabilities or of African descent?  Experts also inquired about the availability of training for judges and noted the need for an integrated policy on violence to ensure consistent sentences.  Were funds available for raising awareness regarding gender equality?  What was the budget for gender-equality activities?  Could a copy of the national action plan arising from the Beijing Platform be provided to the Committee?

Experts noted with concern that many of measures undertaken were temporary, while successful measures needed to be grounded in permanent arrangements.  The report indicated that there was no need for specific norms to deal with violence, though many other countries in the region had established them.  What were the main concerns and problems of Cuban women who attended family planning and training centres?  Did women of limited means have access to legal services?  Under what mechanisms were complaints of violence against vulnerable women recorded?  What was the process for therapy offered to prostitutes, as indicated in the report?  Experts also requested the delegation to provide additional information on this issue.
Experts also wondered whether a specific law on trafficking and support for victims would be established.  Was there any regional cooperation on this issue? 

Response by Delegation

There was currently no description of discrimination in the Cuban Constitution but it would be considered and included in the updated Family Code, which would be the result of a consultative agenda.  Such a study on discrimination had been just a single initiative based on correspondence from women received by Ministries, and further work might be carried out in the future.  The report concluded that gender policies did not always identify situations where women could be affected and highlighted the need for better statistics.  Efforts to combat discrimination had been noteworthy but there was a need to look at historical and cultural stereotypes and behaviours. 

Cuba’s national mechanism worked with the precepts of the Convention and in accordance with the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action.  The implementation of all recommendations from the Committee was considered, and compared with the ideas in the national plan which derived from the Beijing Platform.  The State was responsible for advancing the situation of women but the National Federation for Women allowed them to transmit their concerns to policymakers and the Federation also observed the appropriate allocation of funds. 

Reforms to family, labour and criminal laws sought to improve the situation of women in relation to violence, and the State was obviously at the centre of this.  The process of ratification of international treaties had been completed and the consideration of the Optional Protocol of the Convention was underway.  While direct communication procedures with international bodies on individual cases had not been agreed, these could be of value.  National bodies could address situations which might give rise to such communications.  The parliamentary committee on women and young children had taken part in the compilation of the report and had analysed the Convention itself, calling ministers to answer questions accordingly.  They also worked on the dissemination of the final product. 

There were no significant discrepancies in the infant or maternal mortality rates of women of different descent.  The level of political participation and decision making, however, was lower for women of African descent even though progress had been made.  A decree was in place to improve information gathering and a gender dimension had been included in these processes.  Judicial training schools in each province ensured that legal professionals were well-informed. 

A written submission would be offered in relation to the connection between the Convention and the Beijing Platform.  Investigations and research on the extent of discrimination were not focused on the judiciary but offered a general picture and this could also be provided. 

Concerning equal opportunities, the appointment to a decision-making post required that both a man and a woman were put forward and if they were matched the woman should be appointed.  Women also received preference in the receipt of loans for home repairs.  There was no specific legislation on violence against women but these acts received proper attention from wider laws.  All municipalities had specialist judges on family law and criminal law also looked at threats and ill-treatment.  A legislative process was underway to improve rules in all these areas. 

Support was available through a number of avenues, both State and society-based, for victims of violence.  Heavy penalties were imposed on persons involved in pimping.  With regards to therapy offered to former prostitutes, as detailed in the report, rehabilitation in specialised centres was based on education and support for reorientation and reintegration into useful work.  Free legal services were available for all Cuban citizens in legal proceedings.  Formal instruments might be considered in the future to monitor Cuba’s obligations.  Regarding trafficking, work had already been done with other countries regionally and sub-regionally. 

Questions by Experts

The high level of representation of women in the Cuban Government was praiseworthy, but were there any measures planned to bring women into industries where they were underrepresented, such as metallurgy?  Had the goal of 50/50 representation of women in Government been achieved?  Experts noted that there were 28 women working in the diplomatic service, which roles did they have?  What training was offered to women to further increase their participation?  An Expert also inquired about plans for improving gender balance in political life, suggesting that quotas could be at least considered. 

If a Cuban woman married a foreign spouse, was she able to retain her nationality and could she then transmit her nationality to her husband or children?  Was it possible for Cuban women to transmit their nationality to foreign husbands? 

Was data available on the situation of women of African descent, for example, in higher education?  What was the male to female ratio in the teaching profession?  Was it a problem for children to find male role models in the classroom?  There was some ambiguity in the figures concerning senior roles held by women in education, could this be clarified?  Was it possible to provide specific information on programmes providing education about violence for young people?  How were schools handling instances of teenage pregnancy?  An Expert asked why there was a large difference between the numbers of male and female children in special schools.  How was teaching dealing with gender roles and did this reinforce rather than challenge stereotypes? 

Experts inquired whether men could receive education to become involved in care.  The increasing numbers of women in agriculture was noted as a positive development, however, was this in fact a potential burden for women in the future?  Were there concrete examples comparing the work of men and women to ensure women were properly compensated?  Experience suggested that specific rules and procedures were needed to tackle sexual harassment, were these being considered?  What was the practice in relation to paternity leave?   Was there any data available on access to health rates by ethnicity?  Was the low fertility rate a matter for discussion and debate in Cuba?

Response by Delegation

In response to these questions and comments and others, the delegation of Cuba said that in order to remove discrimination it was important to change mindsets.  Women were able to serve in leadership positions and there were 28 female ambassadors.  The State was looking at the issue of participation in political life and measures favouring the appointment of women to decision-making posts, as mentioned earlier, were temporary.    

Cuban nationality could be acquired by birth or naturalisation and no marriage or dissolution of marriage could change this.  Cuban citizens were those born in the national territory.  Those born abroad to Cuban citizens, current or former, could go through the appropriate channels to claim their nationality.  When a Cuban woman married a foreign man he was able to apply for Cuban nationality, depending on the rules of his existing nationality.  The process was exactly the same in the reverse situation. 

The delegation would check that the figures contained in the report had not been lost in translation.  Access to training for teachers was available to all appropriate candidates and an education system based on countering impunity and violence was in place.  The majority of students and teachers were women.  Abortion was among the rights enjoyed by Cuban women.  It was decriminalised in the criminal code, except if practised against a woman’s will or in an inappropriate setting, and was not seen as an alternative to birth control measures as all other family planning services were also offered.  Education was mandatory in Cuba and there were large numbers of women of African descent in teaching posts.  The number of men taking teaching posts had increased significantly in recent years.

Special schools addressed different types of behaviour and girls were more likely to behave in a socially acceptable manner, further explanation could be provided on this.  Gender roles were explained to children from a theoretical point of view and this was reinforced through games and other activities.  Women often undertook teaching training, a path leading to decision making in teacher training schools.  In the more general education faculties, although the number of rectors was lower, there were many serving as deputy rectors and deans, thereby working in management posts.  

Independent work was still protected under the law and social benefits were in place to cover these new forms of employment.  Regarding the wage system, the evaluation of work was drawn up with reference to international methodologies and took into account overall hierarchies.  Although there was no specific law on sexual harassment, women had access to various mechanisms and procedures.  Men could request a leave absence to take care of a new child, though there were still pervading stereotypes.  Women had always played a role in agriculture, although the number of women working in the field had increased significantly.  Rural women enjoyed the same rights as women in cities and received the same benefits as men, such as loans.  Ensuring citizens were aware of their rights was a priority.  There were a number of providers of assisted reproduction methods and the fertility issue was recognised.  No ethnicity-disaggregated data was on access to health.

Questions by Experts

Experts also requested additional information on sexual harassment and asked whether there were any preventative measures in place to prevent young female athletes from sexual abuse? 

How many rural women had benefitted from training?  How could women inherit land and were there criteria as to which women were granted land ownership?  Could a woman who did not own land get access to credit or did banks in Cuba require a mortgage to guarantee lending?  If so, this put women at a disadvantage.  Were there policies in place to support single parents? 

Experts also inquired about pension funds, from which sources were they drawn?  How was social security for older women without a long work history managed?    Were the needs of vulnerable women, such as lesbians and persons with disabilities, addressed? 

It was also noted that better disaggregated data was needed. 

Response by Delegation

The delegation noted that no allegations of sexual harassment had been received and a national labour office worked with the Ministry of Justice on this issue.  There was a state policy on tackling sexual harassment and officials in the field of sport were trained in the principles and values of non-discrimination. 

The social welfare fund came from three sources and was well-supplied.  Cuba had considered social protection carefully and any person reaching the age of retirement would receive a pension after this age. 

There were various forms of land ownership in Cuba and when a person died their heir could inherit the State-owned but leased land irrespective of gender.   Access to technical support and seed banks was universal and there were a number of possibilities for women to access credit.  Physical collateral was not required to apply for loans and other persons could act as guarantors.

Women could also, in some situations, apply for subsidies rather than loans to meet their material needs.  Cuba had high levels of divorce and recent surveys showed a high rate of single-headed households.

There was equal access to education and to all other rights for homosexuals and programmes were in place to root out incidents of homophobia. 

Questions by Experts
The report showed that women’s housework was treated as a non-financial contribution to the household in cases of divorce.  Were intangible assets such as pension rights split following divorce?  Experts noted that the new Family Code was supposed to have precedence over the definition of discrimination against women laid out in the Convention and requested more information in this regard. 

Although same-sex marriages were not possible, de facto relationships were recognised.  Could same-sex partnerships benefit from these considerations? 

Experts inquired about the grounds for special authorisation for marriage for 14 year-old girls, which was possible under Cuban law.  Did family courts make these decisions?  Why had Cuba proposed the young age of 14 for marriage and what had the consequences of such a marriage been?

What were the arrangements for child support or spousal payments after a divorce?  Were there funds available to replace a defaulting parent when child support was not received? 

Response by the Delegation

A special authorisation for marriage could be given by parents, adoptive or otherwise, though a court may evaluate these elements.  The marriage required special reasons and these could be determined by the parents of the individuals making the request.  It was sometimes considered more convenient for a child to be born in a formalised and legal arrangement in marriage.  This was, however, exceptional, and the age of marriage had been carefully looked at and all matters related to protection of minors were being considered as part of general reform of legislation.

The Family Code laid out that all common goods in the marriage were joint property and upon dissolution these would be split.  Special protection was given to mothers left with children and compliance with parental responsibilities was required, even in cases of divorce.  The law ensured that child support payments were made, and coercive measures may be used to ensure compliance.  If it was impossible for maintenance to be paid then social assistance could be offered.    

The National Centre for Sex Education aimed at targeting cultural barriers and raising awareness regarding same-sex relationships. 

Concluding Remarks

MARIA ESTHER REUS, Minister of Justice of Cuba and Head of the Delegation, expressed gratitude for the work done and said the frank, open and instructive dialogue helped Cuba remove obstacles to the realization of the Convention.  The work of the Experts in producing general recommendations was also welcome.  Cuba had a firm commitment to the Convention and a permanent willingness to hear the opinions of the Committee as part of their work to remove discrimination against women.

NICOLE AMELINE, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue and hoped that legislative reform would provide an opportunity to shed light on progress made.  Ms. Ameline hoped that the necessary measures would be taken on all the topics discussed. 


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