Rise in Entrepreneurship Reveals Gender Tensions in Cuba

Cuban women

The transformation of the Cuban economic model has caused the flourishing of self-employed work (cuenta propia), understood as not employed by the state.  Self-employment [es] is not a novelty in Cuba; however, it is one of the fundamental pillars of the government's recent economic measures. But that process has revealed certain contradictions and tensions within Cuban families, and especially regarding gender relations. 

This way of producing goods and services has slowly introduced, since 2010, a great number of trades and professions. According to the Trabajadores [Workers] newspaper, the voice of the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba, there were 436,342 employed people in this sector [es] by the end of July, 2013.

According to the researcher Teresa Lara:

… la actualización del modelo económico cubano requiere de una intensidad del trabajo doméstico y de cuidado para sustituir con trabajo no remunerado los gastos que antes eran asumidos en gran medida por el Estado y para producir bienes y servicios que ya no se compran en el mercado. La reducción paulatina de los subsidios a productos normados, la disminución de comedores obreros y el recorte racional de los gastos del presupuesto estatal exigen la incorporación de todos estos gastos al ámbito del hogar.

… the updating of the Cuban economic model requires an intensity of household work and care to substitute work which is not paid for with the expenses that before were mostly taken on by the state, and to produce goods and services that cannot already be bought in the market. The slow reduction of subsidies for already-established products, the decrease of food service workers, and the rational cutting of state budget expenses demand the incorporation of all of these expenses on the home front.

It is within this context that women have entered self-employed work in Cuba. According to the Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas (National Office of Statistics), the number of women in this sector rose to 62,000 at the close of 2011.

Self-employed Cuban Workers and Enterprise

The recent founding of the Entrepreneurial Women site [es] specializing in gender and employment reinforces the need to update not only the economy, but also gender interpretations and perceptions.

In this way the application of the enterprise [en] concept is revealed as an important pillar in new gender relations in the work environment, where the subordination of women has no place, and the creation of micro-companies led by women and supportive economy is favored.

The website, managed from Cuba, is coordinated by the Servicio Informativo de la Corresponsalía en Cuba del Servicio de Noticias de la Mujer de Latinoamérica y el Caribe [es] (SEMLAC in Spanish, a women's news agency) and contains seven sections where they post newspaper jobs, results of investigations, and opinion articles. 

In addition, users can access a virtual forum, in which the following questions have been discussed: how can we change this reality ? Are women and men equal within companies? And what barriers do women face in order to take charge of the direction os small enterprises?

Within the multiple projects, Entrepreneurial Women also edits a printed bulletin that is distributed only in the country's capital at the moment, Sara Artiles reveals, one the site's managers. Additionally, she manages a discussion list. The site, the service, and the email list have the goal of creating a gender culture with this economic sector: “We're getting there little by little, but we're getting there,” Artiles declares.

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