Development & Aid, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population

CUBA: Men for Non-Violence

Dalia Acosta

HAVANA, Dec 30 2011 (IPS) - Promoting the first Men for Non-Violence platform is one of the challenges undertaken by a group of social actors who devoted November and December 2011 to the most intensive Cuban campaign ever against gender-based violence.

“This is a living, horizontal platform that fulfils the longstanding dream of uniting activism and academia – the organisations that work in the community and those of us who carry out the studies that make it possible to promote public policy,” Julio César González Pagés, coordinator of the Ibero-American Masculinity Network, told IPS.

With specialists from 30 Ibero-American countries (Latin America, Spain and Portugal) and plans to expand to 10 African countries, this academic network joined forces with the Oscar Arnulfo Romero Reflection and Solidarity Group (OAR), a Christian-based organisation named after the Salvadoran archbishop assassinated in 1980 that works with the issue of gender-based violence at the community level.

The Dec. 9 founding workshop of the Men for Non-Violence platform was attended by about 40 men from at-risk neighbourhoods, African-based religions and societies, the Fraternity of Baptist Churches, the Christian Student Movement, the Catholic Church, along with representatives of cultural, environmental and rural projects. At the same time, 16 women from the Havana municipality of Cerro joined the Non-Violence Reflection Group, and state television broadcast the second part of the soap opera “Bajo el mismo sol” (Under the Same Sun), the first of its kind to focus on domestic violence.

“Each one of us, in our own space, must confront any act of violence, exclusion or discrimination. If we can save a single woman from violence, that is important,” said Gabriel Coderch, general coordinator of the OAR, who added that “the conspiratorial silence must be broken.”

The need to raise awareness about violence against women in order to make progress in coordinating actions in all social spheres was a recurrent theme of the debates organised for Nov. 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

The fifth National Non-Violence Campaign, coordinated by the OAR, was joined by other independent activities organised as part of the worldwide campaign launched by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, “Say NO – UNiTE to End Violence against Women”.

This campaign is especially important in a country where, for years, the government and the media ignored or downplayed the phenomenon of domestic violence by comparing it to the much worse situation in many other countries, thus limiting actions to acknowledge, prevent and fight the problem, as well as adequate services for victims and survivors.

While some say the approach is still “timid,” the explicit mention of gender-based violence in the central document of the upcoming national conference of the ruling Communist Party, set for Jan. 28, could create the conditions for more in-depth, systematic multisectoral work.

“One of the challenges is to learn about the true scope of violence in Cuba, beyond crimes that are reported. There are other kinds of violence, with varying levels of seriousness, and there is little understanding of how widespread they are,” Mareelén Díaz, of the Centre for Psychological and Sociological Research, told IPS.

“The statistics help to raise awareness, treat and prevent. And the challenge is also how to confront the problem to change it. If violence is learned, it must be unlearned,” said Díaz, who is part of a group of specialists who created a methodology for addressing this issue in the Cuban context.

In the absence of statistics, a systematisation of different studies conducted by Cuban sociologist Clotilde Proveyer found that for each man killed by his spouse in Cuba, almost three women meet the same fate, and generally die in their own homes, or in the homes of their mothers or other close relatives.

Furthermore, all Cuban women who murder their partners do so as a last resort in the face of repeated violence against them, said Proveyer, a researcher with the National Group for Attention to and Prevention of Domestic Violence, created by the government in 1997.

According to the 2010 Annual Health Statistics Yearbook published by the Public Health Ministry, acts of physical aggression in 2010 resulted in the deaths of 128 women and 376 men. As is the case in other countries, men are most in danger of violence outside the home, while for women, the opposite is true.

“Changes among men need to begin within them, not based on women’s or society’s demands, because otherwise it is fictitious,” psychologist María Teresa Díaz, coordinator of the OAR project “Well-being for Men in Development,” told IPS.

In addition to the need to work with men, debates on the issue in Cuba have identified a number of challenges, including the need for continued awareness-raising efforts, a specific law on gender-based violence, and support services for victims, such as a help line.

The media, which legitimise the patriarchal system, were also a focus of discussions on gender-based violence. And a call was issued to avoid limiting prevention work to campaigns surrounding Nov. 25 every year. “The real challenge for the non-violence campaign begins in January, when nobody is talking about it,” González Pagés said.

In response to this challenge, the Ibero-American Masculinity Network and the Todas Contracorriente sociocultural project, promoted by Cuban singer Rochy Ameneiro, announced that in January a national concert tour, which will include workshops, will kick off to push for changes in the way that these issues are approached among art school students.

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