On March 8th, it was impossible for me to walk a block in Habana without somebody greeting me with a “felicidades.” The first time a woman smiled and congratulated me, I wasn’t sure what I had done to deserve it. But later, while walking through Habana Vieja, I saw a cart of flowers and a woman selling “flores para el día de la mujer.” The congratulations directed at me had been for being a woman. Something I didn’t realize I deserved to be congratulated on before.
In my Spanish class at the University of Habana, we had discussed International Women’s day the week before. My professor had prompted us to look around and ask about the role of women in Cuban society. I asked the chef in my “casa particular” what she thought about being a woman in Cuba, in a job traditionally dominated by Cuban men. She responded that Cuban women are independent, hard-working, and generally comfortable and equal in their place in society. After class one day, I asked a professor of mine how she felt in Cuban society. She responded that she felt equal. She explained to me the plentiful maternity benefits that women receive in the workplace. Also, she said her gender identity had never hindered her in the field of academia, and she was consistently treated as an equal. I was in awe and overjoyed to hear such a positive response. Her words and those of my chef have rung true in many ways. I feel so lucky to be surrounded by intelligent, strong, independent, and vivacious Cuban women.
With all the joys of womanhood, however, there is always the other side. “Machismo,” the idea of a male-dominated society that exists in many Latin American communities, is present in Cuba. From the “piropos,” or catcalls, that men often call out on the streets, or the objectification of women, pockets of inequality persist in Cuba.
With my Resident Director, Angelica, and my roommate, Monica, we organized a women’s circle both to celebrate women in Habana and create a space for discussion of “machismo” and what it means to be a woman today. The evening was lovely and powerful. Over pieces of tres leches cake, we shared stories and advice and proposed questions to each other. The safe space inspired inspirational conversation and left me amazed by the group of international women that attended. To be a woman is never easy, but it is powerful. A great place to see this power and warmth is within the women of the world, especially those living in Habana.