Cuba is currently undergoing a series of economic reforms with the hopes of “updating” their national economy. A significant component of these reforms are cuts to public sector employment. In total 1 million civil servants are expected to loose their jobs. Unfortunately these sweeping cuts are proving the hardest on women.
READ this article: Castro’s economic reforms hitting women hard – Caribbean360.
Numbers show that women currently make up about 43% of public sector workers in Cuba. As these jobs are cut and greater employment responsibility falls on the private sector, women are finding themselves in increasingly precarious financial positions. Not only do women earn 80-85% of what men are paid, they are finding that the private sector is less than eager to hire them. In the article I’ve linked to above, women cite traditional gender mores, which have women responsible for the home and family, as obstacles to full employment. Unfortunately President Raul Castro, has remained neutral on the issue. President Castro has stated that while he does not support discrimination he also doesn’t support policies that show ‘favoritism’ towards gender.
Perhaps the one bright light in this story is self-employment. Women currently represent 30% of self-employed individuals in Cuba. Unfortunately these jobs tend to be temporary or lacking in security, but demonstrate that there is a potential entrepreneurial spirit to be capitalized on. Furthermore, women in Cuba tend to be highly educated, which strengthens the case for the potential expansion of women owned businesses.
Clearly self-employment and startups alone cannot remedy the negative impact that these economic reforms will have on women. However, an increase in women owned business should seriously be considered as part of a larger solution. Not only would these types of businesses be able to provide jobs, they would also help to counter the gender mores that prevent the full and equal employment of women. Women may not be able to entirely disengage themselves from traditional gender roles but in the creation of successful women owned businesses they can demonstrate to the wider community that they are more than capable of being a strong driving force in the Cuban economy. Setting this precedent will hopefully encourage other businesses in Cuba to hire more women.
Long-term solutions to this employment gap lay in social programs that encourage the full employment women in conjunction with the development of women owned businesses. This will require the Cuban government to recognize that policies which foster the economic growth of women are ultimately beneficial for Cuba’s economy and society as a whole. As the public sector sheds jobs, hopefully the Cuban government will experience a turnaround in its current mindset. In the meantime, global initiatives that encourage supplier diversity should be emphasized and applauded in order to support the economic development of women in Cuba.