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Celebrating International Women’s Day in Cuba

Celebrating International Women’s Day in Cuba

I’m decidedly one of those people who doesn’t like celebrating International Women’s Day. By now I don’t know anyone who remembers Clara Zetkin on that day, not to mention the so many other women who fought for our rights. Maybe some feminists still remember. Perhaps the reason for this is that Cuban women are guaranteed most of those rights; we are the majority in the professions (in some sectors such as mine it is an absolute majority and that makes its rather boring!); some of the forms of violence are generally relegated to the privacy of the home or we simply are not aware of them. Or maybe it is because the celebrations get organized at work by men and certain subjects are never mentioned.

I am constantly being amazed that on March 8 people come up to congratulate me on being a woman. It’s a simple fact of genetics, a matter of chromosomes (XX) and I had nothing to do with it. Not by my intelligence or by any effort. I prefer to celebrate my wedding anniversary because, for better or worse, I was the one who chose my husband and the day on which we were married.

But on that day our male workmates try hard, bringing us flowers and cards, snacks (which in many instances were prepared by their wives and all they had to do was bring them to work) and beverages, generally something sweet because “women don’t drink rum,” a belief that has caused me to have certain doubts about my gender identity. During such celebrations, there is a tendency to see surprising transformations taking place: the colleague who during the rest of the year didn’t bat an eye to see you standing in the bus burdened with mounds of papers you are taking home to continue working, and who stared out the window suddenly very interested in the sidewalk, suddenly on THAT day he springs up to give you his seat. And the guy who regularly cuts in ahead of you in the cafeteria queue, claiming he has an important meeting, now brings your plate, knife and fork and glass to the table—maybe because, in honor of women, all meetings have been called off. Anyway, once a year doesn’t hurt anybody.

Meanwhile, we women allow ourselves to be loved. We accept the cards with a kiss, we look for a bottle or some container for that flower, we skimp on lunch in anticipation of the afternoon feast (the working day usually ends really early that day) and we raise our glass to ourselves while looking at the clock because we want to make use of the extra afternoon time to get dinner ready since husbands, sons and fathers are going to come home exhausted from all the festivities they have organized at their workplaces and so they won’t be able to help us out in the kitchen. And the flowers? Yeah, thanks.

As I sift through the rice, it’s a good time to think. And now, yes indeed, it’s with a glass of rum, and I mentally run through the professional results of most of my female colleagues, many of them honor students at university, the trips to the doctor with the kids, helping our sons and daughters with Grade Two math and spelling at the kitchen table or on the ironing board, the muffled pain and tears of those women keeping households going while waiting for the husbands, sons, fathers and brothers who fought at the Bay of Pigs or against the counterrevolutionaries in the Escambray, or in Ethiopia or Angola…. I think of the women who begin their “second jobs” cooking, cleaning, washing and ironing clothes, thinking of what they are going to wear tomorrow for their meeting with the Minister, of the pile of papers they have to wade through, of the long-awaited finale for that doctorate thesis, of the inventory in the shop that will wind up late at night, of the tests they still have to mark, of getting up earlier to see that really ill patient before going to their offices… It could be the effect of the rum, but I’m starting to feel like congratulating myself for being a woman and not perishing in the struggle.

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