Dear Inalvis, could you tell us a little about yourself and what led you to work on gender issues? How has your career lead you to your current position in UNDP Cuba?
I was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1968. I cannot say to have been fully aware of my inclination to work on gender equality, but when I look back at my commitment to work in this area, I find important links to gender equality in the many milestones in my personal and professional life. . I am the eldest daughter of a couple that decided to start a family very early, and they had a girl and 4 boys, making sure that I wouldn’t be alone. My father, originally a peasant, worked long hours and days; my mother, from an urban family, who only finished primary school, needed and wanted to work "on the street" but could not get a job, it was the 70s and stereotypes were abound in each interview she attended: "5 children!”, “You've never worked before?”, "You will be notified if selected." So I had to grow up quickly; with my grandmother and myself, taking the night shift to take care of my brothers, so that my mom could take advantage of the opportunities that the country offered - usually to women. We knew that for her to join the wage labor force she had to study harder and be better than many men; she also joined day courses sponsored by the Women's Federation. The strategy worked, her professional development was admirable and we saw it as a great female triumph.
At the same time, I had the belief that my student and professional development had to demonstrate the value of being a woman and be aware of all the doors that were opening for us, women. I was one of the many student leaders who, as children and young women, talked about our differences with boys, their dedication to sports, to recreation ... and although men were the majority among the country's leaders they were less represented in governing schools. Upon the completion of my university studies in Psychology, where the objective had been ‘gender analysis’ and my thesis noted the different behaviors of women and men in the work groups and tried very lightly to understand why, I was selected to work as a young researcher in a center of the Academy of Sciences of Cuba, where I formed a group on “Family Studies” in order to deepen my studies in the differences between men and women. Later, I took an interest in higher studies and applied to the Interdisciplinary International Fellowship Course in Population and Sustainable Development, for which I was selected, and my thesis on women and gender further defined my career focus.
The most important phase of my career came when the Center for Women's Studies of the Federation of Cuban Women was created; I was one of its founders and researcher. I came to know the gender policy very closely and its different levels of impact, seeing many solutions to problems needed for families and women and had the opportunity to meet and learn from exceptional women who left a strong impression on me. I was fortunate to be selected for the Rafael Salas International Scholarship to conclude my study "Women, Power and Sustainable Development: a proposal for intervention to enhance equal participation". Later, within the Federation, I got involved in local human development processes and cooperation projects; I coordinated gender training processes and institutional gender assessments; I participated in the planning and implementation of projects and technical assessments under United Nations systems. These were 10 important years of my life that strengthened my career as a researcher, as a "militant" for equality, and awoke a very strong motivation to venture into areas of management and monitoring of development cooperation.
My professional life in UNDP is more known in the Community of Practice Bureau. In 2006/2007, I simultaneously worked in the Federation and as an advisor on gender in the Local Human Development Programme (LHDP / UNDP). It was an intense, interesting period that led to an incredible learning opportunity. I followed this with a consultancy on gender in UNDP in 2008, which was a great opportunity to expand into new areas of human development (the response to HIV, environmental issues and risk management); then in 2012 the Country Office decided to create a post for this important issue and I became the National Officer for gender issues at UNDP.
48% of the Cuban parliament consists of women, a much higher figure than other countries in Latin America (9 % in Brazil, for example). What differences do you see in countries with high rates of female representation in parliament?
I'd rather talk about what I see in Cuba and what I know of the Cuban process, and although there are many aspects, I thought of five general issues that are in fact closely related.
In first place, I note a healthy pride, satisfaction and even joy in the result, which is not the only indicator that accounts for the development that has been achieved, but it is also a very important point for the existing level of gender equality and the advancement of women, their role and empowerment. At the same time, it is a recognition of the many women and men, whose leadership over history, made it possible (when there wasn’t even talk of gender equality) for Cuban women to be trusted, for the enhancement of their personal growth and development and allowing them to confront male prejudice and sexist patterns, which did much to raise awareness about equality, equity and the advancement of those who were suffering the greatest disadvantage and discrimination (women). I greatly admire those Cuban men and women that stood for gender equality and believed in the work.
Secondly, the defining existence of political will. Even though Cuba does not have a quota system the desire that more women be present in the main managerial and decision-making positions was reinforced. Affirmative action was also promoted for the Candidacy Commissions to take into account women’s proposals (as well as those from people of colour), and accordingly, measures were integrated into the National Action Plan in the Follow up to Beijing ’95, which, in my opinion, have been the most widely evaluated and monitored systematically.
Thirdly, I note the conviction that the relevant representation of women achieved in Parliament (and in the other areas of critical decision) is the result of the confluence of many efforts and strategic practices that focused on it as key, and does not correspond with the spontaneity of factors or coincidences. It all started with a good base (of more than 21% of women parliamentarians in the First Legislature of 1976) that already recognized the high level reached by the Cuban women in all areas and development indicators (health, education, employment, participation), and certainly the participation of women in the decisional bodies of the People's Power was gradually growing (in the municipal and provincial assemblies and constituencies, as well as the Parliament). However, later, when some decline in representation occurred, deep analyses were performed and measures were taken to overhaul the decline. Emblematic was the analysis of the results of the fourth legislature (1992) where the largest decrease of women delegates and parliamentarians was observed. It noted the need to understand the causes of inequality, thereby adjusting processes and gender relations that seemed outdated and be institutionally proactive towards changes to the socioeconomic context. Its focus was not only on the influence of the economic crisis facing the country (which worsened the living conditions of families, significantly affected household support services and impacted more greatly women overloaded with unpaid care work), but also on the subjective aspects that are not voted on by women: the persistence of prejudices and discriminatory attitudes and behaviors toward women and the predominantly male leadership style, among others. In addition to the studies and research, the Federation of Cuban Women played an invaluable role, leading the design and implementation of national strategies for promoting women in terms of gender equality and covering all areas and fields of action, including support for women leaders.
In fourth place, the parity in parliament is only one relevant point in the long way toward gender equality. It is important to be alert of the potential risk of believing that everything has already been achieved, as sometimes statistics can skew our gender lens and we, therefore, need deeper, more comprehensive and convincing analysis of what is needed to close the gender gaps. Moreover, the challenge of achieving a different way of doing things, promoting an "innovative gender agenda" that changes, outdated gender relations, prejudices and stereotypes; an agenda that is effective and able to confront the challenge (and what a challenge it is!) to achieve change cut down the deeper roots of inequality. We know it is not enough to be a woman to be gender-aware, and we know it is necessary for male leaders to increase their gender sensitivity and awareness to promote equality, for women and those men who do not enjoy full equality because of their sexual orientations and gender identities. I'm sure that for this challenge new and exciting initiatives will be developed soon, where support from UNDP and other agencies of the UN system will be most valuable.
Finally, I note the existence of many specialists and institutional voices promoting every day initiatives and projects that implement strategies for gender mainstreaming and women's empowerment.. The country will continue to raise its capacities, in terms of gender equality, to enhance its educational, cultural and political levels, in particular those of the vulnerable groups (women or color, rural and disabled); the representation levels could be even higher. For this, I share, along with many other specialists, the importance of addressing the subjectiveness and the culture, and the commitment established and collected by one of the mobilizing Cuban expressions "stop (or go back), or gain momentum."
UNDP Team in Cuba successfully conducted the Gender Equality Seal certification process. Could you describe the most important lessons learned during this process?
First of all, I want to emphasize that the certification process (and in particular the completion of the self-diagnosis and the creation of the Action Plan) has been rated by the UNDP office in Cuba as a significant learning process to enhance results and continuous improvement regarding gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment. It was a matter of collective learning, that is potentially superior, and which we will work hard to institutionalize into our culture.
Personally, the most important lesson I learned was to realize, in the practice itself, the magnitude and significance of many of the assumptions, which resulted from successful initiatives and lessons learned that I had read several times before but which the Seal experience allowed me to further realize, experience and grasp. Without going too far I would highlight the following:
a) The importance of a break in the everyday, to analyze what we do and how we do it, to see what has been accomplished and critically measure up to where we could go and what we still need to achieve, but also to recognize and celebrate the progress achieved, as this is a mobilizing source of encouragement. The tool is an opportunity to raise the standards of the least committed, to feel the challenge of improving the quality and pursuit of excellence;
b) The need to document and systematize processes and resources. The life in the office often leads us not close processes, not to document evidence, not to systematize and communicate practices. The Seal process confirmed that we cannot always start from scratch, we must systematically report in order to account for whether we contribute or not to equality. It also showed me that although we are optimistic, we must be realistic and evaluate well the potential that we have and that which we need to increase;
c) The strategic focus to be more effective in contributions to gender equality. I confess that the Seal experience allowed me to have a fresh look at the global strategy "Empowered and Equal", which will be great for the current gender strategy.
d) To see in practice the value of incentive. We don’t work for the acknowledgement (the Seal, or the annual evaluation, or to be part of an example cited in a global report) but when recogntion is achieved, it is well-received, it generates more confidence, it creates new commitments, it makes you plan new goals, and also gives you prestige and credibility in what you do. The Seal tool is excellent for this; it is a "third party" that values and recognizes, doing so procedurally, by contemplating annual indicators at the level of the Country Programme, but the best thing is that it’s not for life, it only lasts you a while so if you appreciate it you want to have it always with you.
e) Finally, the importance of management leadership: this was a key instrument in the different levels and areas in the office. Beyond the continued commitment, coordination and leadership of the Deputy Resident Representative and UNDP Resident Representative, I recognize what I learned from the management of program units (Edith Felipe) and operations (Rafael Rodriguez); their contributions and enthusiasm were key for many people to take ownership and drive the process.
Since 2007, the “National Days against Homophobia” are held annually in Cuba. Based on the Latin American experience, how would you say that gender stereotypes affect LGBTQ persons?
Since I've been working in UNDP, I find it impossible to talk about gender in development without making any reference to the LGBT population. Additionally, when I get involved in projects with the LGBT population, I call for reflection and try to join them in gender analysis (and GED) as a powerful tool to understand, explain and help overcome discriminatory practices against LGBT. Beyond technical discussions between the categories of gender and sexual diversity, the big point needs to be raised: there is no sustainable development as long as discrimination over the sexual orientation and gender identities continues. Therefore, we propose using the political dimension of the gender category to promote fairer changes and the full exercise of their rights. We need to effectively deal with obstacles (cultural as well as legal and economic) brought on by gender stereotypes and transform sociocultural behaviors associated with them that currently prevent the full development and productive life of the LGBT population, as for any woman or man who does not belong to this community.
The gender stereotypes are present in the socialization of all people that occurs throughout our lives and the LGBT population is no exception to this influence, starting in our family, but also in schools, in communities, in the workplace, through media, and in the human group, formal and informal, which we are part of. One way or another everyone, in all societies, has been a victim and a victimizer of stereotypical gender patterns, through our appearance, likes, wants, needs, expectations, roles, values, opportunities and recognition assigned and assumed through the sex with which we were born and the “corresponding” constructs of our gender identities. But I think that the LGBT population has been and is a greater prey to stereotypes surrounding masculine and feminine roles and the exclusion and discrimination associated with these stereotypes. I was recently asked whether this community is more discriminated against than women, and was the first to denote the fact that there are women among LGBT populations. This is a topic that has been long hidden and poorly addressed, and it is an issue that does not always find understanding and defense among gender and other social specialists; additionally, an important part of the population continues to show suspicion, misunderstanding, disrespect and downright rejection and discrimination against the LGBT community.
There are three additional items that cannot be ignored, and that show that much remains to be done. On the one hand, the vulnerability and lack of protection that generally face the LGBT populations, including at the family level who may reject and condemn the development of these people (in terms of education, health, social participation, employment, care and safety in general). More than victims of prejudices and beliefs about the attributes that "men and women" must have, they also suffer dissimilar manifestations of gender violence and frequently participate in cycles of violence, often fatal. In addition, gender stereotypes influence the way society approaches and "processes" information towards this population. On the other hand, traditional relations of gender discrimination among heterosexuals are also often reproduced between LGBT couples and families. LGBT also bear (and to the detriment of the human development) those misconceptions surrounding "whether or not they are" members of the LGBT community, leaving them to question their perceptions, ideas and contributions to society, thereby making them again victims of discrimination, abuse and exclusion.
If your day had 48 hours, what would you do or like to do differently?
Following the logic that this would “double” the dear hours that we count with today, I would then redouble my efforts in 5 points or very important wishes of my life right now:
a) I would devote a few more hours to be with the older people in my family. I worry, and it sometimes saddens me, that I cannot be available when these dear people want me, and I can only take care of their needs. I am satisfied with how I’ve been up to par, with my professional life, life as a wife and a mother of two, but I need to solve the challenge of the work-life balance.
b) I would be a leader of teams of men fighting for gender equality. Let me explain better. It gives me great satisfaction to accompany this important part of the population, that greatly changes its perspective and behavior when it understands the subject, and become great advocates and promoters of equality. We can advance further, and go further when women and men walk together, and I would like to show the men all they can gain from gender equality.
c) I would work as a volunteer, supporting women victims of gender violence and, in particular, those living in substandard conditions and at risk of HIV. Even though, since working in UNDP, I follow women in a number of changes, this issue requires much more personal time that I cannot always satisfy.
d) I would devote some time at least once a week to share (or at least chat) with friends and family, who have been so important in my professional life; especially with my women colleagues (there are almost no men, by the way), my group from Chile from the Fellowship course on Population and Development, and with my colleagues in the Regional Community of Practice. I would love to note how present they are in my life, the love that I have for them, and how important they are. There is much love and things in common that unites us and that we do not often express.
e) I would take some time to do a PhD (though not necessarily for the academic degree) and to write, of course, about gender - maybe a novel, a serial, or start a collection of poems, something attractive and that would mobilize change.
Then, and while it is not possible to go from 24 to 48 hours ... I will strive to contribute a bit every day to these 5 points that make me happy. Otherwise, thank you very much for letting me share them.