Cuba to address sex trafficking, prostitution
Cuba’s ongoing socialist revolution has consistently shown it is adaptable and capable of renewal in the areas of feminism, environmental sustainability, political participation, health and education.
Despite the constant and concerted campaign by the United States to undermine the Cuban Revolution, it has achieved many great outcomes, including universal health care, universal education, eradication of illiteracy, low levels of birth mortality and low levels of HIV and AIDS.
Cuba has always been ahead of its time on the issue of equality and women's participation at all levels of society. The inclusion of women within the revolution has been cemented through the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), a non-government organisation with more than 3 million members that has a guaranteed advisory role in the formulation of government policy.
One of the goals of the revolution was the eradication of prostitution, viewed by Fidel Castro as the fault of United States imperialism and brought to Cuba by the way of North American tourism.
After the revolution, Cuba criminalised pimping through the use of heavy penalties, while working to provide women in the industry with alternative livelihoods including educational and trade opportunities.
Castro's insight is as relevant now as it was at the time of the revolution in 1959. His views follow that of other socialists.
It is worth noting the writings of Russian revolutionary Alexandra Kollontai. In 1919, Kollontai became the first female government minister in Europe and later became Europe's first female ambassador, undertaking appointments as Soviet Ambassador to Norway, Sweden and Mexico.
Kollontai said: “Prostitution is above all a social phenomenon; it is closely connected to the needy position of woman and her economic dependence on man in marriage and the family.
The roots of prostitution are in economics. Woman is on the one hand placed in an economically vulnerable position, and on the other hand has been conditioned by centuries of education to expect material favours from a man in return for sexual favours whether these are given within or outside the marriage tie.
Prostitution in Cuba was classified as nearly non-existent until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The country was hit hard by the collapse of Cuba’s largest trading partner. Without the USSR to offset the impact of the US trade embargo, poverty became rife and Cuba became reliant on tourism and foreign currency.
With the re-emergence of tourism came the problem of prostitution and advertising campaigns that reintroduced sexist attitudes towards women. Another problem that came to Cuba with the collapse of the Soviet Union was trafficking of human beings, specifically women and children for sexual slavery.
The US Department of State report of 2011, Trafficking in Persons Report-Cuba, has criticised Cuba's failures to prohibit sex trafficking of persons under the age of 18 or ensure appropriate assistance for those rescued from sex trafficking and forced labour.
The report did highlight Cuba's legislation against trafficking, but criticised past failures to prosecute human traffickers or end child prostitution. The report also commended efforts last year that led to a rise in convictions of sex traffickers and those profiting from child prostitution.
Recently, the FMC proposed measures to reduce sexist advertising and implemented outreach programs to women engaged in prostitution. It is has also proposed measures to reduce sexual tourism and re-educate Cuban men who believe it is acceptable to hire a woman for sexual services.
Now in an effort that would make the Cuban government deal with both the problems of trafficking and prostitution, the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) and the FMC have expressed a desire to introduce Swedish-style legislation.
These comments were made by Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban president Raul Castro and Vilma Espin, a radical feminist and founder of the FMC. Mariela is a sexologist, psychologist, published author and director of the CENESEX in Havana.
Sweden has drastically lowered human trafficking and prostitution by imposing a ban on the purchase of sexual services. This model has since been adopted by Iceland, Norway and South Korea.
Max Waltman from the University of Stockholm has discussed Sweden's prohibition of purchase of sex stating: “The Swedish government and parliament in 1998 apparently realised that one cannot fight gender inequality and keep prostitution as a viable option for women without resources.
“As long as prostitution is viewed as a viable situation and 'work', particularly for women, resulting in them being excluded or not competing with men on the regular job-markets, changing gender equality at large becomes less likely ...
“Prostitution, on these terms, is antithetical to social equality. Just as apartheid couldn’t exist alongside social equality, prostitution as such cannot either.
“Hence, reducing the number of persons in prostitution is imperative … the Swedish law, has accomplished such a reduction in addition to reducing the demand for prostitution. Swedish law has accomplished such a reduction in the prostitution in addition to reducing the demand for prostitution.”
With Cuba taking inspiration from the Swedish model, it is reasserting values of equality and defending marginalised people. Cuba is fighting against the widening inequality seen in many Western countries. Following in Sweden's footsteps is likely to lead to a lowering in prostitution and trafficking, which has plagued the revolution since the economic decline of the 1990s.
This will cause exploiters and those who profit from the prostitution to face severe penalties.
Such a move shows Cuba following the evidence-based, human rights model of those parties and governments across Europe pushing for Swedish-style legislation. This move affirms Cuba’s proud revolutionary tradition of exit strategies for prostitutes including personal support, health care, retraining and alternative employment options.