Community leaders against racism and sexist violence

Afro-Cuban women are developing initiatives to promote empowerment and fight all forms of discrimination against them.

«You look better with straightened hair,» a colleague told Maritza López, a local activist involved in a struggle that goes on, despite a four-decade-long ban on sexual and racial discrimination under the Constitution.

«Black women continue to be affected by media stereotypes,» she indicated. She is the coordinator of a community-based Network of People of African Descent (RBA), which has been training local leaders since November 2012.

It organizes special lectures every month for professionals, housewives, artists, retirees and public servants, who are expected to replicate the knowledge gained at home and in society.

«We become aware of abuse only after we are properly trained,» Irma Castañeda, a cultural promoter in La Lisa municipality (on the outskirts of Havana), indicated.

She plans to open a hairdressing salon (Curl) for black women and people of mixed race.

«We want them not to look like white people; their natural hair is also beautiful,» she added.

New representations

«The image of black women in Cuba has traditionally been built on racist stereotypes. They have always been associated with violence, vulgarity and promiscuity,» Inés M. Martiatu recently wrote in an article.

Out of 11.2 million inhabitants on the island, 35.9 percent are blacks and people of mixed race, according to the latest population and housing census.

«Black women are expected to be submissive because of their past condition as slaves,» Alfredo Sánchez, representative of Trance (an RBA creative project), told SEMlac.

The Black Doll Group under the umbrella of the Cuban Arts and Crafts Foundation is bringing back Afro-Cuban deities using papier maché.

Artisans in Pogolotti, a neighborhood in Marianao municipality, are dressing rag dolls as air hostesses, doctors and nurses rather than as slaves or Afro-Cuban religion believers.

Activism

Research works have shown that Afro-Cubans are underrepresented in decision-making and key economic sectors.

Researcher Gisela Arandia indicated that most of them are poorly educated and paid.

«They usually live crowded together on the outskirts of Havana, for example,» she noted.

Afro-feminist Daisy Rubiera, a project consultant, feels that actions should mainly focus on raising further awareness.

«We try to convey messages of love rather than hatred,» López concluded.

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