Gender violence: Moving from silence to action

Using a categorical phrase, Cuban writer Laidi Fernández summarizes social indifference to women who are violence victims.

Her work Naderías de hoy (Silly Little Things of Today) was granted the first prize at the 8th International Dinosaur Short Story Contest in 2014.

She is one of the most outstanding contemporary Cuban writers who are deeply involved in the struggle for women’s rights on the island.

Trained as a medical doctor, she has written over 12 books and has actively participated in forums, projects and public campaigns to fight against male-chauvinistic aggression.

What makes you deal with violence in your work?

It is an understatement to say that art imitates life. Unfortunately, violence is still difficult to identify. Every woman I know has at some point been a violence victim. It is very sad. Women are not often aware of such acts, which go from silence to harassment.

We women somehow help perpetuate gender violence, because it usually goes unnoticed under age-old, unjust traditions and laws.

I try to be loyal to other people and to my work. I try to be consistent with my way of thinking and I break standards. I have for 20 years been writing about sensitive issues like violence, maternity, and couple relations.

I find it necessary to criticize problems I have no solution for, but can certainly help make visible. It is a social responsibility to question things.

I am working on these issues, not because they are fashionable, but because I was a victim of psychological violence myself. My goal is to reflect on violence through humor.

Is it difficult?

I start from intuition because any artistic expression demands talent, sensitivity, and commitment. One of the main challenges in art has to do with your capacity to expose yourself.

In this context, information is of the essence. I never thought silence was actually a form of violence against women. My feminist friends have helped me become familiar with quite a peculiar terminology and aggressiveness.

We women believe we are to blame for the acts of violence inflicted on us.

We do not want anybody to know of our secrets, including these horrible actions, out of shame.

I want to show my solidarity to these women and let men know that their actions can be made public and denounced.

The ideal thing would be to have a decree, a law to punish abusers. I cannot do that myself, but I can write about it so that women know they can be supported and abusers know they will not go unpunished. It is a first step.

There is an anthology in the making regarding gender violence in Cuba. Have you made any contribution to it?

Yes, I have. In fact, it is the most exciting project I am involved in now. I have made my contribution to the struggle against gender violence in Cuba. The more artists we gather together in these efforts, the better results we will achieve.

Writer Marilyn Bobes came up with the idea and decided to pass it onto me. It was hard work, because we did not want any Cuban woman writer to be left out. It is a tribute to this country. We paid no heed to race, sexual orientation, ideology and/or country or residence. In fact, the 38 works that were included show a wide range of literary styles.

The book was 100-percent put together by women, with Amanda Fleites editing, Zaida Capote writing the prologue, and Cirenaica Moreira contributing the cover image. I hope it will be very well received; it is very supportive of women in need.

I would like to further work on this, perhaps gathering the voices of poetesses.

What will the anthology tell local women?

It will reveal an open secret. It will tell Cubans that violence against women is a reality we should fight against together.

There is a need for public debate over violence victims in Cuba.

Outstanding scientists and artists can well be abusers, and we have remained silent and taken no action.
After the anthology gets published, I would like to hold multidisciplinary meetings for in-depth discussion and awareness-raising.

Silly Little Things of Today has already been shared on blogs and social networks …

I am very happy because it has been very favorably received.

The title itself says it all: we women are being beaten up and massacred, and nothing happens.
I explicitly highlight the lack of a legal tool for women’s protection.

Has there been any cost involved?

It is true that dealing with these issues poses quite a risk, but I am willing to take it.
I have been slandered and I have suffered reprisals, but I have decided to go on, despite the personal and professional costs.

I do not criticize those who have taken a different course. I do not criticize Cuban women intellectuals who have remained silent and done nothing against gender violence. I respect their decisions and demand respect for mine. I went to serve in Africa back in the 1980s, knowing that I would receive nothing in exchange. I want to continue being loyal. And I am very happy about what the work I am doing.

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