Shortly after sunset, the living room of Odalys Rodríguez provides an excellent framework for experience-sharing among women members of one of seven Self-Help Groups. They were all established by the Bartolomé G. Lavastida Christian Training and Service Center (CCSC- BG) in Santiago de Cuba, 862 kilometers east of Havana.
Its members discuss family and gender violence issues, and have their awareness raised so that they can put an end to male-chauvinistic practices.
Around 15 women and a few men show up at these monthly meetings that always count on the advisory services of gender experts at CCSC-BG, which has for 15 years sought to bridge power gaps between women and men.
Rodríguez told SEMlac that her training as a gynecologist has made her new mission easier.
The group members include housewives, university professors, medical doctors, psychologists, lawyers and leaders who have been so deeply involved in family care, household chores and/or their jobs that they do not pay much attention to their individual lives.
Gloria Rebustillo, coordinator of gender projects at CCSC-BG, said that the initial idea had been to support families facing violence situations and help church leaders deal with them.
«We have provided abused women with aid and advising,» she added.
Research works have highlighted the need to establish support networks for gender violence victims.
Some serious cases have been taken to court by Family Guidance Centers under the umbrella of the Federation of Cuban Women.
«We always explain that getting out of the violence circle is usually a slow process,» said CCSC- BG collaborator Maite Álvarez.
«We apply the participatory methodology for this purpose,» she stressed.
A meeting participant indicated that the Self-Help Group has helped them increase their self-esteem and develop communication skills and personal empowerment.
«Christian women find it really difficult to accept that they are part of dysfunctional families,» she recalled.
«We do not promote divorce because the institution of marriage is important to the church, but we do strive to make pastors understand that the separation is really necessary in gender violence cases,» Rebustillo emphasized.
«We insist on removing the feeling of guilt and strengthening the feeling of self-reconciliation. We women have traditionally been discriminated against and have seen our rights violated,» she remarked.
«We have been implementing five-year follow-up interventions,» she told SEMlac.
«We have identified all forms of violence (physical, psychological, etc.) in rural areas. They are all primarily based on sexist education,» she said.
Against this background, CCSC- BG organized 31 gender awareness-raising workshops and 275 Self-Help Group meetings between 2010 and 2014.
The Center is active in all eastern provinces of Cuba, especially in Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo, and Granma.
«Our goal is to promote sustainability, community participation, the gender approach, Bible reading, family health, and a food culture,» she concluded.