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Home > 2022 > Is Cuban Family Code a Trendsetter? | Jos Chathukulam & Yoan Karell (...)

Mainstream, VOL 61 No 1-2, December 24, December 31, 2022 (Double issue)

Is Cuban Family Code a Trendsetter? | Jos Chathukulam & Yoan Karell Acosta Gonzalez

Saturday 24 December 2022

by Jos Chathukulam & Yoan Karell Acosta Gonzalez

Cuba has recently ratified the most inclusive family code in the world. The family code legalizes same-sex marriage, grants adoption rights to same-sex couples, recognizes ‘solidarity pregnancies’ (solidarity gestation), prenuptial agreements and assisted reproduction. Above all it acknowledges women’s work in the house, encourages men and women to equally share the household chores and responsibilities, extends labour rights to caregivers and offers protection against gender violence. It also consists of provisions to protect children and guarantees the right to a family life free from violence in which love, affection, solidarity and responsibility are the factors that remain as the solid foundation of a healthy and happy family. The family code was ratified through a popular referendum, an unprecedented democratic exercise in a socialist country, where constitutional referendums are the norm. Around 74.01 per cent (6,251,786) of the total 8,447, 467 eligible voters living in and outside Cuba participated in the referendum. The draft version of the family code was available in the internet so that Cubans living abroad could discuss their concerns and opinions in this regard. The fact that even the Cuban diaspora got an opportunity to voice their opinion on the internal matters in Cuba is a positive aspect. Around 66.87 per cent of the participants voted in favor of the new family code while 33.13 per cent voted against the same. With this Cuba has become the first country in the world to have submitted a family code through popular consultations and referendum. Cuba introduced a family code way back in 1975 and there were attempts to revise it over the years in tune with the present times. However, following the 2019 constitutional referendum, things started to move in a positive direction. It was followed by several rounds of consultation in which 6,481,200 voters participated in discussions on the family code with more than 79,000 meetings throughout Cuba. These consultations resulted in 49.15 per cent changes to the content in the draft family code. Though Cuba ranks poorly in the democracy index over the years, the latest referendum and participatory democratic approach adopted in drafting the family code indicates the democratic spirit and values within a socialist regime. The latest family code has a great potential to usher in a democracy within Cuban families and it may eventually have a considerable impact on the political dynamics in the country.

The LGBTQIA Community 

One of the major highlights in the family code is that it legalizes same sex marriage and allows such couples to adopt children. It is indeed a historic legislation especially considering the discrimination the LGBTQIA community had to endure in the socialist country over the years. Meanwhile, Mariela Castro (the daughter of Raul Castro), director of the Cuban National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX) is one of the leading voices for the LGBQTIA community in Cuba. Though there have been some improvements with regards to the rights of the sexual minorities in the island nation, they still face discrimination. Though there were reports in the foreign media accusing the Cuban government for denying permission to conduct ‘Pride March’ and LGBTQI week celebrations, there are evidences to prove that such events took place in Cuba more than 15 times without any interferences from the administration. Similarly, under the leadership of CENESEX, ‘Pride March’ were organized six times. It was only in 2019 some problem occurred. In addition, the social stigma attached to being a homosexual is prevalent in Catholic and Evangelical Cuba that too even after Pope Francis’s conciliatory tone towards the LGBTQIA community. Around 60.5 percent of the total population embraces the Catholic beliefs, those who practice it on a serious note may be less. Though the provisions on same-sex marriage may create some tensions, the provisions to strengthen family bond are more in line with Pope Francis’s vision on a family in which basic values of love, fraternity and mutual respect would eventually translate into gratuitousness, solidarity and subsidiarity.

Recognizes Women’s Household Work 

Another interesting aspect in the new family code is that it recognizes women’s household works. Though it is not clear whether there is a provision in the latest family code to provide wages to homemakers in Cuba or incorporate it into the GDP, the family code is indeed an honor for the women in Cuba. In short, it acknowledges the “value” of the work of women in households. The deepening economic crisis, rising unemployment and shortage of food and medicines also put a lot of stress on the Cuban homemakers. However, in the midst of all the adversities including the deepening economic crisis and shortage of foods, the Cuban women continues to empower themselves with active social participation. Despite the ‘machismo’ in Cuban society, the Cuban women have rarely experienced Amartya Sen’s notion of ‘unfreedom’. Since the 1970s, the feminist movements and human rights activists across the world have been campaigning to incorporate women’s household work in the national accounts and GDP. In India too, wages for household work have been a longstanding demand of women activists and forums alike. Though eminent economist V K R V Rao who first estimated the national income of India stressed on the need to incorporate the services offered by women in households under the GDP, it is yet to become a reality in India.

Through the Lens of Friedrich Engels and Jose Marti

Based on the anthropological evidences, Friedrich Engels in his The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State: In the Light of the Researches of Lewis H. Morgan argued that the family structures changed over history. In this case, the latest Cuba family code, one can see that this code emerged as a result of a constant evolution of family structures within and outside Cuba over a considerable amount of time and that it may be subjected to more radical changes as new family structures and norms evolve in the coming centuries. Jose Marti, the apostle of Cuban independence dreamt of a Cuban society based on social justice “with all and for the good of all”. The latest family code can be termed as a crucial step towards fulfilling the Marti’s dream of Cuba.

While Cuba fares badly in Democracy Index and Human Rights Index, its achievements in Human Development Index are a remarkable one. On the other hand, there are criticisms that the Cuban government is trying to do an image makeover in the midst of deepening economic crisis and dissident protests. But at the moment such concerns are not widely debated. Nevertheless, the time has come for Cuba to embrace sustainable socialism and the latest family code along with Cuba’s experiments in cooperatives and social solidarity economies can help the country in improving its record in human rights.

(Authors: Jos Chathukulam is former Professor, Sri Ramakrishna Hegde Chair on Decentralisation and Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bengaluru and currently the Director of Centre for Rural Management (CRM), Kottayam, Kerala. He can be contacted at joschathukulam[at]gmail.com ; Yoan Karell Acosta Gonzalez is Professor at the Latin American School of Social Sciences, University of Havana, Cuba. He can be contacted at karel.kostev[at]iqvia.com)

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