“Vivir en la esparanza; Live in Hope”. This quote comes from Reverend Dr. Ofelia Ortega Suárez. She spoke at the UN Church Center Friday, July 17, 2015, on the topic of “Women in a Changing Cuba”. You could not ask for a better person to speak on this topic than Dr. Suárez. She was the first woman to be ordained in a reform church in Latin America. Furthermore, she has worked closely with Christian Institute for Gender Studies, as well as been extremely active on the World Council of Churches at the UN. She was able to give some background information on the situation in Cuba, and how it is a growing and changing country.
The discussion began by providing some background on the history of Cuba, then engaged in focusing on the issues surrounding Cuban women. Listed below are some major points shared during the conversation.
- Unfavorable demographics: Since people are living longer, and having fewer children, there is a growing population. This means that there are fewer people in the workforce, as well as fewer people to take care of the elderly.
- Migration: A lot of young women are leaving the country, which leaves this population lacking.
- The Glass Ceiling: As an issue that women all over the world face, the glass ceiling can be described as, ‘unseen, yet unbreakable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements.’
- A Disadvantage in the Church Setting: They are often kept from holding positions, and being ordained: a topic that Dr. Suárez is clearly well versed in.
Following the lecture and discussion, a question and answer portion began. Many of the questions shared are written below.
- Question: What does Cuba do to address issues with Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights?
Answer: There is preventative work done within the country in regards to AIDS- they have officially stopped the transference of AIDS from women to their children. They have also partnered with UNICEF to help with children development. Finally, they have done a lot of work to take care of people with disabilities.
- Question: How does a patriarchal society negatively affect men?
Answer: Dr. Suárez’s church has been teaching that expectations of masculinity oppress men. They use Jesus as an example of masculinity that embraces tenderness and love. She cited that they are not aiming for a matriarchal society, but instead a community of people that work together.
- Question: How can you use your religious background to educate on SRHR?
Answer: There is an issue with a high abortion rate in their country. They choose to combat this issue with education on family planning, in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies. She also discussed domestic violence, and that through giving women education, they can work and support themselves in order to escape a bad situation.
When asked what she learned from the revolution, she responded, “dignity. The ability to look at someone else and say, you are, but I am. Ubunto: I am because you are.” Reverend Dr. Ofelia Ortega Suárez is truly an inspirational woman. She works to better the society in which she lives, and embodies the idea that women empowerment needs to be a priority in any society that wishes to progress.