Another year to grow without violence

Mídete convened 16 workshops, most of them virtual, which involved about 383 people, including adolescents Karen, Valia and Dagmar.

Tamara Roselló Reina
Dagmar López Albelo, 17 años
Cortesía de la familia
17 January 2022

Before the start of COVID-19 in Cuba, women devoted a weekly average of 14 hours more than men to non-remunerated housework (ENIG, 2016). They have taken on most of the extra burden within homes by caring for families during the pandemic and are also the ones who can be more vulnerable to male chauvinist violence in a context of isolation.

Precisely, gender-based violence and family care are among the main challenges for young people in our region, according to the United Nations survey on Latin American and Caribbean Youth within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The study confirms that the pandemic has exposed and made worse the inequality situation in which young and adolescent women live.

Preparing this population group for the exercising of their sexual and reproductive rights and contributing to its development without violence or discrimination, was part of the work carried out by UNICEF Cuba in 2021. Through the Mídete campaign against violence in childhood and adolescence, girls and boys from several Cuban territories participated in various initiatives that offered them tools and knowledge to prevent sexual abuse, promote the responsible use of social media, and question norms that naturalize the mistreatment of children and gender stereotypes.

Mídete convened 16 workshops, most of them virtual, which involved about 383 people, including adolescents Karen, Valia and Dagmar. Their experiences, proposals and commitment are also part of the route that the campaign plotted in another year to grow without violence.

Karen Alcázar Noda, 16 años
Karen Alcázar Noda, 16 años

Karen Alcázar Noda, 16 

Gender issues are familiar for Karen. She has observed the growing leadership of her mother and other Christian women congregated at the Presbyterian Church in her hometown of Los Palos, in Nueva Paz, Mayabeque province. “Most of what we learn is by imitation or because of what we hear and is customary”, she says.

More recently, she has witnessed her mother’s professional training as a student at the Evangelical Theology Seminary in Matanzas. They now live in that city, and from there she connected to a workshop on the exercising and enjoyment of sexual and reproductive rights, organized by the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) and UNICEF.

“It was very interesting and useful, since I learned about my sexual rights and sexual education in general. Discussing those topics is not wrong. Many people see sexuality as taboo or believe it only refers to intimate relations. That shows, in part, the existing lack of knowledge, since sexuality is a lot more than that.”

“I believe it’s something that must be taught from early ages, by families and in schools, although one can always learn as an adult and be reeducated. Also, as human beings we should be informed and be able to discuss everything.”

“As adolescents, we’re sometimes judged as immature or careless and children are seen as infantile or too young, and our curiosity and opinions aren’t taken into account. It is necessary to discuss some topics or answer our questions and give us the information we require. Many abuse situations happen because there’s no knowledge of how to identify them or prevent them. The same thing happens with mutual respect, equal treatment or violence. There’s a lot to talk about…”

Karen is emphatic when we ask about what marked her the most about this workshop: “sharing opinions, stories and experiences with adolescents and young people. The diversity of opinions and beliefs was incredible.” She maintains that she will continue to research these topics and share her learnings in other workshops, with her family and her friends. After this participation, she took part in the consultation on the visual identity of the Mídete campaign and the selection of the motto or slogan “Usa una talla sin violencia” (“Be on a groove without violence”) to address girls and boys like her.

Valia Melissa Massip, 15

Valia lives in the municipality of Jiguaní, in Granma. This province in the east of Cuba has the second-highest rate of adolescent fertility in the country (68.8 in 2018). Relevant studies confirm that some families force their daughters to get married if they have sexual relations for the first time or become pregnant. Family pressure, social imaginaries around the issue and insufficient sexual education have an influence on the persistence of child marriage or early unions.

The 2019 results of UNICEF’s MICS survey show that 29.4 per cent of Cuban women surveyed aged 20 to 24 had been married or had entered a union before the age of 18. This situation usually affects the adolescents’ continuity of studies and their subsequent access to work, having an impact on their autonomy, widening the gender gap and raising the probability that they become the victims of violence.

“Nowadays there are violent acts that we must fight against, such as abuse, not just physical or verbal aggression, but also all the things that harm children, like disregarding their basic needs or not taking their opinions into account.”

Valia Melissa Massip, 15 años
Valia Melissa Massip, 15 años
Valia Melissa Massip, 15 años

Being connected to a protective environment for children, related to culture, has been an opportunity for Valia to access information on how to prevent and deal with violence that affects children and adolescents. Her passion for literature has become a form of expression and also an alternative to raise awareness of these issues that often go unnoticed, since they are culturally deep-rooted.

Valia is part of the literary workshop “Meñique travieso”. One of the results of this creative space for children is her short story “Mariposas de papel” (“Paper Butterflies”), included in the 2023 Literary Calendar of the project “Construction of protective environments for children and adolescents, through culture, in the province of Granma”, supported by UNICEF Cuba.

Through the story of a young couple, she introduces different expressions of violence. It ranges from romantic love and a honeymoon to an extreme situation of male-chauvinist control, pregnancy and isolation leading to suicide:

“Everything was so magical before, they made paper butterflies and hung them in the classroom when the teacher went out, once they let them fall from a building and they landed on the heads of the people below, they were like two mischievous children, but when their friends started to say she controlled him, he became rude (…) She didn’t leave him because she still hoped to turn things around. When they started living together, everything became worse, he drank more often, he had dropped out of university and forced her to drop out too, according to him, women should be housewives and men had to go out (…) Meanwhile, he found a note, next to a pregnancy test. He ran out in desperation (…) She had gone to the roof (…)”

Additionally, Valia was among the participants in workshop cycle on violence against children and adolescents, within the framework of the Mídete campaign. It was an opportunity to recognize the multiple manifestations of violence, the imaginaries and stereotypes that sustain them, and to incorporate into her artistic creations ways to prevent them and face them.

One of the learnings she shares is the importance of harmony, and that it can only be achieved if we avoid violence. “My advice for adult people is that they look after and respect children and adolescents so they can live in an environment with harmony and respect, ensuring that they grow to be good people tomorrow, because we are what we learn at home.”

“Nowadays there are violent acts that we must fight against, such as abuse, not just physical or verbal aggression, but also all the things that harm children, like disregarding their basic needs or not taking their opinions into account.”

Mídete puts a high value on the opinions and creation of girls like Valia and means to use them to raise awareness of the right to live without violence in childhood and adolescence. That they do their part is something she also asks of young people, “that they treat each other with solidarity and respect, that they use an adequate language and bear in mind the rights of other people, to avoid conflict.”

Dagmar López Albelo, 17 años
Dagmar López Albelo, 17 años

Dagmar López Albelo, 17

Mídete puts no limits on the capacity of adolescents to appropriate the campaign and amplify its messages and initiatives. Proof of this can be offered by Dagmar, who lives in La Sierpe, in the province of Sancti Spíritus. At the Camilo Cienfuegos Pre-University Institute, where she studies, activities were organized on the closing of the Week for non-violence against women and girls and on International Human Rights Day, with communication products of UNICEF’s campaign.

How to identify sexual harassment and abuse? Where to look for information and support when facing a situation of violence? These were some of the questions addressed in a space where girls and women came together, convened by the Federation of Cuban Women and the Federation of Secondary Education Students (FEEM) in that territory.

“The perception of violence by adolescents and young people is very important, because, once it has been identified, we can fight it, and help to reduce it and avoid it. And if you add to that that ours will be the adult generation in a few years, we are contributing to having fewer manifestations of violence in the future, so they remain as old experiences, a thing of the past”, the young woman says.

Dagmar learned about Mídete thanks to an invitation from the Gente con Swing project, led by Muchachas magazine and UNICEF, to participate in a virtual workshop, via Telegam, aimed at adolescents aged 16 to 18. Its goal was to raise awareness of the prevention of forms of violence experienced by adolescents and young people, and to share with them tools for that purpose, as well as to listen to their proposals to generate content and ways to address them.

“The workshop was very productive for me”, she says. “I learned about subjects like violence and harassment in society, the role of women and young people in the struggle for a peaceful coexistence (that is, the absence of violence). And above all, it drove me to do something from my community and my school, including my friends and family, in favor of empowering women and for human rights. Mídete has been an inspiration, a center for creativity. It supported a school, a beautiful group, full of the desire to do something different.”

“I would participate in another Mídete event with pleasure. I feel I’ve done too little, that I have a lot to learn and that this campaign will nourish me with that magic I was able to experience when I was heard, understood and respected. I feel I’m part of a family.”