In Verisk Maplecroft’s Women and Girls’ Rights Index 2017, Cuba is ranked 83rd out of 198 countries (where ranks closer to one denote greatest risk). This means that businesses and investors are at ‘high risk’ of association with practices that discriminate against, or otherwise infringe upon the rights of women and girls.
Since the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the position of women in the country has improved significantly, particularly in terms of educational attainment and political participation. Thanks to progressive policies and legislation, around half the workers in the public sector are women, as are half the parliamentarians, the latter being the third highest percentage of any country in the world. All women receive pre- and post-natal care, and free childcare centres enable young mothers to earn a living. However, discrimination against women in the workplace and at home remains common.
Women make up more than half of the Cuban workforce. Recent reforms allowing citizens to launch their own businesses have resulted in an increase in women starting their own companies, despite a heavily regulated operating environment. Women are involved in a number of sectors, from small car services for tourists to artisanal clothes manufacturing and luxury soap production. Nevertheless, the impact of economic sanctions has meant that the Cuban economy has relied heavily on tourism. As a result, many women, both high and low skilled, engage in prostitution to access the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), which is worth more than the locally used Cuban Peso (CUP). Since the early 1990s, the influx of tourists has also encouraged disadvantaged adolescent girls and young women to become sex workers. The government largely turns a blind eye to tourists paying for underage sex due to the important contribution of tourism to the economy. Even highly educated women in secure jobs remain vulnerable to falling into prostitution. The dual currency system in place means that women can often earn more as sex workers, known as locally as jineteras, than they might do as surgeons or lawyers. Increased foreign investment has a major role to play in providing quality, well-paid jobs for women so that they do not have engage in prostitution. However, the normalisation of relations between the US and Cuba in December 2014 has not resulted in the expected influx of foreign investment that could improve gender equality. The decision in June 2017 by President Trump to roll back some of the pro-Cuba policies has dealt a further blow to this hope.
Nevertheless, companies that can invest in Cuba will find a highly educated female workforce. Women make up 80% of all university students the country, and subjects such as social sciences and medicine are dominated by girls, resulting in the health sector being made up predominantly of women. The high number of female graduates in these sectors suggests that investment in these areas would benefit girls, particularly in Cuba’s innovative biotechnology sector.