Though atmospheric, the streets of Havana are ill prepared for the challenges of climate change
Cuba’s life task
Over the course of a month, Arzucan Askin and her team travelled around Cuba to record the ways in which the country’s women are responding to climate change with a typically Cuban spirit of resilience
Though it falls within the category commonly known as ‘Small Island Developing States’ (SIDS), the island of Cuba, with its history and socio-political system, nevertheless stands alone. The legacy of Spanish and American colonialism is evident across the island, from the architecture of Old Havana to the spruced-up, brightly coloured Chevies that dot the roads. The history of the island is one of histrionics, from the Socialist Revolution to the downfall of the Soviet Union, the Special Period and finally, Obama’s arrival.
Life, for most Cubans, is organised by these events; to resist them and to thrive because of, or despite them, is a social fact of Cubanism. Acts of resistance are, therefore, a defining factor of Cuban life.
Now, as the island enters a new crisis,
derived from the depreciation of oil, the loss of support from Venezuela, and tightening economic restrictions at the hands of the Trump administration in the US, Cubans are forced to resist yet another challenge – climate change.
Ever more frequent and more intense weather events, primarily hurricanes, have left Cubans facing unprecedented flooding, soil salinisation and threatened food security. This vulnerability to the impacts of climate change has been further exacerbated by the country’s debilitated economy, weak infrastructure and restricted access to food.
Paradoxically, these factors and the legacy of the Cuban Revolution have pushed women, often considered to be the most vulnerable group to the impacts of climate change, to the forefront of climate action on the island. The Federation of Cuban
Women (FMC), founded by Fidel Castro in 1960, has been essential in advancing gender equality across the island. Its principles of community organisation and resistance are reflected in the numbers of women who have mobilised in support of the country’s national plan for climate action: Tarea Vida – ‘Life Task’.
In August 2019, in the midst of a global call for gender-sensitive approaches to climate change, our team conducted fieldwork in Cuba to examine the socio-political factors that affect Cuban women’s experiences of climate change and their contribution to Tarea Vida.
Over the span of one month we spoke to government offi cials and civil society representatives in three different areas of Cuba. A key word in our academic and grant proposals – ‘resilience’ – was a recurrent theme in every interview we conducted. Understanding what resilience means for these women and how it translates into daily action became the core of our work. What follows are the stories of three women fighting to address the impacts of climate change, in the face of undeniable adversity.
June 2020 . 55
Barnes & Noble
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