Date: Fri, 8 Dec 1995 13:14:11 CST
Sender: Activists Mailing List <>
From: NY Transfer News Collective <>
Subject: Changing the Image: Cuban Women & Media

Via NY Transfer News Collective * All the News that Doesn't Fit

From: (Karen Wald , Periodista - APC)

Changing the Image: Cuban Women & Media

By Karen Lee, APC, 8 December 1995

Havana - "Magin" in Spanish means both image and mind (intellect). It can also mean imagination. These are key elements in the ongoing battle for women to achieve their rightful place in society, according to Cuban communications and media workers who founded an organization by that name.

In the last year some 170 Cuban women working in all branches of communications have met regularly to discuss the challenges faced by women and propose some solutions. They came together following the First Iberoamerican Women in Communications Conference in 1993, and decided they needed a permanent structure to attempt to resolve the many problems discussed there.

What were some of the problems? Underrepresentation of women in leadership positions throughout all of the media; stereotypical and often negatives images of women, especially on the tv screen, and more recently in advertising; lack of coverage of women in the leadership roles they do play -- to name a few.

They cited the need to build self esteem, raise consciousness, learn to use new technology and handle new concepts, develop themselves professionally and create gender-conscious modes of social communication.

During the year since Magin's creation, the women communicators have delved into a number of other problems as well --ones that impact on their lives as workers, as single women, or as wives and mothers. Problems such as the reappearance of prostitution in the country after its virtual elimination over the last three decades. Or the hidden racism that has been showing its ugly head increasingly over the last few years as revolutionary constraints that formerly at least silenced if not eliminated such sentiments have broken down.

Not to mention the perennial problem of the "double shift" that working women still bear, despite the 1975 Family Code mandate that all people in a household should share equally in the housework and care of the children.

Other topics analized and debated at these workshops: sexism in language; the dilema faced by women over 50, "when your body changes"; domestic violence (a formerly taboo subject in Cuba where most men and women believed or pretended it didn't exist); current tendencies in investigative journalism and social communication; and "What's happening with civil society in Cuba?"

The women decided to focus on the media not just because Magin's founders were communications workers. "Mass media exercises a tremendous influence over people's ideas and over what actual happens in the world," explained MIrta Rodriguez Calderon, a journalist at the weekly Bohemia magazine and one of Magin's co-founders. "A text, a song, a scene, a behavior, multiplied by millions of readers,listeners or viewers who receive that message takes on a truth of its own; it's implanted in people's minds."

Magin says it bases its philosophy on the ideas of Patricia Anzola, who said "News has no sex, but the way it is portrayed does have gender". Its members argue that social, historical and cultural factors, rather than biological ones, determine what role women and men will play in any society.

Nora Quintana, another founder, adds: " The norms and guidelines that have been set down for us for generations effectively prevent the development of individual potential among most women and many men. But women have been the most harmed by it. You see this in the news media and other forms of social comunication, where the protagonists are almost always men."

Irma Armas of the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC) pointed out that women are demeaned as well as discriminated against when their faces and bodies are used to sell products or attract tourism. But this is a problem that faces the whole society, so why just have a women's organization? some people asked.

Irene Ester Ruiz and Rosalia Arnaez, who both work at the state-run Cuban television institute, responded that "We understand best the problems that affect us directly. As women who are directly involved in media we can open paths, promote collective action, we can present arguments and deliver messages that are articulate and we have a way to make those messages reach women all over the country."

Although Magin is a space for women, it is not closed to men who are concerned over the same issues and want to develop a consciousness of gender.

Just the fact that women are raising some of these issues is in itself revolutionary. This year for the first time the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) uttered the word "prostitution" in their Congress, debating this and other urgent problems created in a world turned topsy-turvy.

Cuban President Fidel Castro also talked about it in his closing address to the Congress. His comment that the existence of prostitution and "jineterismo" (a Cuban word implying hustling in the broadest sense rather than simply sex for sale) should not be simply accepted as inevitable was an important break from the previous attitude, especially around the tourist industry.

This year's second Women in Communications topics brought together women from Argentina, Brasil, Venezuela, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Bolivia and Cuba.

One of the most important results of the Conference was the decision to create a network of women communicators to provide articles, graphics, videos, radio tapes etc. for the various means of communication actively seeking input by and about women. The network will have its headquarters in Havana with a re-distribution point in Brazil. The new network will be called imaGEN in English (gender-focused images and information).

MAGIN has already received some seed money from OXFAM and a Belgian group to buy some office supplies (we have our first photocopier!). Needed are computers, modems, tape recorders (and tapes), microphones, video equipment (camera, tripod, lights, VCR player, tapes), a good transcribing machine with foot pedal (Sanyo makes a very good one).

MAGIN would appreciate donations in kind or money to buy this equipment, as well as help in applying for foundation grants. Please pass this request on to those you think might be interesting in helping in any way.

Media & Communications Consultant
Ecology & EcoTourism Reports
Karen Lee Wald
e/152 y 154
Nautico, Playa
La Habana, Cuba
VOICE: (53-7) 218072

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