Mariela Castro, Director of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX).
Mariela Castro was born on July 27, 1962, to a couple of Cuban revolutionaries: Raul Castro and Vilma Espin—also a prominent guerrilla who later became president of the Federation of Cuban Women. Mariela bears a close resemblance to her mother Espin by taking over her idea to advance women’s rights in Cuba and Latin America and by continuing her work. Mariela is also the director of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), an institution under the umbrella of the Ministry of Health, and is the country’s most prominent gender empowerment and gay rights activist.
She was born into a homophobic society. She admitted that she laughed at gays and made fun of them. But it was only in college in the late 1970s when she opened her eyes to the gay rights movement.
During her teenage years her ideas about LGBT people began to change. She started to observe, to question, and to investigate. But she successfully fought off attempts to have gays expelled for their sexual orientation.
Castro has instituted awareness campaigns, trained police on relations with the LGBT community and lobbied lawmakers to legalize same-sex unions. She was elected as a deputy in Cuba’s Parliament in February 2013.
Mariela has become the first person to vote ‘No’ in Cuba’s National Assembly, over a lack of protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers in a parliamentary bill.
She has lobbied for years for her father’s government to legalize same-sex marriage, something he has not done yet. So, she has been pushing for reforms. Last year, for example, as a member of parliament, she voted against a workers’ rights bill that she felt didn’t go far enough to prevent discrimination against people with HIV or with unconventional gender identities.
Mariela Castro, by virtue of her name and her work for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Cubans, has become a spokeswoman in Cuba and internationally: a voice of the new revolutionary generation.
In 2005, she advocated for allowing transgender people to have gender reassignment surgery and change their legal gender. Over the past decade she’s campaigned against homophobia, with remarkable results. Outspoken and self-confident, today she meets regularly with visiting dignitaries, including a delegation of U.S. women, and travels the world to talk about gay rights and gender equality. Mariela Castro, by virtue of her name and her work for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Cubans, has become a spokeswoman in Cuba and internationally: a voice of the new revolutionary generation.
Mariela recognizes many forms of discrimination in Cuba—against women, against people of color. She admits that she is working on this type of discrimination. “When I challenge this and people realize you are wrong, it makes you question all the types of discrimination that you do.”
Mariela advocates gender equality and, in particular, women empowerment as a must in achieving sustainable development in the international economic relations.
Mariela advocates gender equality and, in particular, women empowerment as a must in achieving sustainable development in international economic relations. This cannot be achieved without a real political will directed to put an end to the deep gaps between rich and poor countries, if the existing gaps within each nation are not eliminated, if there is not an agreed action to eradicate poverty that mainly affects women, young people and other vulnerable groups.Women’s equality must be acknowledged as a fundamental human rights. The rights to live without exclusion, to health services and to free education are essential conditions for development. Otherwise, in her opinion, it cannot be considered a right.
A comprehensive sexual education is a resource for the full emancipation of the human being that contributes to their formation as individuals. Therefore, it must be inclusive.
In the 21st century women rights continue to be violated and so far no speeches, conventions, and international consensus are effective. In most countries women receive lower wages than men by doing the same job. Women in many cases are forced to choose between death and jail when they need to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. That situation, in her opinion, shows the permanent patriarchal domination that does not recognize women’s fundamental right to decide over their own lives.
She argues that women are no longer willing to be condemned to death by burning at the stake for heresy and witchcraft, using euphemisms of contemporary language expressed in laws and policies that violate our rights and undermine the social transformation processes.
In order to change women’s condition, we must change men’s because gender is a relative category. Both women and men should benefit from educational actions that break apart the dominant mechanisms that resist change.
Mariela, therefore, calls for a new policy, which establishes new values for the change in the intergender and intergenerational power relationships that concerns the family, women, girls, and young people’s human rights.