Cuban Housewives, Victims and Vectors of Coronavirus Contagion
“I leave my house every day at five in the morning, just after the curfew ends,” Teresa, a 69-year-old retiree living in the Cerro neighborhood, tells 14ymedio. “Sometimes the lines are organized and people respect the distancing, but that can change in a second and then the ’pusher’ gets started and everyone is crammed together.
Teresa is one of the many housewives who go out every day to try to find products to put in their pantry. Most of the lines in front of the shops are full of women, many of them dedicated exclusively to the home and bearing full responsibility to fill their refrigerator. Now, they have become victims and vectors of the virus in the midst of those crowds where it is almost impossible to respect social distance.
“My husband is bedridden and my son has psychiatric problems, so I am the only one in the family who can go out to look for food,” she explains. As protection, Teresa made her own mask but fears that the piece of cloth that she puts over her mouth and nose before going outside is not enough.
The provincial deputy director of Health of Havana, Yadira Olivera Nodarse, said on the Roundtable TV program, this Tuesday, that housewives are a group in which the number of Covid-19 infections is growing. This Thursday, according to the most recent data from the Ministry of Health, of the 40 confirmed cases, 14 are men and 26 women.
“As a distinctive element we must emphasize that housewives have become among those with the highest incidence.” Nodarse attributed the increase in cases among these women to the fact that several of them contract the virus from the infected workers they are in contact with, and then become a contagion factor in the lines to get food for their family.
Teresa doubly fears contagion. “If I get sick, what will become of my family?” Her husband needs special care and her son is “without the medicine prescribed because he has not been to the pharmacy for months,” she says. “I am the one who keeps my house running, but I cannot sit still and not go out so as not to catch it.”
In its Yearbook of Employment and Wages 2019, the National Office of Statistics and Information reported that half of Cuban women of working age do not have work outside the home. At home they are in charge of finding and preparing food, caring for children, cleaning and caring for the elderly.
The National Survey on Gender Equality, which was carried out in 2016, showed that 27.7% of the women surveyed were engaged in housework, while 30% of the population recognizes that the overload of housework is a problem that affects women on the island.
The pandemic has further depressed the underserved markets and finding some basic products requires moving around the city, even though mobility between municipalities is restricted.
However, the spread of the coronavirus remains one of the main factors that define the epidemiological complexity in Havana, according to Nodarse. In the last two weeks the capital has registered a daily average of 28 confirmed cases, adds the doctor.
Nuria, 71, a resident of Pueblo Nuevo in Centro Habana, has been able to avoid the crowds thanks to an emigrant daughter who buys her food online from abroad, and has it delivered to her home. “The first three months of the pandemic I spent lining up until dawn,” she recalls. “But at one point I realized that I was going to end up bringing the virus home.”
Nuria’s daughter, an emigrant and resident in the United States, now buys her pre-prepared or ready-to-eat food through various agencies connected to private restaurants. “It’s expensive and she’s spending a lot of money but she doesn’t want me to risk it,” she says. “Without her help I don’t know what would happen because I don’t even have a pension. I have been a housewife all my life.”