A group of private women shoemakers from the Havana municipality of Marianaohas been trying for two years to achieve the legalisation of their business, called La Oportuna, and to become a non-agricultural cooperative managed by women.
The shoemaking initiative has as antecedent a diagnosis with a gender focus applied in the Zamora-Cocosolo People’s Council in 2014, the municipality’s most populated zone and with a high rate of criminality and conflicts, according to documents endorsed by Sandra América Hidalgo Mesa, a popular educator from one of Marianao’s six Barrio Transformation Workshops (TTB).
“This diagnosis confirmed who the disadvantaged women were: the women and not the men, but most of them were black and mestizo, ex inmates, sanctioned for transactional sex and with low – or no – economic incomes,” Hidalgo said to IPS Cuba.
However, the work with women began in 2009, with workshops and self-esteem seminars for victims of conjugal violence. Many of those founders are currently trying to strengthen their aptitudes as entrepreneurs of the community to generate profits that will represent greater autonomy and social recognition.
“Shoemaking is an alternative to free themselves of the economic dependence on their husbands, to earn money in a dignified way, without having to go out to invent, to sell products in the streets without legal backing,” Hidalgo emphasises.
She adds that these women aspire to better wages, but under the principles of a solidary economy: the capital is the means and not the end of the work, equality is promoted to the detriment of egalitarianism and the commitment to the environment and the community is pondered. Moreover, the initiative has helped them recover their self-esteem and to grow as persons.
“This project has not only been useful to learn how to make shoes, but also to develop other skills which perhaps are dormant in us. I practically didn’t speak or express what I felt, but now I’ve been uplifted,” Inalvis Elizastigui, from Guantanamo but a resident of Marianao and one of the founders of La Oportuna, confesses.
After two years presenting the application and the documents pertinent to the respective local organs of People’s Power in Marianao to formalise the cooperative, following the directives of Decree Law No. 305 of the Extraordinary Official Gazette of December 11, 2012, the women shoemakers seem stranded in mid-way.
“If we don’t have the approval to legalise that mini-enterprise we can’t do anything, yes, the values of the proposal are recognised: it is very good, it’s a beautiful project, they tell us, but that is not the point…. I believe they haven’t known how to take advantage of what we have achieved, they haven’t found a place where to locate the shoemaking shop to give fair employment to these women,” Hidalgo warns.
Having a legal status is indispensable for the leasing of a locale, to have access to raw materials and to be able to distribute and sell the end products, as the Official Gazette establishes in the case of non-agricultural cooperatives.
The women producers already have made sandals as part of their training, but they lack the legal means to sell them, recover the investment and distribute the profits.
“That’s why at times the projects are dropped, the people lose interest and leave, because it’s not just a problem of materials…, when we’re going to sell we have to ask for a letter of distribution, to carry out a fair, for everything we need a letter, if not, it’s a problem,” says Hidalgo.
Housing is among the priorities to be resolved by the local authorities in the municipality, the city’s seventh most densely populated. As IPS Cuba was able to confirm, the very locale where the Zamora-Cocosolo TTB is located is also the provisional home of some families who suffered disaster situations with their homes.
“We know of the deterioration and lack of housing. We are receptive and patient, but we expect them to pay attention to the project which is also a priority, because it resolves social problems,” the popular educator explains.
“Creating a cooperative is very difficult, the process is morose, it can even take years,” Hildalgo concludes. That’s why it was decided to join several initiatives of the municipality in the project Women and Local Development, each one with its own life but with a common objective: preparing women in entrepreneurship to incorporate them to the labour market.
With that unity they aim to then attain the backing of state authorities in terms of budget, advice and accompaniment at least at the start of the initiative.
Relations like the ones established between the municipality’s authorities and the project La Oportuna does not demonstrate a strategic focus or the use of the leadership of social actors in the work and transformation of the communities to boost the country’s economic-social development, according to experts.
“This project deserves everyone’s support, I would like it to be great, that this group of women could found and manage a cooperative, that is my dream, to really see the fruit of our work, to help the community, the persons with lower incomes,” says Inalvis Elizastigui.
Qualitative and quantitative leaps in the improvement of the national economy could stem from the multiactoral alliances on a local level. However, the absence of a solidary socialcontent expressed in legal statutes and regulations for private entrepreneurship limits its field of action and autonomy for its contribution to the economy and society, according to specialists. (2017)