To read this content please select one of the options below:

Barriers to Sustainability: Gendered Divisions of Labor in Cuban Urban Agriculture

From Sustainable to Resilient Cities: Global Concerns and Urban Efforts

ISBN: 978-1-78441-058-2, eISBN: 978-1-78441-057-5

Publication date: 25 November 2014



Studying Cuban urban agriculture is important because empirically investigating existing, innovative projects geared toward sustainability can illuminate the processes that facilitate and inhibit environmental reform. I assess the social costs and benefits, achievements, and ongoing challenges at one urban farm. I highlight the interconnection of societal institutions – including gender relationships and gendered economic structures – that can foster or undermine sustainability projects. My analysis of the social dimensions of environmental problems is based on Ariel Salleh’s theoretical work. She argues that women’s invisible reproductive labor mediates paid labor by maintaining the viability of such labor. My contribution is to add an empirical dimension to her work.


To assess the challenges of urban sustainability, I spent two months conducting participant observation and semi-structured interviews with workers at an urban farm in Havana, Cuba.


I find that culturally prescribed gender divisions of labor are entrenched in Cuban urban agriculture. Women continue to do most of the important, yet unacknowledged, domestic work that maintains the health of agricultural labor. Additionally, the heavier burdens women experience during the second shift restrict their ability to participate in local democratic decision-making processes, thereby limiting their capacity to modify oppressive cultural norms and maintaining the status quo.


Socially just environmental change does not automatically happen when the barriers of capitalism are removed, even if the society bases economic progress on increasing quality of life rather than profit. Instead, socially just environmental change must be a deliberate process that is constantly negotiated, reassessed, and prioritized.




Funded by the Center for the Study of Women in Society at the University of Oregon and by the Wasby-Johnson Dissertation Research Award through the Sociology Department at the University of Oregon.


Ergas, C. (2014), "Barriers to Sustainability: Gendered Divisions of Labor in Cuban Urban Agriculture", From Sustainable to Resilient Cities: Global Concerns and Urban Efforts (Research in Urban Sociology, Vol. 14), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 239-263.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014 Emerald Group Publishing Limited