CUBA was not exempt from denying
women their civil and political rights as human
beings. Women on the island, like everywhere else,
suffered discrimination and injustice, possibly more
harshly than their sisters in other nations, given
the legacy of machismo left by Spanish colonialism.
In 1883 Cuba had its first doctor
and ophthalmologist, Laura Martínez de Carvajal y
del Camino, who battled social barriers of the 19th
century, to the extent of doing her anatomy
practicals on weekends, as the University did not
allow her to dissect cadavers with the other
students, all male.
Another earlier example (1819) of
the long arm of discrimination against women is the
story of Enriqueta Faber, of Swiss origin, who was
forced to disguise herself as a man, not only to
study medicine in France, but to work as a doctor in
According to a 1953 census, the
majority of women were confined to the home, caring
for children and their partners; 13.7% of adult
women were employed outside the home, and more than
a quarter of these (70,000) were domestic workers, a
large percentage of whom were African Cuban. Some
were earning barely 20 cents a day, or working
solely for a roof over their heads and food.
It is estimated that 83% of all
employed women worked for less than 10 weeks a year,
and only 14% the year round. The same source
recorded that they constituted 82% of teachers, 81%
of social workers, and 68% of pharmacists.
The doors to leadership positions or
professions considered exclusively male were firmly
closed to them. On the other hand, the doors
remained open for prostitution, into which many
women were forced.
It was only after the January 1,
1959 Revolution that major changes were introduced
for Cuban women. Many pioneers of the stature of
Haydée Santamaría, Melba Hernández, Celia Sánchez
and Vilma Espín played a critical role prior to the
revolutionary triumph, in the war or the underground
movement, opening the doors to women’s participation
in the transformations underway in all areas.
With the creation of the Federation
of Cuban Women (FMC) on August 23, 1960, Vilma Espín
was responsible for organizing the thousands of
women who wished to participate in these changes.
Opportunities soon arrived for
involvement in the women’s militia, despite the
opposition of fathers or husbands in many cases,
when the country was threatened by U.S. imperialism;
almost at the same time, thousands of young women
trained to teach literacy throughout the country, in
the mountains or urban areas. The Ana Betancourt
schools were created for girls living in the most
remote rural areas, as well as training schools for
childcare centers and the [Anton] Makarenko teachers.
Step by step, organized and supported by the FMC,
women not only demanded their rightful place within
society, but set about securing it.
On December 9, 1966, the leader of
the Revolution, Fidel Castro affirmed, "This
phenomenon of women in the Revolution is a
revolution within another revolution. If we were
asked what is the most revolutionary thing that the
revolution is doing, we would respond that it is
precisely this: the revolution which is taking place
in the women of our country!"
Many of our forbearers could never
have imagined women as bus, truck or tank drivers,
directors of sugar mills, vice presidents of
government, parliamentary deputies, heads of
municipal government, war correspondents, pilots,
athletes, sailors and prominent scientists.
It is true that the figures are
still below the aspirations of the government, the
FMC and women themselves; that traits of machismo
remain along with discrimination, particularly in
the labor sector; that women themselves could be
more assertive in demanding gender equality, but
every day sees advances.
This can be confirmed by data from
the National Statistics Office. Women comprise 63%
of the country’s employed professional and technical
personnel; 62.8% of higher education graduates at
the end of 2011; 35.6% are in the technical and
professional education sector; 36.7% occupy
leadership positions; and 43.3% of deputies to the
National Assembly of People's Power are women. They
constitute 46.7% of the labor force in the state
sector, 28% of ministers and 40% of leaders.