Committe in Solidarity with the Central American People
The Women's Movement in Cuba
By Joyce Thomas
The six Eugene women who visited Cuba last July as part of a women's delegation led by Margaret Randall, feminist activist author of numerous books in Latin America solidarity and women's issues, saw many faces of women's rights in Cuba. The role of women in the revolution itself and in various social changes have given women a powerful place in Cuban society; nevertheless, true gender equality has still not been achieved.
Women such as Haydee Santamaria fought with Castro in his futile first attempt at revolution in 1953 and returned to fight with him until his success in 1959. Havana's Museum of the Revolution has life size photos of these women. Women said, "We'd rather be fighting at the side of the men than doing laundry."
One of the first post-revolutionary acts was Castro's formation of the Federation of Cuban Women, the FMC, which was charged with the important task of bringing literacy to the people: the FMC sent 100,000 literary trainers into the countryside and helped re-train the 63,000 live-in domestic workers displaced by the revolution. One Cuban senator, a former sugar cane worker, received her first education at age 18 from this incredibly successful effort.
Today the Cuban Congress is 22% women, and 50% of Cuba's doctors are women. Nevertheless, men still hold a disproportionate number of scientific and technical posts. Eighty percent of Cuban women belong to the FMC.
Unfortunately, women are still doing more of the laundry that the official Family Code prescribes when it requires men and women to share equally in housework and child care. According to the FMC "the special period" of increased economic pressures shifted the focus from some of these revolutionary goals to a survival mode in which women have had to take on greater responsibilities at work and at home in the face of food scarcity and medical shortages.
Although the revolution virtually eliminated prostitution, the increasing tourism that has been embraced as one solution to Cuba's economic problems has led to a re-emergence of this oppression. An international women's conference scheduled for 1997 in Cuba will include this issue in its focus on avoiding tourist industry exploitation of women workers.
A major related loss to all Cuban women is the recent dissolution of the radical feminist group, Magen, who in its 2 years of existence focused on media and advertising exploitation of women and led the fight against sex tourism. At an international women's conference in Spain, these women were berated for not having a conscious feminist theory. When they returned to Cuba, they read feminist theory and fully explored its implications for gender transformation. The FMC moves more slowly and is more conservative within the revolutionary context of its many gains for women and Cuban society.
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