Subject: WHAT DO CUBAN WOMEN HAVE?
WHAT DO CUBAN WOMEN HAVE?
It has often been said that the world is divided between the
"haves" and the "have-nots". In this division, the "have-nots"
tend to come in disproportionate numbers from the developing
nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America, and tend to be found
especially among the very young and the very old -- and women.
But it doesn't have to be that way. Since the Revolution in
1959, Cuban women are more noted for what they have than what
they don't have -- and some of the things they don't have are
those no woman would want: rape, prostitution, drug abuse,
wife-beating, sweat-shops, poverty, racism, illiteracy, hunger.
The following poem was written to give women of the world an
idea of what it is like to be a woman in Cuba today.
I, Juana, woman
Who before had nothing
And today I have everything.
What do I have:
I have, let me see,
I have that I can walk down the street
any time of day or night
without fear of violence
and without fear of scorn.
I have that my decision to marry
or not to marry,
is mine alone.
I have school
for as long as I want to go.
I have work
in any field that interests me.
I have that when I marry, I do so for love.
I do so as an equal partner.
I relinquish nothing.
I have that my children and my house
are equally my husband's
and the work and responsibility they entail
are both of ours.
I have a job and an education and I am free to choose
the kind of life I want to lead.
I, Juana, woman
What do I have?
I have that when I am sick, I am healed
by skilled and caring doctors and nurses
I have a comprehensive health care system
that is mine by right, free,
because we working people
have won that right.
We earn it.
It is not a gift.
I have, let me see
I have a country
where infant mortality is not
babies who die for every thousand born
Or even 60/1000
as in our sister nations
of Latin America, Africa, and Asia
a figure equal to that
in the developed countries
of the world
(Better than in those countries
because even there
they have "pockets of misery"
ghettos and barrios
where the rates equal those
of the Third World.)
I have, let me see
I have that when I go to school,
no one tells me
"This subject is only for boys"
"You're wasting your time; that's
a man's field".
I have that half of all university students
Half of all medical students
I have that I can study to be
an engineer, an agronomist
a sculptor, a physicist
a writer, a military officer
a captain of a ship.
I have that when I get a job
the pay is equal to that of a man
And we women make up
47% of the labor force.
I have that when I, as a worker
decide to have children
I am granted 18 weeks paid maternity leave
and a year's job security
if I choose to stay home with my new child.
I have, as a working mother, access to low-cost
where all my child's developmental,
and nurturing needs are met,
giving me the peace of mind
that enables me to work.
What do I have?
I have the right to control my own body
To learn how to have
or not have
I have access to birth control information
And when necessary, abortion
performed by qualified
in modern medical facilities.
and without stigma.
I have a country that believes
"sex education" means
Not just learning about the "birds and the bees"
but about equality of the sexes.
And that starts teaching
both the how to and the role concepts
and keeps teaching them
at all levels
through medical school.
I, Juana, woman,
What do I have?
I have a society that does not sell products
by advertising the semi-nude body of a woman.
That does not need drugs
to distract the mind
from the misery of existence
because our existence
is full of hope.
I have a society
where I can raise children
without fear for their future.
I, Juana, black woman
What do I have?
I have that I walk down the street
sit in a restaurant
go to the theatre,
to the beach,
to a park
together with my sisters of other colors
and no one raises a hand to stop me.
No one says: "For whites only"
No one motions me to the servants entrance.
I am no longer a maid
a prostitute selling my body
to feed my children.
I have that nobody says,
"Black mother, why do you waste your time
trying to send your children to school?
Send them to the cane fields
where they can earn some money."
My daughters are engineering students
And I am earning my Ph.D.
I, Juana, campesina
Woman of the countryside
What do I have?
I have my own plot of land
that no landlord can take from me.
I have a house with running water, electricity.
My children do not run in bare feet
with bellies swollen by parasites.
My children go to school.
My husband and I work the land
with the other campesinos
Who before had nothing
and today have everything.
I, Juana, vieja
Old woman, but no longer useless,
no longer cast aside.
What do I have?
I have that I spend my days
working in my block committee
vaccinating the children of my block;
working for the Women's Federation
teaching young women
the facts of life;
working in the school
as a valued volunteer.
And I have that I spend my nights
(when it is my turn)
guarding the homes, the schools, the day care centers
and the offices of my neighborhood
which is now truly mine, truly ours.
I, Juana, woman
Still have many problems to face
My country is underdeveloped
It is attacked in many ways
And there is the reality that
Old ideas and habits are hard to change.
I have a Women's Federation
1.2 million women strong --
82% of the women of my country.
I have a government that is sensitive to
the needs of women
And pays close attention to the issues
we raise in our community meetings
or Women's Federation Congresses
whether we are talking about jobs,
education, health care
or social problems;
A government that moves, concretely
to resolve the problems
we point out.
I have, let me see:
I have a government
that responds to all the people
because the people are the government
and women, slowly emerging
from our centuries-old cocoon
are already taking our place in that government
participating at all levels
in ever growing numbers.
What do I have? Let's see:
I have a gun
training in the militia
or in the regular army.
I have the ability
to defend my country, my people
against any attack
and the determination to fight
the gains we have won
through so much blood and tears.
I have, let me see,
I have a new awareness
of my sisters around the globe.
I'm no longer separated from them.
I have the ability to reach out and help them
as a teacher in Nicaragua
a doctor in Angola
an agricultural adviser in Vietnam
And I know that my interests are the same
as those of the Indian miner's wife in Bolivia
the trade union organizer in Peru
the artist in Kampuchea
the pharmacist in Kenya
the prisoner of the Bantustans in South Africa
the sociologist in the Dominican Republic
the mother whose child has "disappeared" in Chile
the migrant farmworker in the California fields
the black woman who can't get a job anywhere in the US
the secretary who makes the coffee
and suffers the humiliation
of her lecherous boss
in London, Tokyo, Paris or New York
For all these women are my sisters
And we can never be divided again.
I, Juana, Cuban woman
What do I have?
I have, let's see,
I have what I had to have.
I have what I fought to have.
And I will keep fighting until
we all have
what we have to have.
Karen Wald is a journalist from California who has visited and written
about Cuba frequently since 1969. Her book on Cuban children (CHILDREN OF
CHE) was published in English by Ramparts Press, California in 1978 and in
Subject: CUBAN WOMEN IN DEFENSE
WOMEN IN DEFENSE
by Karen Wald
Women's role Cuba's armed forces, militias and other aspects of national
defense was one of the theses prepared for the Congress, but was not a real
topic of debate, since women seem to have encountered few problems in this
area. In the last five years, in fact, their participation in all areas of
national defense has multiplied impressively. This was most effectively
documented in the film (shown the first night) entitled "Mama Goes to War".
The documentary showed women going off to a militia training camp. They
included housewives and construction workers, students and professionals,
some very young, others grey-haired grandmothers.
With humor and empathy, the film showed the variety of attitudes,
abilities and problems of the women when they first began their training.
The women themselves talked about the support -- or lack of it -- they got
at home from husbands and family members, and at times from their workplaces.
At the beginning of their training, most of the women had never held a
gun before; many flinched, some cried. But by the end, when they were
carrying out dress-rehearsals for a real invasion, every woman was in her
place, carrying out her assigned job with aplomb.
In his final speech to the Congress, Fidel Castro noted that women now
make up 48% of the militias, as well as filling the civil defense units and
health brigades. Twenty thousand women have received officer training in the
militias. Women throughout the country have gone through practice drills,
simulated invasions, and "war games" aimed at preparing the entire
population for the possibility of a real invasion from the United States.
(The Cuban government has been very edgy since Ronald Reagan's election
brought a right-wing administration to Washington in l98l, and was convinced
that his reelection presented the imminent danger of armed intervention in
Calling women a "decisive force" in the country's defenses, Castro added:
"This isn't just a Congress of women, it is a Congress of half of our
Territorial Troops Militias, a Congress of the defenders of our country, a
Congress of the new combatants and soldiers of the revolution!" He observed
that the country feels "stronger, more secure, more invincible" because of
this massive participation on the part of women.
Subject: CUBAN WOMEN - STILL A LONG WAY TO GO
CUBAN WOMEN - STILL A LONG WAY TO GO
by Karen Wald
A socialist revolution can make fundamental changes in the people's
lives. By changing the economic and political structure of a country, it can
lay the groundwork for the elimination of racism, sexism and class
oppression. But a socialist revolution by itself cannot automatically
eliminate sexism and sexual discrimination. It is up to the women and the
men of each country to analyze the problems they have inherited and
determine how to bring about the necessary changes. This is a long, slow
process, but ultimately an extremely rewarding one. Nowhere is this more
evident than in looking at the progression of demands and results expressed
in the Congresses of the Cuban Women's Federation, the most recent of which
was held this past March.
Cuban women have clearly come a long way from the days when a proper
young lady went out at night accompanied by a chaperone, and a virgin bride
was transferred from father to husband like so much property. And the
situation for both rural and urban poor was even worse. With almost no
education or job-training, women who did not stay under the protective
umbrella of husbands or fathers were generally forced to become either maids
or prostitutes, and thus at the mercy of other men -- employers, "johns",
pimps, racketeers -- because there was very little legitimate employment for
These semi-feudal conditions, in which women were subjected to an
inherited patriarchy that permitted them little or no leeway to live
independent lives, have disappeared since the revolution. Women now study on
a par with their male counterparts, and are entering the productive
workforce in increasing numbers. They play an active part in the political,
economic, military and social life of their country that would have been
inconceivable for previous generations of Cuban women.
The Revolutionary Government, spurred on by the Cuban Women's Federation
(FMC), has enacted legislation and waged ideological campaigns to bring
about equality for women. But it hasn't been an easy process, and it didn't
take place overnight.In fact, in l962, when the First Congress of the
Women's Federation took place, full equality wasn't even an immediate
organizational goal, nor a realistic possibility. At that time, women who
had already been taking part in the revolutionary process in a variety of
ways were primarily concerned with how to involve more women, how to
organize them, and how to start getting them out of their traditional role
of homemaker. Just introducing the concept of education for women at that
stage was revolutionary. Voluntary work was proposed as a way to accustom
women to the role of worker, but the Federation did not yet make an attempt
to get women involved in the productive workforce. No one was yet talking
about women's liberation or the full
equality of men and women.
For a variety of reasons, the Second Congress wasn't held until l974 -- a
span of 12 years. The changes were extraordinary. By then, 25% of the women
were involved in the active work force, and concepts that would have seemed
startling in l962 became basic demands. For the first time, the Federation
began to talk about how to create conditions for the full equality of women
in the society. It was then that Fidel Castro described the liberation of
women as a "revolution within the revolution." In this sense the Second
Congress of the FMC in l974 was a clear turning point. Women began to look
at the ideological aspects of a women's movement and to understand the
long-range work that would be needed to implement the goal that had been so
clearly stated: to bring about full equality.
By the time of the Third Congress in l980, adult women were being urged
to complete their sixth grade education, and equal rights was no longer a
concept to be established but a concrete objective to be won. Now the
discussion was how to exercise those rights. A nationwide plan was set up to
take on the ideological and practical work this entailed.
A primary aspect of this Fourth Congress was to carry out an evaluation
of that process. It asks the questions, What have we done, what have other
organizations done, to fulfill these goals? What has women's participation
in all spheres of life meant for the country? What has it meant for women?
And perhaps most important, What remains to be done? The incredible spirit,
the pure joy, which abounded in this Congress seemed to belie the immense
job that still lies ahead. Perhaps it is that Cuban women, seeing how far
they've come, are supremely confident of their ability to keep moving
forward, despite what would look to an outsider like insuperable obstacles
of built-in machismo interwoven with underdevelopment.
The incorporation of women into the productive workforce has been much
faster than the change in attitudes. The delegates to the Congress, in
looking at both the progress over the last five years and at the remaining
problems, made a series of proposals to strengthen and deepen what was
already begun in the long effort to bring about full equality.
In l959 there were fewer than 200,000 women in the active workforce.
Today there are over one million, 38% of adult women. Getting women out of
the house and into the productive life of the country was a combined effort
of the FMC and the government, one passing needed legislation and setting
guidelines, the other working door to door (and sometimes workplace to
workplace) to change old ideas and attitudes.
The superstructure has been built. There are 838 childcare centers
serving 96,000 working mothers (still not nearly enough); a maternity law
benefitting women workers that is one of the most generous in the world; a
Family code, Constitution and labor regulations all mandating equality of
women, equal pay for equal work, equality of opportunity.
But all of these mean little if they are not fully implemented, and one
of the jobs of the Women's Federation is to find out how well the system is
functioning for women, where it is falling down, and why.
If the problems a decade ago were to create the subjective and objective
conditions to get women out of the kitchen and into the workplace, the job
today is to eliminate the remaining vestiges of discriminatory attitudes
toward (and sometimes by) women. The delegates attending this Congress
confronted the problem, raised at the grass-roots meetings prior to the
Congress and widely reported in the Cuban press, of job discrimination in
both hiring and promotion: the male managers and administrators who don't
want to hire women workers, the women who are loathe to take on additional
responsibilities (or to give such responsibilities to other women). The
subjective factors that lead to this situation are supplemented by the
objective reality of women's continuing "double shift", which often
translates into high absenteeism by women workers, or inability to attend
evening meetings and work sessions. These same factors were cited as the
primary reasons so few women hold position
s of leadership in political as well as economic areas.
In addition to calling for a frontal attack on the old attitudes, the FMC
is taking a hard look at some of the objective factors. The failure in many
homes to do any more than give lip- service to the Family Code requirement
that all family members share equally in housework and responsibility for
the children is one of these factors. Another is the custom of having only
women care for sick family members, at home or when hospitalized. The custom
was reinforced by the practice in work centers of giving sanctioned (but
unpaid) leave for this purpose only to women, and by regulations that
permitted women, but not men, to stay in hospitals to care for sick family
The FMC is now officially challenging this practice. "Must it always
necessarily be the woman who gets leave to care for the ill?" it asks in the
draft thesis for the Congress, "Cuban Women: Twenty-five Years of
Revolution". Calling for a change in both hospital regulations regarding
access to wards and in work-center practices regarding the issuing of paid
leave, the thesis suggests that whichever family member can most easily be
spared from his or her work, or the loss of whose salary would least hurt
the family income, be the one given leave. "It sometimes happens that a
pediatrician or other female professional whose work is of great importance
to society has to take leave to care for a sick family member", the thesis
points out, "when her husband or some other male family member who isn't
engaged in such fundamentally important work could do it as well."
This point generated some of the liveliest and most prolonged debate of
the Congress, joined in by pediatricians, hospital directors, the Minister
of Public Health and Cuban President Fidel Castro, who sat in on most of the
Congress, paying close attention, and often intervening to ask a question or
raise a point. One of the issues was the question of who decides whose work
is more important, and how? (Fidel Castro opted for letting each family unit
decide.) A variety of doubts were raised, including those of the labor
minister, who feared men would be less trustworthy than women and might use
the pretext of caring for sick children as an excuse to slack off from work,
and those of a woman who felt that the children should be given the choice
of which parent they preferred (she was convinced most children would rather
have their mother there). Both doubts were rejected by the majority of
Aside from these concerns, the concept of men sharing the obligation with
their wives of caring for hospitalized children gained ready acceptance.
More highly debatable was the question of men caring for wives, mothers or
sisters in women's wards of hospitals (most Cuban hospitals do not yet have
such modern conveniences as curtains that can shut off one bed from view of
another; an addition which Dr. Ada Ovies, l8-year director of a small-town
hospital, suggested could resolve most of the problem). The question of men
in women's hospital wards was left for further study, and for time,
presumably, to prepare the Cuban population to accept this innovation. (Even
Fidel Castro, who is usually extremely well-informed on almost all matters,
was taken aback at the suggestion of several of the doctors that men
accompany their wives during labor and delivery. He promised to visit her
hospital soon to learn more about the modern practices she has quietly been
The FMC recognizes that sometimes it is the old-fashioned attitudes of
women themselves that perpetuate these discriminatory practices, and sets
itself the task of changing these ideas.
The thesis also comes down hard on those who, "counter to the established
norms of the Revolution", try to "block women's access to non-traditional
jobs," or who use the personal, family-related problems of women workers as
an excuse to fire them or fail to promote them.The delegates also spoke out
against the double- standard often applied to women when considering them
for political or job-related posts. The thesis and resolutions of the
Congress condemned applying any kind of moral or sexual criteria to women
that were not also applied to men. It urges closer work with the organized
labor movement to deal with such "flagrant injustice".
Given both the objective and subjective obstacles, promoting women to
positions of leadership is a major ongoing battle. The youngest members of
the society suffer little from this problem, but it seems to increase with
age. In the Jose Marti Pioneers organization, which includes children from
fifth through ninth grades, girls in fact predominate in leadership, making
up half the membership and 66.3% of the leadership. But as the children get
older, it seems, female proportion of membership in student organizations
increases -- and their percentage in leadership positions decreases. In the
secondary school student organization (FEEM), 57% of the membership and 6l%
of the leadership is female. By the time they reach college, young women --
who by now account for 59% of the membership -- have dropped to 48% of the
leadership. And although girls outnumber boys in membership of mass-based
student organizations at the high school and college levels, their
membership in the more
selective Young Communists League is lower -- only 41%.
These figures are cause for concern to the Women's Federation, which also
points out that the rise in female Party membership from 14.1% in l974 to
21.9% in l984 is encouraging, but far from satisfying.
The FMC proposes that to enable more women to both work and assume
leadership roles, three factors must come into play: l.) Help and
understanding from family members, concretely, in taking on more household
chores, not as a favor, but as an acknowledged responsibility of every
family member; 2.) the elimination of subjective attitudes, prejudices and
discrimination; and 3.) the creation of more services such as childcare
centers, laundries, workers' cafeterias, etc. Of these three, there is
little doubt number 2 will be the most difficult. The sharing of
responsibilities in the household, mandated by the Family Code, is slowly
but steadily gaining widespread acceptance. But there are still many men
holding on to their privileged position in this regard, and too many women
who are equally guilty in perpetuating the old style of relationships.
Pointing out that the old division of labor that consigned women to the
house bears no relation to today's reality, when so many wom
en are working or studying, the FMC condemns such division of labor as "a
profound injustice...that generates other injustices," and a bad example for
the younger generation. (Among the "other injustices" the FMC thesis names
is the failure to promote women or choose them as leaders because of their
family responsibilities, whereas no one would ever consider the same
criteria in evaluating a man. FMC President Vilma Espin explained that male
administrators sometimes take on a paternalistic attitude, claiming that
they "couldn't give that poor woman more responsibility, when she's got four
kids and so much work to do around the house".) If the Family Code were
really being implemented, there would be no reason to make such an
assumption about a woman worker. The FMC calls for continued persistant work
in raising consciousness on this issue.
There are other aspects in which women are often judged differently from
men when evaluating them for leadership positions. The thesis cites moral
attitude and sex life among the criteria which are discriminatorily applied
to women seeking job promotion or political leadership. This topic, too,
raised some of the most interesting discussion in the Congress. Cases were
cited in which women who were being considered for promotion or leadership
positions were rejected because they were single mothers, or were having an
affair with a married man. This presented a thorny issue for the Congress.
No one wanted to appear to be condoning marital infidelity, on the one hand,
or imposing a moral standard on the other. At least one older woman delegate
expressed the opinion that when a worker loses prestige among her
co-workers, she can no longer be considered eligible for leadership
positions. Other delegates had to once again point out that male workers
would not "lose prestige" for
such behavior. "And what about the married man she was having an affair
with?" asked one. "Would he lose prestige too? Would it even be a topic for
discussion?" In the end, the FMC stated that no criteria should be applied
to women that are not included in the official requirements for the position
she is seeking, or that are not required of men.
All these remaining problems, however vital, should not be allowed to
overshadow the enormous gains made by women over these decades of
revolution. The rate of incorporation of women into the labor force has
continued to increase in each five-year period. More than 53% of
middle-level technicians now are women, and if this figure is somewhat
bolstered by the large number of women teachers and nurses (which are
included in this category), it is encouraging that the FMC is actively
calling on young men to take up these professions as well, as one more step
in breaking down the traditional roles of men and women in the labor force.
Women have, in fact, been slowly but steadily breaking into many
non-traditional jobs, especially in the construction industry. Women now
slightly outnumber men in the universities. They make up 48% of the
Territorial Troop Militias, the mass-based fighting force which the country
will depend on to resist any outside invasion, as well as a sizable chunk of
the regular armed forces. Women make up a significant amount of the
internationalist brigades of health, education, construction and other
workers Cuba sends to more underdeveloped countries around the globe. While
their problems sometimes seem massive, and frustrating after so many years
of revolution, members of the French delegation attending the Congress as
invited guests pointed out that French women and those in other developed
countries have still not gained some of the basic rights Cuban women already
take for granted, such as equal pay for equal work. And a Guatemalan woman
observed that most other women in Cent
ral America and the Caribbean "are just fighting for bare survival of our
Unlike at the First Congress in l962, the goal of full equality has at
last become immediate and realizable, not just a far-off dream. The first
steps have already been taken. But the women at this Congress recognize all
too clearly that it will still take a lot of hard work on the part of both
women and men before they can say that the battle has been won.
End main text.
Via The N.Y. Transfer News Service 718-448-2358, 718-448-2683
[ This file has travelled through the Socialism OnLine! BBS
at +1-203-274-4639, 24 hours, 300-9600 bps HST/MNP/V42bis,
on its way to you, the reader of this file. Please share
any information you have about "big brother." Venceremos! ]