Women in Cuba Defending Conquests

Elio Delgado Legon

women-1HAVANA TIMES — For some months now, Cuban women have been enthusiastically organizing the ninth congress of the Cuban Women’s Federation (FMC), scheduled to take place in March of 2014. One of the characteristics of this process that caught my attention is the participation of young women, willing to take on new responsibilities within the FMC and to defend the achievements of the revolution.

One really could not expect anything else, for Cuban women have gained much dignity since the triumph of the revolution on January 1, 1959.

Before that date, most Cuban women didn’t get too far past the second grade in terms of schooling. Though we have no reliable statistics for the time, we know that the female workforce consisted of a few thousand teachers (many of whom were unemployed), a handful of nurses and a great many house maids, all living on measly salaries and under degrading conditions.

This situation – the reality of numerous countries today – has radically changed in Cuba. Today, after 55 years of revolutionary leadership, Cuban women can boast of achievements that continue to be mere dreams for millions of people around the world.

In terms of education and labor, Cuban women represent 65.6 percent of Cuba’s professional and specialized workforce and 62.8 percent of all university graduates. These two, plain figures eloquently show the degree to which Cuban women have been empowered.

Cuba was one of the first countries to sign and ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), something many countries that call themselves defenders of human rights and try to teach the world lessons in governance have yet to do.

Algerian lawyer Meriem Belmihoub-Zerdani, member of the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, recently declared in Geneva that Cuba is to be held up as an example in the struggle for gender equality around the world, praising the country for the degree of leadership that Cuban women have secured in all areas.

Today, Cuban women are the majority in the fields of education and public health and are making bold inroads in the sciences. In addition, they are occupying positions that were once the exclusive domain of men.

Many Cuban women also hold management positions in different sectors – we can find them at the helm at schools, hospitals, companies, universities and ministries, as ministers and vice-ministers.

Another interesting fact is that the life expectancy of Cuban women is greater than that of men. This is thanks to health programs tailored specifically for women, such as the maternity and child program, early cervical, uterine and breast cancer detection programs and others.

Holding 48.36 percent of seats in parliament, Cuban women occupy the third place in the world in terms of that indicator. In addition, their reproductive and sexual rights are guaranteed, as is their access to healthcare, education, social security and employment, where they receive the same salaries men do and are able to freely choose their path as professionals.

To sum up, Cuban women reached the UN Millennium Goals long ago and, today, they wholeheartedly prepare for their congress, sure that their achievements will always be respected in Cuba.

Elio Delgado Legon

Elio Delgado-Legon: I am a Cuban who has lived for 80 years, therefore I know full well how life was before the revolution, having experienced it directly and indirectly. As a result, it hurts me to read so many aspersions cast upon a government that fights tooth and nail to provide us a better life. If it hasn’t fully been able to do so, this is because of the many obstacles that have been put in its way.

16 thoughts on “Women in Cuba Defending Conquests

  • January 7, 2014 at 11:50 am

    Elio wrote:

    “Another interesting fact is that the life expectancy of Cuban women is greater than that of men. This is thanks to health programs tailored specifically for women, such as the maternity and child program, early cervical, uterine and breast cancer detection programs and others.”

    I almost every country around the world, women have a greater life expectancy. This demographic fact has nothing to do with any purported achievement of the Cuban revolution.

    As for the other points, Elio exaggerates the lower status of Cuban women before the revolution:

    “Women in pre-Revolutionary Cuba had achieved a more respectable status vis-à-vis men than women in any other Latin American country. With regard to political rights, Cuban women received the vote in 1934.

    According to Cuba’s 1953 census, the percentage of illiterate males (26 percent) exceeded that of illiterate females (21 percent). Within Latin America only Argentina and Chile had higher female literacy rates (85 percent and 79 percent respectively). With regard to work positions and social status, the percentages of Cuban women working outside the home, attending school, and practicing birth control surpassed the corresponding percentages in nearly every other Latin American country.

    Before the Revolution women had been elected to Cuba’s House of Representatives and Senate. They had served as mayors, judges, cabinet members, municipal counselors, and members of the Cuban foreign service. The Constitution of 1940, one of the most progressive in the Western Hemisphere with regard to women’s status, prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex and called for equal pay for equal work.

    Unquestionably, women in pre-Revolutionary Cuba held an inferior position in the labor force. In 1943, for example, women comprised only 10 percent of this force. Ten years later the figure had increased to 13.7 percent. Thereafter it grew steadily, though slowly; by 1956 to 14 percent and by 1959 to 17 percent. Although dramatically underrepresented in white-collar and blue-collar jobs, women did account for approximately 46 percent of Cuba’s professionals and semiprofessionals. Of course, 60 percent of these women worked in the traditional occupations of nurse and teacher. In 1957 women filled more than 48 percent of jobs in the service sector. About one quarter of working women were employed as domestic servants. Indeed, more than 90 percent of all domestic workers were female. Fewer than 3 percent of Cuban women, however, worked in agricultural, fishing, construction, and transport industries.

    As was true throughout the region, most Cubans tended to view higher paying positions as male jobs. Nevertheless, in 1956/57 Cuban women did enjoy more job security and stability than men and were less affected by unemployment. On the eve of the Revolution the number of women in the work force was increasing steadily. And the legal status of women had improved substantially beyond that of women in many other Latin American countries.”

    In 1879, the first Cuban woman trained in medicine in Cuba was Dr. Laura Martinez Carvajal, who suffered acute alienation from her fellow doctors but later was permitted to work at the Belen Convalescent Home for destitute patients.


    One could go on and on, citing examples of professional Cuban women prior to the Revolution. While it is true that traditional subservient role for women existed in Cuba, their status was still much higher than women in almost all other Latin American countries. New possibilities opened up after the Revolution, but in Cuba as elsewhere the glass ceiling persists. While women have become prime ministers and presidents in many countries around the world, they have yet to achieve such power in in Cuba.

  • January 6, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    I have confidence that women in the FMC and other mass organizations will continue to increase their leadership roles; already, I’ve noted their increasing presence at the last Congress of the PCC. Incidentally, who was the beauty who gave that great inspirational speech at the 50th Anniversary of Playa Giron (the one who kept brushing aside her lovely locks as the wind blew them in her face)? I’d gladly follow her orders! “!A sus ordenes, Comandante!”

  • January 6, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    From your experience at the Oficina Nacional de Estadisticas e Informacion, Fez, it sounds like Cuba must be incorporating some of the same methods used up here by our fedeal and state staticticians. For example, again and again, they say that unemployment is down to “only” 7%+/-, yet with a bit more perception, when one adds up all the folks who are of working age, able bodied, but who just can’t find work and have given up (eg. in the Rust Belt areas or other deindustrialized cities and towns of the New England and the Middle Atlantic States, where there are only so many Mickey D’s, Burger King, or Taco Bell jobs to go around, or are only able to find temp. or part-time employment, the rate really becomes more like 14% to 16%. A more accurate reflection of the true situation in Cuba is the fact that it is still fairly safe to walk around most sections of Habana, even at night, without the fear of being mugged or murdered (and this has been my experience during my five visits, some extended, during the past ten years. This signifies that there is still a functioning social safety net, as inadequate as it is compared to First World standards, while up here, there is growing desperation. Since we are discussing statistics, like the phony unemployment stats, likewise the crime stats up here are low-balled, since many folks in poverty-stricken areas don’t even bother reporting crimes; they don’t trust the police, or they know the police will do nothing anyway, unless it is agains those who, to make a little money to survive, are just selling drugs.

  • January 6, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Haha you are hilarious and in my opinion well informed about Cuba.

  • January 6, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Cuba has the lowest fertility rate in Latin America at (1.46). Thanks for the correction. In industrialized countries like Germany and Singapore, low fertility rates have been ascribed to other socioeconomic factors having little to do with a lack of hope in the future and more to do with more women working outside the home.

  • January 6, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    I don’t know Moses where you got your numbers but your colleagues at CIA think that estimated total fertility rate in 2013 in Cuba was 1.46: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2127rank.html?countryname=Cuba&countrycode=cu&regionCode=cam&rank=196#cu

    Cuba still have higher fertility rate than Germany. Usually the poorer and less educated have more children. On that list Singapore has the lowest and Niger has the highest fertility rate.

  • January 6, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    I give Elio credit for seeing a pile of horse manure and spending his time looking for a pony. I wonder how he explains why these “enthusiastic” Cuban women have the lowest fertility rate (0.8 children per female) in Latin America? How does he explain the record number of Cuban women who sought to permanently migrate to other countries in the past year? How would Elio explain the nearly 6,000 dissidents arrested in 2013 where the majority of those detained, beaten, and arrested are Cuban women? Cuban participation in these ‘national’ events is just short of compulsory. Women who wish to hold on to their state jobs or seek better ones know that they need to ‘play the game’ and be seen in support of these revolutionary activities. No one takes the FMC seriously. Founded by Raul Castro’s wife, it is seen as busy work for women leaving the real influence in Cuban policy to the Castro dictatorship.

  • January 6, 2014 at 9:32 am

    Is this based in real facts or just typical Granma and one.cu statistics?

    Cuban women in political, industrial or administrative positions are in the same category of men, which is the known normality of following orders from “Arriba”. It means that all the “dirigentes” are just following whatever Raul Castro, el Minint, la FAR and el Consejo de Estado dictates no matter if you are male or female.

    Every time the cuban propaganda tries to bring up some international organization statement about Cuba, reminds me of my year of mandatory social work at ONEI (Oficina Nacional de Estadistica e Información, controlled by the government with no transparency or allowance of any external institution to do surveys or researches in Cuba to gain information) where all international organizations (ONU, UNDP, UNICEF and diplomatic institutions) had to get information from.

    How we constantly lied to FAO about our food statistics causing it to reduce FAO budget (financial help) for Cuba. How we make up numbers for UDHR, and lately what they did that provoked the UE to remove preferential commercial advances to Cuba based on the reports ONEI gives out.

    Lies and more lies.

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