Cuban Women, Daring Fighters at All Times

By Marta Denis Valle, historian, journalist and contributor to Prensa Latina 

Havana, April 2 (Prensa Latina) The essential role of Cuban women in the economic, scientific and political life of the country shows their remarkable social ascent, which is clearly confirmed by reaching parliamentary supremacy, the second worldwide, in 2018.

Over the past six decades, an upward rhythm has marked women’s prominence, coming from 73.8 percent of housewives and 55 percent of nearly one million illiterates, among six million inhabitants.

Accounting for 33.5 percent of the workforce (738,000 people) unemployed or underemployed, women had very few labor opportunities, working as cigar rollers, seamstresses, cooks and domestic servants, who were poorly paid.

They were only 3 percent of university graduates. In 1953, there were 403 doctors (6.5 percent of physicians at the national level).

Today, women are 58 percent of university graduates and more than 62 percent of university enrollment, accounting for 69 percent of public health and social workers, and 47 percent of the scientific staff.

Cuban society has a strong female force, in practically all spheres, which represents 46 percent of employees in the civil state sector and 17 percent of non-state employees.

They are eight out of ten prosecutors; and they perform highly qualified functions in the police and the armed forces, the navy and different specialties in the Ministry of the Interior. Employees of services, clerks, teachers, engineers of a wide range, high-level professors, doctors, nurses, businesswomen, managers and ministers, they enjoy equal salaries as their male counterparts, according to the value and the same qualifications.


There were always Cuban women who faced adverse conditions in the colonial era and then in the neocolonial Republic that was supervised by Washington, but their partial achievements, such as the approval of divorce and women’s suffrage were not as successful in practice.

They were yet very far from a new revolution that could get woman out of the dark corner of the house, which was demanded in 1869 by Ana Betancourt, a patrician from Camagüey.

It was indispensable to complete the emancipation revolution, which began in 1868, so that her words would be valid for the constituents gathered in Guaimaro in April 1869, when the Republic in Arms took its first steps:

‘The woman in the dark and quiet corner of the home was patient and resigned waiting for a new Revolution to break her yoke and untie her wings,’ she said.

‘Citizens: everything here makes us slave; the cradle, the color, and the gender. You want to destroy the bondage of the cradle by fighting to die. You have destroyed the slavery of color by emancipating the servants. It is time to free women,’ she said.
Thousands of female patriots participated in the wars for independence; and with their children and other relatives, they lived in the dense forests, in the so-called Land of the Mambí (Cuban fighters for independence from Spain), in support of the Liberation Army, in the course of the 1868 Revolution.

They were nurses and fighters; they healed the wounded, buried the dead and fought against the enemies.

They suffered Spanish repression and were victims of humiliations, murders and prison in the country; as well as deportation; during the exile, they kept the patriotic flame alive and made contributions and propaganda while maintaining the Cuban cause.

Along with the mambises confined to Spanish prisons, in the metropolis and in Africa, were their wives and their children, especially after the Little War (1879-1880).

Ten women were captains and one was a commander, the doctor in pharmacy Mercedes Sirvén Pérez-Puelles, who only accompanied by her mule and a rifle supplied with her revolutionary kit the mambises hospitals in the territory of Holguin during the 1895 War.

The feminist movement developed at the end of the second decade of the Republican period.

Among its main promoters were Dulce María Borrero Piedra (1883-1945) and María Luisa Dolz Arango (1854-1928); the former was a poetess, bibliographer and notable pedagogue, while the latter was an elementary and high school teacher, and a doctor in Natural Sciences.

In 1923 and 1925, the Federation of Cuban Women’s Societies held in Havana the first congresses of its kind in Latin America, and its agendas included women’s suffrage, equal civil rights, protection of children and other social problems affecting women.

Cuba was the first Latin American country to approve a divorce law in 1918, and the struggle for women’s suffrage succeeded in 1934, earlier than in most of Latin American states, but in practice, it meant very little for the benefit of women.

women’s suffrage was granted by virtue of a presidential decree and was confirmed in the 1940 Constitution.

There were female fighters against the Machado dictatorship and in the last war, dozens of messengers, clandestine fighters in the cities, guerrillas in the mountains, heroines and martyrs, who paved the way for the liberation of Cuban women in the course of the revolution after 1959.

Cuban women now enjoy full social equality and have managed to position themselves in an ascending manner, since 1976 to date, in the People’s Power, when elected to the Municipal, Provincial and National Assemblies (parliament).

All 219 women who were elected lawmakers in the 6th legislature (2003-2008), were twice as many as the 105 female deputies in the first legislature (1976-1981), with 35.96 percent of 609 members of the Cuban Parliament.

In the 8th Legislature (2013-2018), 49 percent (299) of 612 lawmakers were women and in the 9th Legislature, women account for 53.22 percent (322) of 605 members elected on March 11, 2018, as members of the National Assembly of Cuba, an unprecedented fact.

Almost 87.5 percent have a high educational level and the average age is 49; 13.66 percent are young women between 18 and 35 years of age and 51.8 are black or mulatto.

Close to 17.7 percent work in the health and education sectors; 15.8 in production and services, while 3.72 percent are involved in research.

In each electoral process, the presence of millions of Cuban women stands out, from the school girls who guard the polls to the young, mothers and grandmothers who participate in the electoral commissions of electoral councils, municipalities, provinces and the nation.

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