The beginning of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 marked a remarkable political, economic and social change in Latin America’s history, especially for Cuban women, who did not just participate in the military victory but also have played a prominent role throughout the building of the socialist nation.
As the revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro believed that the emancipation of women was intrinsically tied to the socialist revolution.
Only one year after the triumph of the revolution, the new government created the Federation of Cuban Women, led by Vilma Espin — committed revolutionary fighter during General Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship and President Raul Castro’s partner.
According to professor Salim Lamrani, only 17 percent of Cuban women were working before the revolution and were the main victims of the high rate of illiteracy — which affected almost a quarter of the total population — and the sexist view that confined them to domestic tasks. Despite being granted the right to vote in 1934, they barely participated in politics.
But women strongly mobilized against the dictatorship, forming a women’s guerrilla front called “Mariana Grajales” in the Sierra Maestra. Celia Sanchez, Melba Hernandez, Haydee Santamaria and Vilma Espin, emerged as key figures of the revolution, among many others.