By Elpidia Moreno
Elpidia Moreno, of the Federation of Cuban Women, addresses the contributions of the Cuban Revolution for feminism and the integration of the peoples…
Since before 1959 in Cuba, there was evidence of a revolutionary grassroots feminism, apparent in the incorporation of women in liberation struggles and the fostering of values for their children to defend their homeland. Mariana Grajales, the mother of the homeland, after first learning that her son Antonio Maceo was injured in the war, told her youngest son, Marcos, “Get ready, now it’s time for you to fight for our homeland, like your brothers.” Many were the women who fought for the independence of Cuba.
The presence of Vilma Espín in the struggles for the liberation of Cuba and later as the president of the Federation of Cuban Women has shown that there are women who gave their all during this time they had to live through for the development of society. Vilma waged battles in favor of women and brought together forces so that women could become today the main characters and the beneficiaries of the revolutionary process.
Similarly, before 1959, women came together to push for a law about divorce and the right to vote. Nevertheless, it was only after the triumph of the Revolution that women shared the first program of equality. The Revolution came for the entire population.
With the revolutionary victory, deep economic, political, social, and cultural changes were made in favor of the Cuban population, and several laws and legal provisions were passed to ensure human rights for all citizens. Women benefited particularly from the protection of their reproductive and sexual rights, family planning, and health care. Some of the laws that stand out include the maternity law for women workers, the right to education, social security and services, the right to employment, technical and cultural advances, the right to development, to vote and to run for office.
In Cuba, women represent 62 percent of the population with a college degree, 67.2 percent of the people with technical and professional education, and 45.4 percent of the work force in the state civil sector. In the public, free, and universal health care sector, they represent 70.9 percent of the work force and 62 percent of the doctors. And they stand out for their performance in science—a sector surpassing gender parity in Cuba, where 53.3 percent are women.
The Federation of Cuban Women has been working systematically for women to hold more decision-making positions, especially in the People’s Power system. The results achieved in the latest legislature demonstrate that the Cuban Parliament has the world’s second highest share of women in parliament—55.74 percent. In the Council of State, they represent 52.4 percent.
We have a National Program for Women’s Advancement, with 7 areas of implementation to benefit Cuban women. We have a new Family Code, approved through a referendum, through a broad process of citizen participation. The Code acknowledges that all people are equal and that gender violence has legal consequences, also offering guarantees to caretakers.
This is some of the evidence of what we have achieved to promote women’s rights and empowerment. Nevertheless, regardless of all these advances, we still face challenges: working to eliminate the traces of inequality and discrimination that persist in Cuban society; sharing the care work with the family, as it is still—along with domestic chores—shouldered by women; continuing to work to eliminate all kinds of violence against women; continuing to condemn the economic, commercial, and financial blockade, which is the primary act of violence Cuban women have been enduring for more than 60 years.
Amid so many hardships, we have been the standard-bearers of international solidarity and regional integration. We have been to Angola and we have left Cuban blood in combat. We also raised flags of solidarity in Ethiopia and Namibia, and whenver we hear news about an earthquake in Peru or Indonesia, or about a hurricane in Central America—we will be there, with the spirit of revolutionary stoicism and a true conviction that we share what we have, not what is left, challenging time and hardships. As a weapon, we carry our white coats and the necessary tools to heal the world.
“Operation Miracle” allowed millions of people to have their vision restored, people who thought that, because they are poor, their health condition could not be resolved. We were not afraid to fight Ebola, and a brigade called “Henry Reeve” is now touring the world, making friends. Dengue in El Salvador did not intimidate us, and we are pleased to have been in Nicaragua. We have built the Granada airport and we turned setbacks into victories, like Fidel has taught us. Health care professionals went to Brazil to join the “More Doctors” program, where they wrote beautiful pages of care, ethics, and relationship with patients. We are proud of the fact that 64 percent of the Cuban medical team providing medical care abroad are women.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuban scientists—mostly women—were able to produce five potential vacciness, and three of them were approved and allowed the entire Cuban population to be vaccinated; they were also shared with several countries. We provided care to other states, sending 58 medical brigades to 42 countries and territories, including developed countries.
These examples empower our convictions. Our medical team will continue to climb mountains, cross rivers, sleep outside, while you, our friends, will continue to defend the truth. You have always known who the true enemies are, who causes war, and what causes poverty, misery, hunger, and the lack of basic rights violated every day around the world.
We, Cuban women, are part of social movements across Latin America. We must continue to promote a diverse and plural conversation and contribute to incorporate the gender perspective into other movements; continue to battle against transnational corporations and big rural properties; work in communities in the region to incorporate women from different sectors into solidarity movements, with those who resist in their territories, for the right to land, food sovereignty, and culture.
Revolutionary grassroots feminism is on political agendas, but false ideas and opinions still persist. There are women who know the value of emancipation and the struggle for equality, but when you ask them, “Are you a feminist?” They answer, “No.” We must contribute to recompose the feminist movement, considering mobilization, taking to the streets, promoting solidarity between the peoples, fighting economic and political blockades, and waging the struggle against patriarchy, neoliberalism, and capitalism. The practices of popular education and feminist reflection groups are fundamental to continuously build the movement and to be able to respond to the challenges of each context.
We must appreciate the advantages of socialism, as well as work in the present for regional integration, to leave the legacy of unity for new generations. We must bring peace and the banners of internationalism and international solidarity to the highest levels, and support a common front for just and noble causes against poverty and violence. To struggle together for Palestine, Venezuela, Cuba, and all territories that are blocked by the US government and its allies. To have a common front for countries that are being bombed and where innocent people die day after day.
This is the great challenge: to continue to contribute to revolutionary grassroots feminism as a movement that struggles to change the world and women’s lives. All of us, together, are able to do it, through unity and integration in our Americas.
Elpidia Moreno is a member of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) and a member of the Cuban chapter of the World March of Women. This is an edited version of her speech during the webinar “Feminism and regional integration” held by the WMW Americas on November 30th, 2023.