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Vol. 78/No. 1      January 6, 2014

Gains by women in Cuba
strengthened revolution
(Books of the Month column)

Below is an excerpt from Women and the Cuban Revolution, one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for December. The book contains speeches and documents by Fidel Castro, Vilma Espín and others. The piece is from the closing speech given by Castro on March 8, 1980, to the Third Congress of the Federation of Cuban Women. The FMC was forged in the heat of popular mobilizations in the opening months of the victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and grew out of women’s determination to participate in the revolution. A leader of the underground and Rebel Army combatants against the Batista tyranny, Espín was president of the FMC from its founding in 1960 until her death in 2007. Copyright © 1981 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

It wouldn’t be possible to write the history of our revolution in the last twenty years without mentioning the Federation of Cuban Women. There is virtually no activity in which it has not participated in one way or the other; no activity, even those which are viewed as the almost exclusive domain of men: war and national defense, for example. Here, as in Nicaragua, Namibia, El Salvador, or Grenada, women are playing an active role. It is enough to mention some of those tasks, many of which were mentioned here and which are very important. For example, raising women’s educational level, going from the literacy drive in 1961, in which Cuban women played such an outstanding role, and the first schools for peasant women which were organized by the federation and from which hundreds of thousands of women graduated. The change in peasant women was evident — in their spirit, in their way of thinking and way of life, even in the most remote regions of the country. Even the way they dressed changed with the clothes they learned to make in the schools, a program that has continued over twenty years now. Then there are the struggle, the efforts, and the gains in the battle for the sixth grade and beyond, for intermediate and university studies. In this connection it is interesting to note that 31 percent of working women are studying, while only 25 percent of men are. [Applause] …

[O]ne of the things that most concerns us has to do with the participation of women in the economy of the country. I want to discuss this and some of the concerns I know have cropped up on this subject.

There is no doubt that we have made great progress in this respect in the past years. This is shown, for example, by the fact that prior to the revolution there were 262,000 working women — I think that’s the 1953 figure — and now there are 800,600. As Vilma explained in the report, it’s not just a matter of numbers, but a change in the composition since formerly many of those jobs were as servants, in bars, and jobs of that sort to which women were relegated under capitalism. That is in contrast to the many skilled women now working: teachers, doctors, architects, nurses, intermediate technicians; 78,000 skilled women have joined the work force in the last few years. That alone shows the true nature of the change.

In the last five years some 200,000 women have started working, that is, women have joined the work force at a faster rate than men; that is logical because employment levels for men were higher. Now 30 percent of the work force consists of women.

In coming years it won’t be easy for our country, for our revolution, to keep up that pace; for an underdeveloped country 30 percent is a high rate; of every 100, 30 women.

This comes at a time when the young people who made up the population boom are coming of work age. The boom made itself felt at the schools, in the efforts required to build elementary schools to cope, and then in the intermediate schools where we now have an enrollment of 1,100,000. …

Now, we can’t say that we are in a position to ensure — just as we guaranteed schools and medical care — increased jobs to keep pace with that growth, because it requires investments and new job opportunities. Therefore we will have some job problems as this enormous number of young people come of work age.

We feel that the revolution has the duty, the party and state have as their first duty doing all they can to come up with answers, with solutions to the employment problem.

This may also coincide with the quest for economic efficiency and productivity. It means savings in human resources, because efficiency in part means economizing on human resources. We are seeking greater efficiency. It is not a case of solving the problem by creating jobs per se, jobs which do not mean a service or benefit; putting fifty in an office to do work that can be done by twenty-five or thirty, for example. You understand what I mean. That wouldn’t be the right solution and to create jobs based on inefficiency would be antieconomical.

We’ve been making an effort to raise productivity and have been achieving this; we’ve been making an effort for efficiency and have been achieving this; but we still have a lot to do, a lot to accomplish in this field. …

But neither the party nor the government can give up — they can’t give up for a second — the struggle on behalf of the advancement of women. I am absolutely convinced that society stands to gain insofar as it is able to develop and make use of the moral, human, and intellectual qualities and capabilities of women. I’m absolutely convinced of this. And this is precisely what sets a just society, a socialist society, apart from a capitalist one.
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