Cuban Women — “The First to Defend Their Country’s Revolution”

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Two revolutionary women, the first official representatives from Cuba to make a major U.S. appearance in 16 years, were accorded a thunderous ovation by a Pacific Northwest audience inspired by the women’s proud feminism and leadership.

The standing-room-only crowd at the recent National Lawyers Guild convention in Seattle heard Ana Maria Navarro and Maria Yolanda Ferrer, delegates of the two-million-member Federation of Cuban Women.

“Cuban women were the first to come forth to defend their country’s revolution,” Ferrer said proudly. Many women rushed to join the militia to help defend the new government from imperialist invasion and others entered the workforce to replace men on the front lines.

The massive FCW works effectively with every state organization, promoting the revolution by involving women on every level of Cuban society.

Ferrer said that before the revolution, “women were simply merchandise, sexual objects without their own personalities, conceived solely to fill an empty and passive role in society.”

Women’s work has been decisive in overcoming economic underdevelopment and a backward culture. Their participation in agriculture, industry, education, and government has more than doubled since the revolution.

Navarro explained that females now constitute 30% of university enrollments, and won 23% of the neighborhood offices in the elections last year.

Laws have changed radically. The 1975 Family Code guarantees equality between spouses in career choices, family obligations, and domestic responsibilities. Illegitimacy has been eliminated as a legal category and both parents, married or not, are responsible for children.

“Education is one of the fundamental objectives of the new laws,” declared Ferrer. “In workplaces, unions, and student and community centers” legal changes are discussed profoundly. Over 4,000 suggestions were presented during discussion of the new Family Code.”

The discussion process helped people to understand what equality really meant, added Ferrer. While many women still shoulder the double burden of work outside and inside the home, everyone knows that this double jeopardy is not sanctioned by law.

Younger men, especially, are doing more housework. “But there is still the husband who will do the laundry — as long as he isn’t seen hanging it up! However,” she smiled, “he knows what’s right and wrong. His progress is developing with the revolution.”

The audience listened with envy when told that rape and domestic violence are extremely uncommon in Cuba, and offenders are severely punished. Divorce is increasing as women’s economic dependence on husbands lessens.

“There is no longer any reason to stay in a marriage which doesn’t accomplish the objectives that were there when it began,” Navarro asserted.

The revolutionary confidence and energy of the Cuban feminists were an inspiration to their listeners and a tribute to the revolutionary dynamic that has dramatically reversed the sexist practice of centuries.

Val Carlson, a Seattle attorney, specializes in defending the rights of women and minorities in the fields of employment and education.

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