The Federation of Cuban Women arrived on August 23 with the spirit of those who founded the organization in 1960, with the inspiration provided by the example of Vilma, and defending the dreams won
Different women´s organizations have been founded in Cuba up to that moment, like Unity of Revolutionary Women —that gathered together a great number of women from the countryside—, the Agrarian Column, the Revolutionary Feminine Brigades...the so called Groups of Humanist Women, the Mother Association, among others.
The unity of these forces for setting up just one organization was necessary. Thus, the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) arose on August 23, 1960, and its president was elected in the presence of the then First Minister Fidel Castro. Vilma Espín, who had already proved her courage and intelligence during the fight in the plain and the mountains, the young woman who defended gender equality and the rights that had been prohibited to women.
Fidel set the tasks of the new structure after remembering the heroic deeds of Mariana Grajales, the courage of the murdered women like Lidia Doce and Clodomira Acosta, and the sacrifice of the mothers who lost their children during the fight against Batista´s dictatorship.
He said that «Woman is carrying out an active task, and the organized woman could largely contribute to get rid of the last traces of discrimination. Women can be useful in all senses; women can use the weapons and women can fight. (...) Opportunities in all spheres have to be given to the women, and they have to be ready for all the tasks; and they have to be, above all, the great reserve in the fight; they have to be those who substitute combatants when they die, if we have to fight.
«That´s why we Count on Cuban Women; the Revolution Counts on Cuban Women!»
Women, with their tenderness and tenacity, have been present in all tasks from that moment on. When it was necessary, they went to Girón to defend the attacked nation, or they climbed up mountains for teaching the countryside men and their children how to read and write. They also went to other countries to fulfill missions as doctors, or saving the African people from the segregationist and colonial boot from the very beginning. The images of their participation in the sugar cane harvests, in the coffee harvest, in the construction of schools and scientific centers, or in the moment they show the medals they have won in sports competitions, have had a profound impact.
This can be corroborated by «Teté» Puebla, who hold the rank of General that she won for her permanent dedication and the «consecration of her exemplary life to the honorable cause of the people, first in the lines of the Rebel Army, and later in the Revolutionary Armed Forces, and who has become the legendary symbol of the Cuban heroic women in all times,» as was expressed in her promotion order signed by the Commander in Chief.
Concepción Campa (Conchita) belongs to the same stock, with her indispensable contributions to the health with the BC anti-meningococcal vaccine obtained by a research group directed by her in the 80´s.
What could we say about the achievement of the javelin thrower María Caridad Colón, the first Latin-American woman who won a medal in the Olympic Games? Or about the great achievement Ana Fidelia Quirot, when came back to the tracks and went back to the top of the podium after suffering an accident? Who has not shuddered at the presence of Yunidis Castillo, who had beaten all barriers and who is today a paradigm for the youth?
These women are better known by the people because of their relevant results; however, there are many others like them, who offer their contribution each morning, most of the time in anonymity; but with the same disposition and courage as the greatest women. And this is possible because of the existence of the Revolution that defends the right of the woman to be the permanent protagonist within the collective work.
Achievements that Emanate Pride
The President of the Councils of State and Ministers Raúl Castro Ruz told during the last days of the Congress of the FMC which took place on March, 2014 said that «We are proud of Cuban women.» The organization, having nearly four millions of members older than 14 years, adapts its methods to the new times for supporting the implementation of the Guidelines and the fulfillment of the Objectives of the Conference of the Communist Party.
For her part, the Secretary General of the FMC Teresa Amarelle Boué said that «The insertion of the Cuban women, as beneficiary and protagonist in the development process in Cuba, have to be classified as one of the most successful social phenomena in Cuba.»
In her recent speech at the United Nations regarding the way Cuba is fulfilling the goals of the Conference of Beijing on Women’s Advances (1995), Amarelle said that the great transformations in the condition and position of the Cuban woman in the course of the last 50 years are undeniable. And she confirmed this though data she showed:
«Cuban women represent the 48 % of the total of people who work in the state-civil sector, and they represent the 46 % of the officials in top-directive positions. The women´s rate of unemployment was 13 % in 1995 and it was lower than 3.5 % in 2013.»
The Secretary General of the FMC also said that the presence of the Cuban women in decision making positions has shown an increasing development in the last twenty years. «In 1993, women were only 22. 8 % in Parliament, currently they represent 48. 86 %. These figures place Cuba as the first country in America, and the third in the world that has reached this high level of participation. At present, we are 13 women members of the Council of State, which represents the 42 % of the total. In addition, there are two women among the five vice-presidents,» she said in the UN.
She added that free and universal education rights are guaranteed, sexual and reproductive rights are a reality, including the right to abortion and the free and responsible choice on women´s fecundity. She also mentioned as examples the rate of infant mortality of 4.2 per thousand born alive, and the life expectancy for women is 80.45 years.
However, Amarelle admitted that the transformation of men and women´s mentality regarding roles within the society, with the end of breaking sexual stereotypes inherited, continues being a challenge in Cuba, so it´s necessary to continue working on it.
Though many of these achievements are very familiar at present, we cannot forget that the FMC had to play an important role in their conquest, and the organization was always supported by the Revolutionary State in its task of demolishing psychological barriers and old mentalities.
Believing those 56 years of Revolution and 55 years of the foundation of the women organization are enough for blotting out the patterns from the influence of patriarchal culture, could be an error. It is necessary to continue sowing conscience, and the FMC and its more than 170 Centers for Orientating Woman and Family cannot be alone in this task; but together with the rest of the organizations, the organisms of the Central Administration of the State and the entire society.
Vilma lives on in her Legacy
The legacy of Vilma was present in each block when the Federation celebrated its 55th anniversary last August 23. Since the very beginning of the FMC, she was dreaming of a dialectic women´s organization with concern for the social problems, which will win prestige through its daily work, and a protagonist role in the tasks in their own community.
She always gave special attention to the youngest with whom she talked in each visit, she told anecdotes and talked about the opprobrium in the past and the need of reaching a culture that promotes an atmosphere of respect towards the rights of the men and women in the same conditions. She was a bitter critic of bad taste, banality and neglect, mainly in those who used the woman body as an object, events that she described as unacceptable and humiliating.
Vilma conceived the FMC as an educative, preventive, and non-exclusive organization, with the necessary tools for paying attention to the women´s problems and defend their conquests against a violation committed in any place. She always defended the initiatives of the members of the FMC, the opportunities for doing with their own hands and intelligence, of feeling really useful and having a high self-esteem.
She was concern on increasing the knowledge on gender equality and she even promoted specialized faculties for avoiding the reproduction of sex stereotypes. In addition, she introduced concepts in the Health System for the protection of woman, like those of responsible maternity and paternity, due to the importance that she always gave to family as the main cell in the society.
The members of the Federation have been learning every day from Vilma and the track she left in the history of the motherland. So, paying homage to Vilma is paying homage to each Cuban woman. Her smile is multiplied throughout all Cuba with the same happiness of that August 23 at the Lázaro Peña Theater when the slender young woman said «a member made the proposition of given a vote of confidence to Dr. Fidel Castro for choosing a name and it was agreed to do it unanimously. We have consulted him, and I can anticipate that the new organization will be named Federation of Cuban Women.»
Translated by ESTI