Cuban history can be described as a long journey of struggles to achieve the much desired independence and finally let the country be of Cubans. From colonial times, to years of imperialism to the blooming post revolution period, the fight has been a continuous joint effort of all people united, sacrificing for the cause and deep rooted nationalism and sense of justice. But along with these liberation wars, the struggle of women for their individual freedom and rights never ceased to push through, especially in a culture where machismo and conservativism dictated only men could fight the wars, work outside the home and participate in political decisions. Always viewed as slaves to the home and children, denied of having a paying job or the freedom to express their ideas, Cuban women have raised their voice against these oppressions and took on major roles in the war and postwar reconstructions proving they are a decisive and indispensable part of the revolutionary process and progress of the country. They have demonstrated unwavering ideals and strong will to make the nation a place of social, economical and political equality, were children can grow without the stigmas of gender oppression and violence.
In the colonial era established and ruled by the Spanish government under the crown, women were all viewed as objects that belonged to the house, abnegated to their children and considered a possession that belonged to their husband. The prejudice and conservativism of the time dictated that a woman must be married and have children or else they wouldn’t have much life expectancy, since they weren't allowed to own a house and money (Waters). Unable to find a job or hold economical power, families constantly would find wealthy suitors to marry their daughters. In the movie Lucia (1968) of Cuban film director Humberto Solas, we perceive these concerns through the first Lucia who lives in 1895, and feels the pressure of society's norms and rules of what a proper woman should be. It was also a time when the revolutionary movement had started to set in motion the last of the Cuban Revolutionary Wars(Sierra). With the concern of never finding a husband, she falls in love with a Spanish man who later betrays her. But in the last scenes we see her stand for herself and show a great amount of courage as she ends his life. This segment of the film allows us to feel the struggle of women to be considered worthy in a world where men rule.
During this decisive time in the history of Cuba, despite these obstacles imposed to women, many brave and impetuous women risked their lives for the sake of the nation's freedom and equality of race and gender. Ana Betancourt de Mora(1832-1901) is one of the most prominent figures of the war against Spanish rule, considered a heroine due to her dedicated and extensive work to achieve gender equality and rights for women. She lived in the jungle with her husband and other revolutionaries where she worked on a newspaper called "El Mambi". She stepped up into the fight and risked her life to save her husband to prove that women are also an important part of the independence movement, not just child carriers. In a speech she gave in the headquarters of the Constituent Assembly, she proclaimed:
“Citizens: the woman, in the dim and quiet corner of the home, was waiting patiently and resigned to this beautiful hour in which a new revolution breaks her yoke and unties her wings.”
She later fled the country and continued her dedicated efforts to support the war from Madrid, Spain where she organized revolutionary activities (Oliva and Diaz)
Women like Ana are pioneer advocates of equal rights for all genders and races which makes her an important figure in the evolution of the fight for women rights in Cuba and the world. Thanks to her example many other women were encouraged to stand up and joined the fight, both for freedom and a society free of discrimination towards minorities.The path was now set but it would take time for real change to be made. Machismo and the old values of the time still persisted, a yoke women would break one by one in the years to come. These period was the most important decisive part of the revolutionary process that would bring the much desired change women in Cuba needed.
In the beginnings of the 20th century in Cuba, American intervention had caused the average Cuban population to struggle economically and women were usually the most affected. During this period 90% of the countries economic, social and political control was held by the American government or appointed officials and this exchange only benefitted one part. Unemployment rates were high especially women due to the sexism and prejudices that were still present(Geiling). After the coup d'etat that allowed Machado to hold power over the island, many people with revolutionary ideas joined and started a movement across the country to overthrow this corrupt government. Amongst these masses were many women that sought justice regarding women rights through the fight for liberation. The second Lucia in the film shows us this turning point in history for women in which more start joining the fight for independence. Lucia is the daughter from a wealthy middle class family who marries a revolutionary man and decides to give up the comfortable life, the big house and her parents money to join the movement along with him. After he gets assassinated by this regime, she finds herself pregnant and alone, which symbolizes the insecurities and lack of support women still experienced in this time. Still many women held leadership roles like Ofelia Dominguez and Bertha Darder whom organized the Labor Union of Women and led major protests against the Machado regime joining others' discontent with the situation the country was submerged in. Police repression caused many to be locked in jail or even assassinated, but their spirit and hard work were never forgotten(McKelvey). Most women also risked incarceration, turning their houses into hiding spots for wanted revolutionaries, weapons and also performing dangerous jobs like carrying important messages amongst revolutionary groups.
Towards the 1950's the situation in Cuba regarding independence and the fight for the rights of the people had intensified. Now with yet another new regime, crueler than the previous one, Cuban revolutionary forces were more eager than ever to put an end to this oppressive government. In these years the role of women truly became an important factor that would ensure victory day in 1959. Not only they now operated in the cities, but also led the armed forces through the jungle in the mountains to fight the enemy together with men. Some of these brave women held high positions of command like Celia Sanchez Manduley(1920-1980) who fought alongside Fidel Castro and whom he trusted with the decisions that would be made in the war. She was the first female guerrilla and helped the revolutionary process every step of the way, like aiding the landing of the Granma boat which was a crucial part of the war since Fidel and other important figures like Ernesto Guevara were arriving in it, bringing weapons and munitions.(Koch). Her example helped fuel the involvement of other women in the fight that was taking place in the cities, she became a symbol of the bravery and abnegation of women towards their country and how much they can achieve. Together with Celia, other women like Vilma Espin would constitute an important force of change and progress for the country, creating reforms and organizations that would give women and others as well equal rights.
After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, many things needed to be reconstructed, edifications, public spaces, farmlands and also a handful of reforms that were needed to set the country off to a new start. The third Lucia, living in the beginnings of the 1960' takes us through these changes showing us the great opportunities women received post-revolution, specially in the rural areas where women mostly worked the land together with men, and where machismo and old values were still present. Education, homestead rights and the freedom of being self-sufficient members of society; these were some of the many achievements women had fought so hard for and finally made it a reality. So we see the last Lucia as the strongest of the three, holding her self worth up high and fighting against violence and discrimination and society old norms.
One of the biggest milestones women were able to achieve was the formation of the Cuban Women Federation(FMC) in 1960 by the aforementioned Vilma Espin Guillois (1930-2007) and Fidel Castro. Vilma being the wife of Raul Castro and an "unofficial first lady" allowed her to hold a significant amount of political authority and used it to give women power (editors of encyclopedia Britannica). The FMC (Federacion de Mujeres Cubanas) was created to change the way society see women, it contained health and education programs to educate women and a no-tolerance attitude towards sexism, teaching young children the importance of respecting both sexes equally. One of the organization' s main focuses was the employment and integration of women to the country's workforce, handing jobs to qualified women and training them to be professionals. They helped many women from the countryside, those that came from poor families and also those that had gone through a life of prostitution before the Revolution to succeed in the new society (Sangha and Collins). The FMC is still one of the most important organizations in Cuba with most of the female population as a member and prevails to never let women suffer hardships like these ever again. Even though so much has been achieved there's still an active culture of machismo that has been hard to tackle but to which women will not yield to any longer.
The extensive history of Cuba's fight for its independence and the decisive role of women in it can account for the achievements visible in today's society. Equal job opportunities, education, health care and rights, that give women the opportunity to prove that what they have worked so hard for has bore fruits and all Cubans of any race or gender can enjoy human rights equally. The various feminine figures that participated in the war constitute a prime example of breaking stigmas and societal conservative norms that have no place for this new era of progress. Thanks to their determination and extensive effort to obtain their rights and freedom, they've fought alongside of men and proving themselves more than capable to participate in the economic and political decision of the country, Cuban women have shown the determination and courage needed to protect and push the nation towards higher grounds, being today more than half of the nation's workforces and active contributors of society.
Editors of the Encyclopædia Britannica,The,"Vilma Espin Guillois", Encyclopædia Britannica,
11 September 2008, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Vilma-Espin-Guillois
Geiling, Natasha, "Before the Revolution", Smithsonian.com, 31 July 2007, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/before-the-revolution-159682020/
Koch, Judy, "Celia Sanchez: Heroine of the Cuban Revolution", Monthly Review Press, Socialist Action, December 2013, https://socialistaction.ca/2014/06/08/celia-sanchez-heroine-of-the-cuban-revolution/
McKelvey, Charles, "The Cuban Popular Revolution of 1930-33;Ruben Martinez Villena", The View from the South: Commentaries on World Events from the Third World Perspective, Global Learning, 5 August 2014, http://www.globallearning-cuba.com/blog-umlthe-view-from-the-southuml/the-cuban-popular-revolution-of-1930-33-ruben-martinez-villena
Oliva Enriquez, Rosa Maria and Ildefonso Gustavo Diaz Sandoval, "Ana Betancourt: An imperishable Cuban woman", Mundo Obrero Workers World, 25 February 2016, http://www.workers.org/2016/02/25/ana-betancourt-an-imperishable-cuban-woman/#.WLWL_zsrIdW
Sangha, Suki and Sarah Collins, "The Federation of Cuban Women: A Model We Should Learn From", USI Live, 19 July 2013, https://usilive.org/the-federation-of-cuban-women-a-model-we-should-learn-from/
Sierra, Jerry A., "The War for Cuban Independence", History of Cuba.com, http://www.historyofcuba.com/history/scaw/scaw1.htm
Solas Humberto, Lucia, Cuban Film, Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industrias Cinematograficas (ICAIC), October 1968
Waters, Julie,"Women in Colonial Havana", Colonial Havana http://piracyandurbanizationincolonialhavana.blogs.wm.edu/women-in-colonial-havana/