Last month, Unison Women’s conference adopted a motion citing Cuba as a role model for women in public roles. In the UK, only 22% of MPs in the House of Commons are women – but in Cuba women hold 43% of parliamentary seats in the National Assembly.
As the motion noted:
The Cuban Constitution guarantees women economic, political, social, cultural and family rights and opportunities equal to those of men. Article 32 of the Cuban Constitution, states that women and men enjoy the same economic, political, cultural, social and family rightsPrior to the revolution, the proportion of women in the labour force was just 12%. According to figures from 2010, women now represent 47% of employees in the civil state sector; 67% of college graduates; 66% of technicians and professionals and over 70% of health workers.
The advance of gender inequality has been underpinned by legislation including:
The Maternity Leave Bill (1974) which ensures that women are guaranteed a total of 18 weeks paid leave with an extra 2 weeks if the birth is delayed. The Bill also includes “the option of an extended leave at 60% of pay until the child is one year old, with the right to return to the same job at the end of the leave” – an option which can be taken by the mother or the father.
The Family Code Bill (1975) which has as its official goal the equal participation of both sexes in the household.
At the heart of the struggle for female representation has been the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) which was formed in 1960. The FMC – a non-governmental organisation with over 3 million members – is the largest mass organisation in Cuba and the largest women’s organisation in Latin America. The FMC’s objectives include the “fight for full incorporation, participation and promotion of women into the economic, political, social and cultural life of the country in conditions of equal rights and opportunities”. Its membership equates to 80% of Cuba’s female population.
Last year, Save the Children – in its annual Mother’s Index Report – ranked Cuba first out of the “Lesser Developed Countries” in both the mother’s index and the women’s index; and ninth in the children’s index. By comparison, the U.S. – which is in the “More Developed Countries” tier – ranks 31st in the mother’s index, 24th in the women’s index and 34th in the children’s index.
The UK charity reported that 100% of births in Cuba are attended by skilled health personnel, with female life expectancy at over 80 years. Cuba also has the highest expected years of formal schooling for women in the “Less Developed Countries” tier, at 19 years. Save the Children’s findings echo high rankings Cuba has achieved in other international studies including the annual Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum
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Marianas in Combat – This is the story of Brigadier General Tete Puebla, the highest ranking woman in Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces, and charts her life from joining the revolution at the age of 15 to her fight to transform the social and economic status of women. Buy it here.
Making a Scene: Cuban Women’s Stories – This bilingual collection of short stories is edited by Cuban writer and academic Mirta Yanez, and features a stunning range of narratives, from Aida Bahr’s "Not Quite Perfect/Imperfecciones" moving account of old age to Ana Luz García Calzada’s exceptional "The Guests/Los Convidados". This book offers a broad selection of themes, styles, and writing techniques as well as compelling storytelling. Buy it here.
Reyita –The Life of a Black Cuban Woman in the Twentieth Century – Reyita is the amazing life story of a black Cuban woman who lived through racism and dictatorships, taught herself to read, took part in black politics, lost a son in the revolution and went on to have over one hundred grandchildren. Buy it here.
The Maids of Havana – This compelling novel is based on stories and memories of poet and writer Pedro Perez Sarduy’s mother. Set in Cuba and the USA – from 1938 to the 1990s – two Afro-Cuban women tell their stories. The book explores what life was like for Afro-Cubans before and after the Cuban revolution. Race, class, gender and nation are all examined. Buy it here.
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Women and the Cuban Revolution – This book recounts women's changing role in Cuba since the revolution: the measures taken, the gains made, and the problems that still remain. It includes speeches on the subject by Fidel Castro and women's federation leader Vilma Espin. Also contained are several important Cuban documents such as the Maternity Law for Working Women and and excerpts from the Cuban Family Code. Buy it here.