By DUNIA TORRES GONZÁLEZ
March 3, 2020
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
When I look around I see brave women. We have come into this century marked by the experience of those who came before us. And these, no doubt, set the bar very high. Some names we know: Mariana Grajales, Ana Betancourt, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Luisa Pérez de Zambrana, Amalia Simoni, Haydée Santamaría, Melba Hernández, Celia Sánchez Manduley, Vilma Espín, Asela de los Santos… There are also the anonymous heroines, who did not neglect their responsibilities, who educated their children and at the same time fulfilled the tasks of their time. In a society where women did not have a voice, they exalted themselves and took their place.
Their stories are not only found in books, but also around us. I remember my grandmother’s stories very closely. She told us about the first years of the Revolution, a time when several mobilizations took place; hands needed to make the January 1st project a reality: literacy, agrarian reform, nationalizations, the construction of the Party in the different regions of the Island… Being a housewife was not at all unworthy. Everyone looked at the children, always neat and “careful”, however, I also wanted to be part of what was happening in Cuba.
We could already hear the stories of women who had been in the Sierra, who had taken up arms in their hands. It was the effervescent blood of those who, like her, could not sit still. She looked at her little daughter and always imagined a different future for her.
Grandmother came from a large family. Of her 11 siblings, only two were able to study, so it was up to her to look after the little ones in the house. Her current schooling level was fifth grade, but she did the math like no one else. She left her mother’s home at the age of 20, and her husband shared her revolutionary ideas. This did not change the fact that while he was traveling around the country with his responsibilities as a young militant, she remained at home taking care of the children.
This situation would soon change. She had made the decision to no longer be the woman in the apron. That day she went to the nearest agricultural cooperative and became a farmer. With total determination, she said words that had never been spoken at home. For the first time, she spoke of equality. Many commented that she was going crazy, that she was influenced by strange ideas, but I remember the light with which her eyes spoke of that moment without regret.
My mother grew up on a little ranch in the countryside, in a town called La Victoria, there were no amenities and sometimes she would go off to the country to help my grandmother. It was the early years of the Revolution and the news that new schools were being founded was spreading like wildfire. She was very happy the day that a group of students from her classroom gathered to go to the city to study. Finally, she did not have the necessary documentation for registration, so that trip did not take place. Even so, she had access to other options and ended up in an accounting course.
Like many women, she raised two children alone in times of resilience. Cuba was facing the special period and it was not a reason for her not to do her work duties. In my scant three years, she took me to her work every day. In the mornings I would wrap myself in a blanket and together we would go to the workshop to retrieve parts. I can still smell the dust from the entrance and exit cards in the long warehouse corridors that I had already learned by heart.
She was an example for my life. Together we would walk to the metings of the Federation of Cuban Women at night. Her activism was admirable. My birthday coincided with the celebration of the organization’s anniversary, on August 23, so the two motives were inevitably linked. She never said “no” to the tasks. Together we prepared polling stations, I was always the first pioneer guard, and I was excited to think about the day when I would turn 16 to exercise my right to vote.
I didn’t have brand name shoes, but they didn’t need to be either. My mother worked to ensure that each class had a new rucksack, uniform and shoes, and I could only look at her with admiring eyes. She always repeated to me: “Your task is to study, now you have all the opportunities”. She was always by my side at the pre-university scholarship, which was 42 km away from our house, and at the university, about 369 km away. She taught me how to make decisions, broaden my perspectives and strengthen my militant ideas.
Today I feel like a free woman. Not only because I chose it, but because the road was ready. The woman of my century has many names: a leader, a pilot, a taxi driver, a scientist, a farmer, a plumber, a teacher, a doctor, an engineer, a builder, an architect… In my country, destiny is not only decided by men. Now 53.22% of the deputies in Cuba are women. There are ten women in the Council of State. “The number of workers directly linked to science and technology was 89,214, and of these 47,326 were women,” according to the Cuban Statistical Yearbook 2019 January-December 2018.
The woman of this century walks beside the man, she does not subordinate herself to him. She enjoys total equality of opportunity and rights, as endorsed by the current Constitution of the Republic. They have access to paid work with equal pay for work of equal value and to social security. Cuban legislation protects her from maternity and illness. It enjoys free access to education at all levels. Her average life span is 80 years, one of the highest in the world.
Every day, Cuban women are becoming more indispensable on all fronts of economic, political and social life in the country and the community. She strives to enhance the role of the family in strengthening values, contributes to community hygiene, participates in health campaigns and faces any exceptional situation.