Women in Cuba

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Women in Cuba
Havana - Cuba - 1005.jpg
An old seamstress in Havana, Cuba.
Gender Inequality Index
Value0.304 (2015)
Rank62nd (2015)
Maternal mortality (per 100,000)39 (2015)
Women in parliament48.9% (2015)
Females over 25 with secondary education83.9% (2005-2015)
Women in labour force42.6% (2015)
Global Gender Gap Index[1]
Value0.749 (2018)
Rank23rd out of 149
An older Cuban woman in colourful traditional costume poses playfully with her cigar outside the Plaza de Armas

In Cuba, women have equal constitutional rights as men in the economic, political, cultural and social fields, as well as in the family. According to Article 44 of the Cuban Constitution, "The state guarantees women the same opportunities and possibilities as men in order to achieve woman’s full participation in the development of the country."[2] As of 2015, women hold 48.9% of the parliamentary seats in the Cuban National Assembly ranking sixth of 162 countries on issues of female participation in political life.[3]


In the first half of the 20th Century, women in Cuba had achieved a status comparable with that of other Latin American countries, such as Argentina and Chile. In 1933, during the 100-day government of Ramón Grau, Cuban women received the vote.[4] In 1934 the percentages of Cuban women working outside the home, attending school, and practicing birth control surpassed the corresponding percentages in nearly every other Latin American country.[5]

Women in Cuba had been elected to Cuba's House of Representatives and Senate, serving as mayors, judges, cabinet members, municipal counselors, and members of the Cuban foreign service. The return of Grau to government, under the auspices of President Fulgencio Batista provided for the Cuban Constitution of 1940, one of the most progressive in the Western Hemisphere with regard to women's status, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex and calling for Equal pay for equal work.

During the Cuban Revolution, women were mobilized and obtained unparalleled rights compared to the rest of Latin America. For example, they were able to obtain the 1975 Cuban Family Code. This code outlawed discrimination against women and girls, even with in the family.[6]

After the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) was established as an NGO. The Federation of Cuban Women allowed for the Cuban government to closely monitor women's progress and ensure oversight. This helped women to achieve "impressive parity in university education, pay scales, and local government positions."[6] The FMC was recognized by the Cuban government as "the national mechanism for the advancement of women in Cuba". The organization claims to have more than 3 million members, which constitutes 85.2% of all women over age 14. There is also a Women's Training Center and a Women's Publishing House at the national level. The group generally adheres to the Cuban government's objectives "to defend the Cuban Revolution".

Since the "Special Period in the Times of Peace" in the 1990s, women have stepped to the forefront of life in Cuba, calling for a step towards an existence without sexism. Sexism in Cuba goes hand in hand with the racism experienced by Afro-Cubans. Black women receive the lowest paying jobs and have the highest rates of unemployment and he lowest education levels. They often live with the threat of gender violence.[7]

Even though Cuban women achieved a lot of parity during the Cuban Revolution, there was still a lot of disparity prevalent in Cuban society.

Some examples are:

  • "During the 1990s, when subsidies from the Soviet Union ended, the maintenance of social services often fell back on women as mothers, wives, and caregivers, indicative that Cuba had not fully equalized gender responsibilities."[6]
  • Women only held one-quarter of high-level administrative positions in government.[6]
  • "This persistence of women's inequality in the political arena was apparent in the speculation over who was to succeed Fidel Castro as head of state, when he became ill in 2006. Of the 12-15 names mentioned, which included the inner circles of Cuba's leadership, not one was a woman."[6]


Hip-hop, more specifically rap, has become the vehicle for Cuban women to express their dissatisfaction with race and gender status in Cuba. The lyrics of all female Cuban rap groups Krudas Cubensi and Obsession ask for respect for diversity on the music scene and sympathy for women who have turned to prostitution in Cuba for economic rescue. During the "Special Period", women came to the forefront in managing different economic and domestic situations and in doing so, assumed more responsibility and new authority. The popular dance style "perreo" can be seen as a symbol of this change, with women in front of men during the dance.[8]

Promotion of female hip-hop artists is currently not on the same level as their male counterparts. However, through the support of the Cuban Rap Agency and specifically Magia López, the head of the agency, this may change. López is currently working to increase the participation of women in the Cuban hip-hop scene.[7]

Reproductive Health[edit]

Before the 1959 revolution, Abortion in Cuba was illegal and contraceptives inaccessible. Reproductive health laws were patterned after the 1870 Penal Code in Spain, making abortion highly restrictive.[9] In 1936, some of the more restrictive laws were rewritten and put into the new penal code, called the Social Defense Code.[9]

After the creation of the FMC in 1960, efforts were made to increase the reproductive rights of women in Cuba. In 1965, abortion was decriminalized and in 1979, abortion was made free and more easily accessible.[10] The United Nations Population Policy data bank states that between 1968 and 1974, the rate of legal abortion went from 16.5 to 69.5 legal abortions performed per 1,000 women of reproductive age.[9] Currently, the estimate is around 47 and 62 legal abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age.[9]

The reason there is such a focus on abortion when discussing reproductive rights in Cuba is because it is very commonly used for family planning. However, other contraceptives are available for free through the Cuban healthcare system and are used. According to statistics gathered from UNICEF and the United Nations Population Division, it is estimated that contraceptive prevalence of any method (methods defined as modern methods of contraceptives, including female and male sterilization, oral hormonal pills, the intrauterine device (IUD), the male condom, injectables, implantable devices, vaginal barrier methods, the female condom and emergency contraception and not including abortion) was 73.7 percent of women in Cuba ages 15–49. The peak percentage was 77.8 in 2010 and lowest 60 percent in 1980.[11]

Home & Family and Cuba’s Decreasing Birth Rate[edit]

One of the areas where women in Cuba continue to face inequality is within their own homes. Despite many women with children having advanced collegiate degrees and jobs in the professional workforce, they also have the responsibility to care for their children, husbands, and do most, if not all, of the cooking and cleaning for the household. Unequal distribution of household work can be at least partially attributed to the concept of Machismo often found in Latin American countries. The rigid gender norms result in women cutting down work hours and receiving even less pay than they already are in order to make the time to care for their homes and families.[12]

One consequence of the disproportionate household work burden is that many women are choosing to utilize Cuba's aforementioned accessible abortions and contraceptives to delay, if not completely prevent, having any children. Cuba's birth rate has been decreasing in recent years. In 2016, it was estimated that the country's population growth rate was at 0.13% and it is believed it will continue to slow to a negative population growth within the next few years if current trends continue.[13] Comparatively, the United States population growth rate was at 0.7% in 2016, in Canada 1.2% in 2016, and in Mexico a 1.3% growth rate in 2016. The world population growth rate in 2016 was about 1.1%.[14]


Historically, Cuba was a largely agrarian society, with a tourism-based economy in the urban areas, primarily Havana. Many women were forced to work as maids or prostitutes in these areas because there were not many other choices for them, as they were excluded from educational opportunities. Before the revolution, around 70% of women in the workforce were domestic servants, working for long hours with low pay and little to no benefits. Only around 194,000 women were in the workforce, with around 700,000 considered unemployed and 300,00 underemployed.[15]

After the revolution, the FMC fought to establish equal educational rights for women. The organization met with other Latin American countries to share ideas for positive increases in women's education. The FMC started by establishing schools specifically for women who were domestic servants and prostitutes and schools for women living in poverty. These schools were designed to help women develop a broader range of skills, ultimately helping them to gain the ability to obtain higher education.[15] These schools also set out to help with the country's history of rates of illiteracy. About a quarter of the population of Cuba was illiterate when Fidel Castro took power and over half were women. By 1961, nearly the entire country was literate, primarily in thanks to volunteers (of which around 56% were young women) going to rural areas to teach literacy.[15]

As of 2011, women in Cuba made up more than 80% of university students and around 68% of university graduates. Comparatively, women made up about 57% of undergraduates in the United States in 2008.[16] Women in Cuba also make up about 81% of medical students, but are underrepresented in math and science fields, representing only 46% of natural science and math students, 37% of technical studies students, and 30% of engineering students.

Women in the Cuban Labor Force[edit]

Across the world, people are concerned about the feminization of poverty. Seven out of every ten poor people are women or girls, according to a study carried out by the World Food Program (WFP). In Cuba, we are seeing something unique in this area. While the average Cuban wage was around 494.4 regular pesos per month ($18.66) at the end of 2008 to 2015,[17] an increase in the number of women in the technical and professional work force in Cuba has been seen. According to the World Bank’s Gender Data Portal, women represent 42% of the labor force participation rate in Cuba.[18] Research conducted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) showed that, in 2011, women represented around 70% of the professional workforce, 69% of health care workers, and 80% of educational workers, but only around 30% of engineers, showing that the rates decrease in the scientific and technical sector.[16]

Prominent Women in Cuba after the Revolution[edit]

The most prominent woman in the Cuban government after the revolution was Vilma Espín. Vilma Espín was the wife of Raúl Castro. She was the founder of the Federation of Cuban Women, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the party's Political Bureau. She had a chemical engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was a leader in the guerrilla movement during the revolution and was extremely close with Fidel and Raúl Castro.[6]


  1. ^ "The Global Gender Gap Report 2018" (PDF). World Economic Forum. pp. 10–11.
  2. ^ "The Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, 1976 (as Amended to 2002)" (PDF). Caribbean Elections.
  3. ^ http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/2016_human_development_report.pdf United Nations Gender Inequality Index 2015
  4. ^ "Ramón Grau San Martín: Cuba's Prophet of Disappointment, 1944–1951". ASCE. Retrieved 2019-09-23.
  5. ^ "Women in Cuba before the revolution". www.historyofcuba.com. Retrieved 2019-09-23.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Meade, Teresa (2016). History of Modern Latin America: 1800 to the Present. United Kingdom: Wiley Blackwell. pp. 250–252. ISBN 9781118772485.
  7. ^ a b "CUBA: Black Women Rap Against Discrimination | Inter Press Service". www.ipsnews.net. Retrieved 2019-09-23.
  8. ^ Fairley, Jan. 2008. "How To Make Love With Your Clothes On: Dancing Reggaeton, Gender and Sexuality in Cuba." In Reading Reggaeton (forthcoming, Duke University Press).
  9. ^ a b c d http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/abortion/doc/cubasr1.doc “Cuba Sr1" United Nations Population Publications.
  10. ^ Bélanger and Flynn, March 2009. “The Persistence of Induced Abortion in Cuba: Exploring the Notion of an ‘Abortion Culture.’” in Studies in Family Planning.
  11. ^ "Cuba - Contraceptive prevalence". www.indexmundi.com. Retrieved 2019-09-23.
  12. ^ University, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown. "The Truth About Gender Equality in Cuba". berkleycenter.georgetown.edu. Retrieved 2019-09-23.
  13. ^ "Cuba - population growth 2007-2017". Statista. Retrieved 2019-09-23.
  14. ^ "Population growth (annual %) | Data". data.worldbank.org. Retrieved 2019-09-23.
  15. ^ a b c Randall, Margaret. “WOMEN IN CUBA: Twenty Years Later.” 1981
  16. ^ a b https://www.aauw.org/files/2013/01/Cuba_whitepaper.pdf "Gender Equality and the Role of Women in Cuban Society" 2013.
  17. ^ http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article89133407.html "Study: Cubans don’t make much, but it’s more than state salaries indicate" Whitefield 2016.
  18. ^ "Gender Data Portal". datatopics.worldbank.org. Retrieved 2019-09-23.

Further reading[edit]

  • Brenner, Jimenez, Kirk, and LeoGrande Rowman & Littlefield A Contemporary Cuba Reader, Reinventing the Revolution ISBN 978-0-7425-5507-5

External links[edit]