The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 78/No. 14      April 14, 2014

‘Revolution was first step
toward women’s equality’
Federation of Cuban Women
leaders speak in New York
(feature article)
NEW YORK — “The first step forward for women’s equality in Cuba was the triumph of the 1959 revolution itself,” said Surina Acosta Brooks, a leader of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC).

“The FMC was born in 1960 at the request of women who wanted to participate in the revolutionary process. Its most important task has been defense of that revolution.”

Acosta was one of three FMC leaders who spoke March 21 at a meeting of some 40 people organized by Lakou New York, a Haitian organization based in Brooklyn’s Flatbush community, to discuss the struggles and social conquests of women in Cuba. The speakers were part of a FMC delegation here to participate in the March 10-21 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

The four members of the delegation — Acosta, Maritzel González, Yanira Kúper and Yamila González Ferrer — also addressed some 60 people at the National Black Theatre in Harlem at a program organized by the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization and a gathering in the South Bronx of more than 30 people organized by the Bronx Center Grail, an international ecumenical women’s organization. They also spoke to several classes at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and a class at Montclair State University in New Jersey.

Lakou New York meeting

The Lakou New York meeting, conducted in Haitian Creole with Spanish translation, was held in the offices of the Flanbwayan Haitian Literacy Project and Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees. Directors of the two organizations, Darnell Benoit and Ninaj Raoul, opened the meeting.

“Those big blue barrels in the hall are aid we collect for the Cuban doctors in Haiti,” said event chair Dahoud Andre of Lakou New York.

Acosta pointed out that one of the FMC’s first projects was the yearlong literacy campaign in 1961, which eliminated illiteracy among adults. “More than 50 percent of the young volunteer teachers were women,” she said. “That made possible everything that came later”—women’s incorporation in all areas of employment and social and political life.

“Our international collaboration today includes Cuban doctors who provide health care in Haiti and around the world, as well as the Latin American School of Medicine,” which trains doctors from 120 countries, said Acosta. “We consider this work to be paying a debt to humanity.”

Dahoud Andre introduced two Haitian doctors trained in Cuba, one of whom spoke about his experience and then volunteered to help translate the meeting.

One meeting participant noted the importance of the 1988 battle of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola, where invading South African troops were decisively defeated by Cuban, Angolan, and Namibian combatants. He added that the Cuban government respects freedom of worship, including Voodoo and Santeria, religions brought from Africa to the Americas, including Haiti and Cuba, by slaves.

Cuban women volunteers in Angola

Maritzel González pointed to a photo of Cuban women volunteers in Angola in 1976, during the initial phase of a 15-year internationalist combat mission that helped crush South African invasions of that country, gain independence for Namibia and weaken the racist apartheid regime. “The operation to send the first volunteer soldiers to Angola was named Operation Carlota, after a Black woman slave who led a rebellion in 1843,” she said.

“What is the situation with gay rights in Cuba?” another person asked.

Gays have the same protections as all other Cubans against discrimination in all areas of life, Acosta said. “But that doesn’t mean that there is no homophobia.” She pointed to steps the Cuban leadership is taking to combat antigay prejudice, from education to an annual march in Havana and others.

“But do gays have the right to marry,” the participant pressed. “There is no law recognizing same-sex marriage,” Acosta said. “But gay couples have a right to live together and enjoy the same rights and social benefits of all Cubans.” And the government is discussing amendments to the Family Code, she said.

At the end of the program Huguette Dejean sang “Malere Toupatou,” a Haitian song of rebellion.

Acosta opened the meeting in Harlem by noting that the focus of this year’s U.N. Commission on the Status of Women was progress being made on eight “millennium development goals.” These include education, gender equality, maternal health, reducing child mortality, eliminating hunger, combating disease and environmental sustainability.

“We’re lucky,” she said. “In Cuba we made a revolution that made these things a priority. Women have played a central role in the revolutionary process from the beginning.”

The Harlem event was chaired by Nellie Bailey, director of the Harlem Tenants Council.

The delegation emphasized the extensive integration of women into the Cuban workforce and all levels of decision making, including in agriculture, technology, science, medicine and education.

“Today women and men are different since it has been shown in practice that women have the same capacity as men,” Yanira Kúper said in answer to a question on how men have responded to these changes in Cuba. “Of course, the social transformations always go faster than changes in consciousness. But we keep working to transform the mentality of both men and women.”

“I’m from South Korea and I grew up not knowing about North Korea, let alone Cuba,” said Soobok Kim, one of several Koreans at the event who have organized protests here against Seoul’s attacks on democratic rights. “It’s amazing to me that both countries have survived decades of attacks by the American empire. How have you done this?”

Welcoming the comments from “our Korean brother,” Maritzel González said that in Cuba the revolution’s progress is “due to the fact that we have a revolutionary leadership that has been able to unite our people.”

Participants in these events bought 27 copies of the Militant, three subscriptions and 25 books. They included nine copies of I Will Die the Way I’ve Lived; five of The Cuban Five: Who They Are, Why They Were Framed, Why They Should Be Free; four of Voices From Prison: The Cuban Five; four of Women in Cuba: The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution; and one of Cosmetics, Fashions, and the Exploitation of Women in Spanish.

At both New York events, the FMC leaders called special attention to the international fight to free the Cuban Five. “René González and Fernando González are back on Cuban soil,” said Maritzel González in Harlem. “But we should remember,” she emphasized, “that they were forced to complete their entire sentences, and there are still three brothers in prison.

“We must continue the campaign of solidarity until they are all out,” she said, pointing to the “5 Days for the 5” events coming up in Washington, D.C., in June.
Related articles:
‘Cuban 5 art will reach those interested in fights for dignity’
‘Part of struggle to defend Cuba from US imperialism’
Showings of paintings by Antonio Guerrero
Who are the Cuban Five?
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