Vilma Espín: A Revolution Inside the Revolution

07/04/2023 |


To celebrate the birth of Cuban revolutionist Vilma Espín, we published two of her speeches about women’s struggles on the island

Celia Sánchez, Vilma Espín

Vilma Espín was born on April 7, 1930, in Santiago de Cuba. She was one of the most active fighters in the revolutionary period. In the years leading up to the revolution, Vilma participated in the July 26 Movement, which honored the assault to Moncada Barracks, a move of the revolutionary guerrilla on July 26, 1953, five years before the victory of the Cuban Revolution, in which Espín also took part.

After the revolution, she assumed several leadership positions in the Cuban Communist Party, as well as in the women’s organization. Cuban women created spaces key to self-organization and collective construction, such as the Federation of Cuban Women, led by Espín from its creation in 1963 until her death in 2007.

Feminists from all over the world learn from Cuban women that women’s struggles are revolutionary, and that a radical transformation in how society organizes is indeed possible. Vilma Espín would always say that women are “a revolution inside the revolution”, because, among other reasons, they are responsible for deepening the processes of change and for fighting against patriarchy, which is unacceptable in socialism.

We share below two speeches by Vilma Espín so we can learn from her as from her own words. In “The Example of Cuban Women in Other Latitudes”, Espín talks about women’s struggle for sovereignty and independence in Latin America; she also talks about the challenges against poverty, the transnational power, and misinformation. In “Woman: A Revolution Inside the Revolution”, she describes the labor changes for women in socialism and their achievements in several sectors. Both texts were extracted from book Vilma Espín Guillois: El fuego de la libertad [Vilma Espín Guillois: The Fire of Freedom], organized by Yolanda Ferrer Gómez and Carolina Aguilar Ayerra and published by Editorial de la Mujer, Cuba, in 2015. 

The Example of Cuban Women in Other Latitudes

The strength of Latin-American women and of their powerful movement has been gaining momentum. This is another evidence that we can consolidate our unity around goals that are critical for the future of our peoples.

Over these years, women’s participation in the struggle for independence and national sovereignty and to open ways toward development has systematically increased. The times when only exceptional women could stand out in the economic, political, and social life of their countries were left behind, and now a new phase begins, with many of them participating and playing an important role in society.

Providing women who now occupy increasingly numerous sectors with information for them to understand the reasons for their situation is in fact a commitment of honor for each woman of conscious who lives in the region. Movements like these are intended to mobilize women so they can contribute with influence and action to achieve the goals of their peoples and to conquer the most genuine rights.

Our voice needs to overcome the barriers of lies and misinformation imposed by communication means owned by transnational imperialist companies dedicated to misleading, dividing, deviating the masses from their legitimate interests. Winning this battle will be possible only through tenacious and continuous efforts, through our unity to face a powerful and unscrupulous enemy that threatens the survival of the peoples of this continent.

Aren’t women those who most suffer with the consequences of the economic crisis that frets the dispossessed majorities and also affects other social classes of the countries of Latin America and Caribbean?

Women dramatically suffer with the impact of inflation; high prices; lack of food, of schools, of medical services for their children; the impact of misery, hunger, hopelessness. Women occupy inhumane job positions with miserable pay, such as in the makeup industry; they receive the lowest salaries in every position and are the first to get fired when unemployment comes knocking.

Tens of thousands of women are forced into prostitution to provide for their families. Could there be, in the very 21st century, a most terrifying situation than that of unfortunate Dominican women asphyxiated inside a shipping container while being transported as mere merchandise to exercise this trade in another Caribbean island?

Women today are integrated into the reality of economic, political, and social issues our countries face; the women from the continent are willing to act and respond to the call.

Woman: A Revolution Inside the Revolution

Socialism for Cuban women meant freedom, independence, sovereignty, dignity, social justice, safety for their children’s growth and development, right to equity, right to life, right to decide on their own destiny, to work for a future they dreamed of and defended with all their strength.

We, Cuban women, are almost half of the population. We are a large percentage of the labor force, of the technicians in the country. And it is possible to notice a tendency towards stability and increase in the level of participation, since, both in women’s graduation and enrollment in universities, there has been a continuous advance throughout all courses.

In Cuban intellectuality, be it among artists, writers, or leading professionals, the female talent stands out. We are proud to have among us a woman scientist who has got the World Organization Intellectual Property medal, awarded only to 192 scientists in the world. Also in sports Cuban women have achieved extraordinary deeds; we have international champions in many areas and specialties. In numerous professions, of all sectors, female figures stand out due to their intelligence and efficiency, capacity and abilities.

We can also appreciate an important movement in the building sector, a result from the revitalization conducted by the microbrigades and the inclusion of thousands of women into this movement. We have numerous examples of efficient sisters working as builders, tile makers, and in other specialty areas. Women keep being the majority in education and health sectors.

The measures intended to promote the integration of peasant women into employment are connected to the economic and social policy of the country aiming at a full rural development. Thousands of peasant women members of the Cooperative Movement work on a regular basis or exert significant influence over the success of crops.

Cuban women’s labor horizon has changed. Political decisions and measures adopted as from such decisions allow equal opportunities and possibilities within the scope of labor.

Today we all know where we should be, how to take action and through which means, how to keep living and producing in an organized way during a period of full blockade, of military threat, of war of attrition, even of invasion and occupation, to defeat the enemy; the Federation of Cuban Women has been intensely working in this preparation process.

We are aware of the hard times we live and we are deeply proud of defending our Marxist-Leninist ideology, of defending the principles of socialism. We Cuban women understand that conquering complete equity within our families and in society is only possible within this system.

We are fully aware of what we have achieved so far and we are determined to fight in every possible way to defend our reality, our future and the future of our children.

Introduction by Helena Zelic
Texts selected by Marilys Zayas
Translated from Portuguese by Rosana Felício dos Santos
Original language: Spanish

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