The Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) led the revolution’s attack on domestic service and on prostitution.
After 1959, domestic service was viewed as degrading and exploitative. Maids began to be described as slaves who were exploited by long hours of work, abusive treatment and low pay. In this context, Castro’s stated objective was to get those maids away from the bourgeoisie and capture them for the revolution.
Schools were set up for domestics and, within just a few years, 30,000 maids were attending these training centers.
Graduates were given the jobs of bank and telephone workers who had gone into exile. Others became day care and health workers, technicians and bureaucrats.
The schools were closed in 1968.
The war on prostitution was an effort to improve women’s lives and, at the same time, gain loyalty for the revolution. In fact:
The revolution portrayed prostitution as a shameful legacy of Cuba’s colonial and neocolonial past. By claiming that North American visitors were the principal exploiters of Cuban women, the revolution avoided any serious analysis of sexuality and power. In truth the principal clientele of Cuba’s sex industry was Cubans themselves. Indeed the euphoria of the revolutionary triumph of 1959 reportedly brought a boom in business for Cuba’s thirty to forty thousand prostitutes.
At first, prostitutes were viewed as victims of the capitalist system and sent to rehabilitation schools concentrating on ideological and vocational training. Pimps were sent to work farms.
Later, those who refused rehabilitation were imprisoned.
In order to reach women at the grassroots, the FMC initiated a series of study groups at the neighborhood level.
By 1964, women were studying the transition from capitalism to socialism. The study groups did not address the issues of feminism though, especially the power relations that were attracting worldwide attention at the time. In fact, the FMC leadership sometimes
denounced feminism for misleading women into blaming men, not capitalism, for their woes.
In short, the dual objectives of the FMC were to eliminate sexual discrimination and win women’s support for the revolution through political education and action as an arm of social vigilance for the Castro regime.
In contrast to feminist groups in other nations of Latin America, the goal was not to empower women or facilitate their entry into positions of leadership. The FMC’s principal task . . . was to defend a revolution whose interests were defined by a male elite.”
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Photograph by Lisa Reynolds Wolfe