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1 Gender Roles in the Revolutionary War Initiating Change It is difficult to make a revolution without women’s participation. Orlando Lugo, president of the Small Farmers’ Association Historically, women’s contributions to revolutionary movements have tended to be undervalued; they were generally not documented and thus easily forgotten . This changed in the 1980s and 1990s when women started to join guerrilla movements in massive numbers. Peace accords and the subsequent demobilization of guerrilla movements—those of Central America, for example —provided us for the first time with reliable data on the gender composition of these armed movements. This has led to the emergence of an increasingly important body of thought that examines women’s participation in revolutionary movements. Karen Kampwirth (2002, 2004) and Julie Shayne (2004) are recent examples of authors exploring women’s role in revolutionary struggle. In the case of Central America, I have argued that in order to understand and assess the role women play in the societies that emerged after successful revolution or in the wake of peace accords, we need to examine the contribution that women made during the phase of armed struggle.1 The same argument applies to the Cuban revolution. Women had actively participated in bringing about change in Cuban society long before the 1959 revolution. For example, mambisa (female independence fighters) fought side by side with their male comrades in the Cuban struggle for independence.2 In the early decades of the last century, Cuban women were also on the forefront regionally in building a women’s movement . In 1923 women from across the country got together and held a National Women’s Congress. This was the first time in Latin America that women had been able to stage this kind of national event.3 Their organizing translated into the progressive—for its time—1940 constitution that enshrined women’s right to vote and to be elected to public office.4 In the 1950s women became actively engaged in support of activities to oust the Batista regime. In particular, high-school and university students were often in the vanguard. The majority protested government policies by engag- 2 / Gender and Democracy in Cuba ing in open civil dissent, including staging demonstrations in the cities. Some women, however, got involved in clandestine activities and supported the urban and rural armed movements that were active throughout the island. In this chapter, I explore women’s contribution to the armed struggle. I first examine the gender-specific roles of female and male fighters. Subsequently, I put the Cuban record in comparative context, relying on data from the Central American revolutionary experiences. Women’s Gender-specific Contribution to the Cuban Guerrilla Movements Timothy Wickham-Crowley, in his comprehensive study of Latin American guerrilla movements, found that female participation during the first wave of revolutions (1956–70) varied greatly. At the leadership level, exclusively male structures were not uncommon, although in some instances women represented up to 20 percent of the leadership. There were no cases of “female predominance in either numbers or power within a movement [and not] a single case of a female peasant joining as an arms-bearing guerrilla.”5 It was the Cuban revolution that shaped the first revolutionary wave. Che Guevara, a key protagonist of the Cuban struggle, codified the lessons of guerrilla warfare learned in the Sierra Maestra in his book Guerrilla Warfare. His account became the bible for a generation of revolutionaries. Che recognized the importance of the potential contribution women could make to the revolutionary struggle. He emphasized that “the part that the woman can play in the development of a revolutionary process is of extraordinary importance.”6 The women who supported the revolutionary forces joined a fight for social justice, not one for gender demands. Maria Teresa Peña, a combatant and subsequent cofounder of the Federation of Cuban Women, recounted recently: “I was not motivated by feminism. I only became conscious of women’s problems after the [triumph of the] revolution.”7 In this regard, female Cuban revolutionaries did not differ from their Central American counterparts who fought a decade or two later. Only in exceptional cases did women from Nicaragua, El Salvador, or Guatemala have a gender consciousness when they decided to take up arms to fight repressive governments.8 Thus, it is not surprising that female Cuban revolutionaries who grew up before the ascendancy of the international women’s movement were not motivated by a desire to change prevailing gender relations. Women, in general, were...


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