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Title: Women, industrialization and state policy in Cuba
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00078123/00001
 Material Information
Title: Women, industrialization and state policy in Cuba
Series Title: Working paper
Physical Description: 45 p. : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Safa, Helen Icken
Federación de Mujeres Cubanas
Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies
Publisher: The Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies, University of Notre Dame
Place of Publication: Notre Dame Ind
Publication Date: 1989
Subject: Women -- Employment -- Cuba   ( lcsh )
Employment and unemployment -- Cuba   ( ltcsh )
Industrial policy -- Cuba   ( lcsh )
Textile industries -- Women -- Cuba   ( ltcsh )
Industrialización -- Cuba
Status of women -- Cuba   ( ltc )
Employment and unemployment -- Cuba   ( ltc )
Textile industries -- Women -- Cuba   ( ltc )
Política económica -- Cuba
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: Cuba
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (p. 44-45).
Statement of Responsibility: Helen Icken Safa with the Federation of Cuban Women.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00078123
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 21655926

Table of Contents
    Title Page
        Title Page
        Page 1
        Page 1a
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
    Household composition and authority patterns
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Younger women workers
            Page 8
            Page 9
            Page 10
            Page 11
        Middle-aged married women
            Page 12
            Page 13
        Older women workers
            Page 14
        Female-headed households
            Page 15
            Page 16
            Page 17
    Occupational history and mobility
        Page 18
        Possibilities for advancement
            Page 18
            Page 19
            Page 20
            Page 21
            Page 22
            Page 23
        Support services
            Page 24
            Page 25
        Labor turnover and absenteeism
            Page 26
        Reasons for working and occupational history
            Page 27
            Page 28
            Page 29
            Page 30
        Attitudes toward the job and union
            Page 31
            Page 32
            Page 33
    Political participation and consciousness
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
Full Text


Helen Icken Safa
with the Federation of Cuban Women

Working Paper # December 1989

Helen I. Safa is the author of The Urban Poor of Puerto Rico and the editor of Migration and
Development, Women and Change in Latin America, Towards a Political Economy of Urbanization
in Third World Countries, and other books. Her articles and reviews on migration, housing, race,
ethnicity, education, and women and national development have appeared in a variety of scholarly
journals and periodicals. She has served as a consultant on immigration and urban planning and
women and development in the United States and abroad, particularly Latin America. She has
taught at Syracuse and Rutgers Universities and was former Director of the Center for Latin
American Studies at the University of Florida, where she is currently Professor of Anthropology
and Latin American Studies. She is past President of the Latin American Studies Association and
former Chair of the Advisory Committee for the American Republics, Council for International
Exchange of Scholars (Fulbright). She is currently on the selection committee of the Doctoral
Fellowship Committee of the Inter-American Foundation. During the fall semester 1989 she was a
residential fellow at the Kellogg Institute.

This study was prepared in collaboration with the Federation of Cuban Women, and in particular
with the assistance of Marta Nunez, Rosa Maria Cartaya, Margarita Flores, Rita Maria Pereira, and
Raul Ramos. The author wishes to thank the Federation of Cuban Women for their initiative in
undertaking, for the first time, a study in collaboration with a North American researcher, and for
their enormous investment of time and resources in data collection and analysis. However, this
paper represents her own interpretation.

The funding for her expenses in conjunction with this research was provided by the Wenner-Gren
Foundation for Anthropological Research and the author is particularly grateful to Lita
Osmundsen, its former director, for her support and encouragement.


This paper evaluates the impact of paid employment on Cuban women in the post-
revolutionary period. The increase in women's labor force participation during this period has
been substantial, and is considered a key element of Cuba's revolutionary policy. The study was
conducted on a small sample of women textile workers in 1986 in collaboration with the
Federation of Cuban Women, and examined changes at the level of the household, the
workplace, and participation in mass organizations. The study concludes that, while there have
been important gains for Cuban women at all three levels as a result of paid employment, they still
face ideological and material obstacles to full equality. These obstacles stem from women's strong
identification with their domestic role, which is reinforced by policies at the workplace and at the
state level that do not respond adequately to the needs of women workers and continue to
devalue women as workers in comparison to men.

The Cuban Revolution in 1959 brought an end to U.S. domination and
fundamental changes to the socio-economic structure of the island, which have been
described at length elsewhere (e.g. Dominguez 1978; Mesa-Lago 1981; Brudenius
1984). These included the promotion of equality for women, which became a key
element of revolutionary policy. Cuban state policy has instituted at least five basic
changes relating to women in the post-revolutionary period: 1) an increase in female
participation in the labor force and advancement of women to technical and managerial
positions; 2) rising educational levels for women, including the elimination of illiteracy and
a significant increase in the number of women professionals and technicians; 3) the
establishment of social services to alleviate women's domestic load such as day care
centers, lunchrooms for students and workers, laundries, housing, transportation, and
boarding schools; 4) the development of mass organizations where women have actively
participated, such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), the
Feminine Front of the Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC), and the Federation of
Cuban Women (FMC) which is specifically for women; and 5) the approval of the Family
Code in 1975, which established the rights and duties of husband and wife regarding
children and household responsibilities.
This paper will attempt to evaluate the impact of these changes on a small sample
of women textile workers in Cuba. The focus will be on women's participation in the labor
force, which has increased rapidly in the post-revolutionary period, from 13 percent in
1953 to 38.3 percent in 1987. Under socialism, paid employment is seen as the key to
women's equality, because it is supposed to raise their class consciousness and reduce
their isolation within the home and their dependence on a male wage. However, some
argue that paid employment may merely increase women's burden and reinforce their
subordination by locking them into dead-end, poorly paid jobs. This study is an
exploratory attempt to examine both the negative and positive consequences of paid
industrial employment on Cuban women in the post-revolutionary period.
Though there have been other studies on Cuban women's labor force
participation, both by Cuban1 and non-Cuban authors, based largely on census data, this
is the first attempt to analyze with primary data qualitative changes in the lives of Cuban
women resulting from paid employment in the post-revolutionary period. The study was

1 Cuban studies on the changes among women in the post-revolutionary period have
been carried out by the Federation of Cuban Women; the Center for Demographic
Studies and the Development Studies Group of the University of Havana; and the Center
for Sociological and Psychological Research of the Cuban Academy of Sciences.

initiated in May 1986 by the Federation of Cuban Women in collaboration with the author
who has conducted similar studies on women workers in Puerto Rico and the Dominican
Republic. It was hoped that comparisons among these three countries might indicate the
differential impact of industrial employment on women in a socialist country such as Cuba
and capitalist countries such as Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The
comparison is made more valid by the fact that all three countries share a similar historical
and cultural background of Spanish colonialism and economic and political domination by
the U.S. in the twentieth century. However, this paper is devoted largely to an analysis of
the Cuban data.
This study also attempts to address some of the criticism made by feminists of
state policy toward women in socialist states generally and particularly in Cuba (Molyneux
1981; Benglesdorf 1985; Nazzari 1983; Osmond 1985; Smith and Padula 1988). Critics
charge socialist states with a productionist bias, which emphasizes economic changes
such as increasing labor force participation to the neglect of women's reproductive role.
Cuba and other socialist states have attempted to socialize women's domestic role
through day care centers and other support services provided by the state, but these are
expensive and never fill total demand. As a result, many working women remain
burdened with a "double day," especially onerous in a less developed society where
domestic tasks are even more time-consuming. The Cuban state recognized this
problem as a prime factor in the high turnover and absenteeism of employed women in
the early years of the revolution, and attempted to address it through the Family Code
adopted in 1975. The Cuban Family Code is unique in socialist societies in requiring men
and women to share household tasks and child-rearing as well as financial responsibility.
Critics have also charged that high rates of female labor force participation in
socialist societies arise out of necessity as well as principle; that is, women are employed
to meet the state's need for their labor power rather than for their own liberation.
Undoubtedly there was a need for women's labor force participation in the earlier stages
of the Cuban revolution, but toward the end of the seventies, this need appeared to
lessen and there was even fear of lack of sufficient employment for women (Nazzari 1983:
However, the percentage of Cuban women in the labor force continues to grow,
propelled not so much by the state, but by women themselves. Women were motivated
by state policies such as the greater availability of consumer goods made available
through the SDPE, the new management and planning system introduced in the late
seventies. Rising educational and occupational opportunities for women also played a

part, since the seventies were the period in which women began to make substantial
advances into higher level technical and managerial jobs (Larguia and Dumoulin 1986).
The increasing rate of female labor force participation also undermines Nazzari's
(1983) argument that the shift from moral to material incentives in Cuba in the seventies
hinders women's employment opportunities. Nazzari argues that this shift requires firms
to become more cost effective and therefore less likely to hire and promote women who
require more support services than men and may also be subject to higher rates of
turnover and absenteeism. Most of the cost of these support services such as day care
and maternity leave are now born by the state, but as we shall see, there continue to be
material as well as ideological constraints that hinder women's advancement in industrial
employment in Cuba.
Our analysis of the impact of paid employment on women's status in Cuba will not
be limited to the workplace, but will also examine changes at the level of the household
and in political participation, particularly in mass organizations. Our data demonstrate that
there have been significant gains for Cuban women in the post-revolutionary period at all
three levels, resulting from women's increased labor force incorporation. However,
Cuban women still face strong obstacles to full equality, which we shall examine in this
paper. The obstacles are both material and ideological, or as Vilma Espin (1986) noted in
an article on women's equality in Cuba, "objective" and "subjective." They stem from
women's strong identification with their reproductive role and the burden of their
domestic duties. They also stem from policies at the workplace and at the state level that
fail to fully address women's needs and continue to devalue women as workers in
comparison to men.


The study focuses on the textile industry, because it provided greater
comparability with the previous studies on women garment workers in Puerto Rico and
the Dominican Republic and because of its importance as a source of industrial
employment for women in Cuba in the post-revolutionary period. In the mid-eighties,
there were 13 textile factories in Cuba with a total labor force of 32,886, of whom 46.2
percent were women. Since we were interested in comparing the pre- and post-
revolutionary period, we deliberately chose the oldest textile factory in the island,
Ariguanabo, which was started with North American capital in 1931, and which as early as
the 1940s employed more than 4,000 workers, almost all men. The factory was
nationalized in 1960, and underwent an extensive process of modernization, which

boosted productivity considerably.2 It is located in the province of Havana about 30
kilometers from the capital.
A study of one factory cannot attempt to be representative of the entire female
industrial labor force in Cuba. This is why this study must be considered exploratory and
its results interpreted with great caution. However, Ariguanabo has certain characteristics
that make it particularly worthy of study. For example, in the pre-revolutionary period
Ariguanabo had an almost exclusively male labor force. Women did not begin to enter the
factory in massive numbers until 1973, but since that time their percentage has steadily
increased, so that at the time of this study in 1986, they represented approximately 33
percent of the labor force. A year later, following a change in the shift hours from eight to
six hours which resulted in additional workers being hired, Ariguanabo had a total of 5,211
workers, with women representing 35.6 percent (Table 1). Women are well represented
in all occupational categories except for management, a point we shall return to later.


Total Workers in Ariguanabo Factory, September 1987

Occupational Category Men Women Total

Production Workers 2985 1610 4595
Administrative Workers 45 114 159
Technicians 103 101 204
Service Workers 60 24 84
Management (dirigentes) 162 7 169

Total 3355 1856 5211

Source: Factory records.

In selecting the sample, administrative, service, and managerial employees were
eliminated, in order to focus on workers and technicians directly involved in production. A
total of 168 respondents were chosen at random from a sample of 1,289 women workers
stratified according to age. All of the women in the sample were production workers
except for 14 women working as t6cnicos or technicians. Since we were interested in

2 Due to the blockade following the revolution, the lack of parts to replace machinery
produced a total stagnation in the textile industry, requiring modernization as well as the
establishment of eight new plants. Although these measures more than tripled textile
production, in 1987 the textile plants were still not working at full capacity due to the high
rates of turnover and absenteeism to be discussed later.


obtaining an adequate sample of women workers with employment experience in the pre-
revolutionary period, we oversampled women over 50 years of age, of whom there were
only 93 in the factory in 1986. A 50 percent sample of these women plus a 10 percent
sample of women 50 or younger gave us a total sample of 168 women. There were 33
cases of substitution for respondents who could not be located.
The interviews were conducted in workers' homes by the Cuban collaborators in
this report, who are professional staff of the Federation of Cuban Women. The author
trained this special research team in interview techniques, and assisted them in adapting
the interview schedule used in the study of Puerto Rican garment workers to the Cuban
situation, after careful pre-testing with randomly selected women workers from
Ariguanabo. For example, we found it useful to obtain educational and employment
information for both the pre- and post-revolutionary period, in order to obtain an accurate
measure of the changes that had occurred. In addition, questions were asked about
participation in several Cuban mass organizations that do not exist in Puerto Rico. The
interview schedule, which lasted about two hours, covered their work situation, their
family life, political attitudes and participation in mass organizations. In addition, a year
after the completion of the survey the author, with the assistance of the Cuban
collaborators, conducted in-depth interviews with a sub-sample of 18 women to obtain
more qualitative information. This data is not analyzed here, although there is reference
to some of the interviews. We also had several lengthy interviews with representatives of
management and the union in Ariguanabo to obtain data and to discuss the results of the
study, and some of this information is included here.
In analyzing the data, it turned out that the sample divided almost equally
between three age groups: 17 to 29; 30-44 and 45 and over (Table 2). However, since
the latter category includes the women over 50 who were overrepresented, the sample
does not reflect an accurate breakdown of the ages of women employed in
Ariguanabo,the majority of whom were under 30. It would have been preferable to keep
this over 50 category separate rather than lumping them with women 45 and over, but it is
impossible to redo the analysis at this time. At any rate, we are concerned less with a
representative sample of women workers in the factory than with how these ages, which
represent different stages in the life cycle, are correlated with differences in household
composition, attitudes toward work, and political participation.


Ariguanabo Sample of Women Workers Stratified by Age

Age Number in Sample Percentage

17-29 61 36.3
30-44 45 26.8
45 and over 62 36.9

Total 168 100.0

This age category is overrepresented because we sampled 50% of those 50 and over.
Includes production workers and 14 technicians.

Household Composition and Authority Patterns

In analyzing the household composition of our respondents, we examined the
data both in terms of age and marital status. As can be seen in Table 3, the two variables
are closely correlated, except for female heads of household, who tend to cluster among
younger and older women. Age gives us a perspective on generational differences, and
has the added advantage that the age groups in the sample are fairly evenly distributed.
However, marital status is also important for, as we shall see, it helps determine how
women dispose of their earnings and the impact of their contribution on household
authority patterns.
The area around Ariguanabo has experienced considerable population growth in
the post-revolutionary period, due partly to industrial development. In our sample of
women workers, 45 percent were born in the area of Ariguanabo, while the remainder
came from other areas, some from as far away as Oriente. Only 20 percent were born in a
city, while the rest are about equally divided between those who were born in a provincial
town or rural area. Over half of the migrant women arrived in the area under the age of 20,
some brought by their parents, while others arrived as adults, often to work in Ariguanabo
or in other factories nearby. Another large textile factory located only a few kilometers
from Ariguanabo was opened in 1965 as part of the revolution's import substitution
strategy. Still, half the sample population has lived in their present residence for over ten
years, a few for their entire lives. So, though Ariguanabo is close to Havana, we are
dealing with a fairly stable, not highly urbanized population.


Marital Status by Age In Ariguanabo Sample

Female head of
Age Married* Household** Single Total

17-29 44.3 36.1 19.7 100
30-44 73.3 22.2 4.4 100
45 and over 53.2 43.5 3.2 100

Total N 93 59 16 168
% 55.4 35.1 9.5 100

Includes legally married and in consensual union.
Includes separated, divorced, and widows, whether or not living alone as head of
Percentages above or under 100 are due to rounding.

Population growth has contributed to a severe housing shortage, which is
evident in the fact that 38 percent of our sample households have five or more members.
Still, 42 percent of our sample households own their own homes, while most of the
remainder are acquiring their houses through their jobs as viviendas vinculadas, by paying
monthly installments for up to 20 years, which are applied to the purchase price. Families
living in viviendas vinculadas can only keep these homes while they are working at the
factory. All of their homes are quite well equipped, with 68 percent having a washing
machine and refrigerator (Table 4) while almost all have a television and radio. However,
the women interviewed cite housing as their most important domestic problem, along with
a lack of water caused by drought and population growth in the area.
In an attempt to provide more housing for its workers, in 1974 Ariguanabo
opened an apartment housing complex called Pueblo Textil, which in 1985 housed 346
families. Though the Pueblo Textil is located close to the factory and the apartments are
very modern and well equipped, some residents feel isolated because they are not
located in a town and lack shops and other amenities, although efforts are now being
made to provide these. For example, the plant management has recently installed a
medical clinic as well as a taxi service to take people into town on emergencies. Most
workers live in Bauta, the nearest town, while some come from as far away as Havana.
Ariguanabo has its own busses, which transport workers to the various towns in which
they live.


Household Possessions by Marital Status in Ariguanabo Sample

Possession of Refrigerator and Washing Machine*

Washing No Refrigerator
Marital Machine and Refrigerator or Washing
Status Refrigerator Only Machine Total

Married 73.1 15.1 11.8 100
Female Head 61.0 15.3 23.7 100
Single 62.5 0 37.5 100

Total N 114 23 31 168
% 67.8 13.7 18.5 100

These possessions were selected as among the most discriminatory. Ninety percent of
the households had a radio and television.

Younger Women Workers
Almost half of the total female labor force in Ariguanabo is under 30.3 Born after
1956, they represent the new generation of Cuban women workers raised in the post-
revolutionary society. In our sample, over half of these young women workers live in large
families of five and more persons (Table 5). This reflects the fact that they are often part of
their parental or in-laws' households, even though less than 20 percent of these younger
women are single (Table 3). Co-residence is also reflected in the fact that over half of
them live in three generation households (Table 6), which often include their own
children in the case of married women or female heads of household.4 Over two-fifths of
our entire sample live in three generation households, reflecting largely the severe
housing shortage in Cuba.5

3 By January 1989 the percentage of women under 30 had increased to 54.5 percent.
The total number of women had increased to 2,106 out of a labor force of 5,639,
representing 37.3 percent of the whole.
4 The term "female head of household" includes all separated, divorced and widowed
women, even if they are not the head of the household in which they are living.
5 In Cuba as a whole, according to the 1981 census, extended families represent 32.5
percent of all private households and contain an average of 5.3 persons compared to 3.8
persons in basic nuclear families. Extended families became more predominant in the
1970s, especially in urban areas where they are associated with the housing shortage
(Academy of Sciences, p. 22).


Number of Persons in Household by Woman's Age In Ariguanabo Sample

Number of Persons In Household

Age 1 2-4 5+ Total

17-29 4.9 37.7 57.4 100
30-44 8.9 68.9 22.2 100
45 and over 24.2 45.2 30.6 100

Total N 22 82 64 168
% 13.1 48.8 38.1 100


Number of Generations in Household by Age in Ariguanabo Sample

Number of Generations in Households

Age 1 2 3 Total

17-29 8.2 39.3 52.4 100
30-44 6.7 64.4 28.9 100
45 and over 24.2 37.1 38.7 100

Total N 23 76 69 168
% 13.7 45.2 41.1 100

Includes 6 households with 4 generations.

Extended families often have the highest incomes because of the large number
of wage earners per household.6 Five or more persons are working in nearly one-fourth
of these younger women's households, again reflecting their large size, and the high
number of adults (Table 7). Single women contribute less of their salaries to the
household than married women, among whom the great majority spend all of their salaries

6 Unfortunately, data on total family income was not collected.

on household expenses (Table 8). Sometimes single women pay their parents or mother
a fixed amount and reserve the rest for their own expenses, as well as saving towards a
home of their own. Younger women have the highest level of savings, with 72 percent
with savings of 700 pesos or more, which is more than three months wages.


Number of Persons Working in


by Woman's Age in Ariguanabo

Age 1 2 3 4 5 or more Total

17-29 13.1 27.9 16.4 18.0 24.6 100
30-44 8.9 62.2 11.1 13.3 4.4 100
45 and over 16.1 29.0 19.4 22.6 12.9 100

Total N 22 63 27 31 25 168
% 13.1 37.5 16 18.5 14.9 100


Woman's Contribution to Household Expense by Marital Status in
Ariguanabo Sample

Percentage of Woman's Salary Contributed to Household Expenses

Marital Status All 50% or More Less than 50% Total

Married 65.6 26.9 7.5 100
Female head 50.8 30.5 18.6 100
Single 25.0 25.0 50.0 100

Total N 95 47 26 168
% 56.5 28.0 15.5 100

When younger women continue to live with their parents or in-laws, it is most
often the latter who make the decisions at home and administer the expenses. Thus
these younger women are clearly subordinate members of the household, even if they
are married and have children of their own. Over 40 percent of them continue to consult

about personal problems with their mothers, although many are now married or separated.
In half the cases, their mothers or mothers-in-law take care of their children when they
work, which is one advantage of three-generation households. Over two-thirds of these
young women have only one child, but they are clearly still of child-bearing age (Table 9).
Household chores are also shared with their mothers or mothers-in-law.


Number of Children by Women's Age In Ariguanabo Sample

Number of Children

Age 1 2 3 4 5 or more Total

17-29 67.6 29.7 2.7 100
20-44 30.0 45.0 20.0 2.5 2.5 100
45 and over 18.2 23.6 29.1 14.5 14.5 100

Total N 47 42 25 9 9 132
% 35.6 31.8 19 6.8 6.8 100

Excludes those women who have not had children.

Despite the Family Code, it is evident that in these working-class families, men do
not share in household tasks nor do women put much pressure on them to do so, even
though they are also employed. This is especially true in three-generation households
where there are several women around to share household responsibilities. Three-
generation families also increase the influence of the older generation, who generally
hold the authority in the household and maintain more traditional values. Thus, extended
families tend to maintain a more traditional sexual division of labor in the household than
smaller nuclear families, where the husband is under more pressure to share in
household responsibilities.
Younger women have higher educational levels than older women, reflecting the
educational advances of the post-revolutionary period (Table 10).7 Three-fourths of
these younger women have gone to secondary school (seventh to ninth grade) while

7 Between 1977/78 and 1986/87, the percentage of Cuban women enrolled in sixth to
ninth grade (ensefanza media) increased from 36 to 48.7 percent, while those enrolled in
post-secondary education (ensefianza superior) increased from 3.9 percent to 11.8
percent (Integraci6n econ6mica de la mujer cubana a las actividades socio-econ6micas y
political, FMC, p. 35).

most of the remainder have gone on for additional education. One of the principal
reasons these women left school was because of marriage or pregnancy. Nearly two-
thirds of these younger women married and had their first child under the age of 20, and
28.6 percent have been married more than once. Contrary to common demographic
patterns, increased educational and occupational possibilities have not increased the age
of marriage and pregnancy for these women who, like the older women in the sample,
continue to marry and have children at an early age.8 In fact, it could be argued that early
marriage and pregnancy is a prime factor in limiting their further educational and
occupational advancement, although none of the women in our sample have left work
permanently because of this. Few of them are studying now because they claim their
work schedules do not permit it. In the in-depth interviews, one young woman told us
how she had to interrupt her studies, and even give up a scholarship to the Soviet Union,
because of an unplanned pregnancy.


Educational Level by Woman's Age in Ariguanabo Sample

Educational Level

Primary Secondary Grade 10
Age Grade 1-6 Grade 7-9 or more Total

17-29 6.6 75.4 18.0 100
30-44 35.6 48.9 15.6 100
45 and over 74.2 19.4 6.5 100

Total N 66 80 22 168
% 39.3 47.6 13.1 100

Middle-Aged Married Women
Smaller households are found among middle-aged women aged 30 to 44, 69
percent of whose households consist of two to four persons (Table 5). Nearly three-
fourths of these women are married (Table 3) and live largely in nuclear families of two
generations with their husbands and children (Table 6). Few middle-aged women have
more than three children (Table 7), reflecting the overall decline in fertility in Cuba in the

8 In a recent extensive study of fertility and employment in three areas of Cuba, the
average of marriage was under 20 for all groups except for working women in Havana (S.
Catasss et al. 1988: 72)

post-revolutionary period. From 1975 to 1986, the gross reproduction rate (daughters
born per woman) decreased from 1.3 to .83, an extremely low figure for Latin America and
comparable to that of many advanced industrial countries. However, the rate of decline
has been lower in younger age groups, reflecting a relatively high rate of teenage
pregnancies (Integraci6n econ6mica de la mujer, p. 16).
Nearly half of these middle-aged women have themselves obtained a secondary
education (Table 10), which in most cases was completed after the revolution, since many
left school earlier in the pre-revolutionary period. A principal reason for leaving school the
first time was marriage or pregnancy, as among younger women, but an equal number
cited economic need, reflecting the poor economic conditions in the pre-revolutionary
period. Currently many are not studying because their work in the factory will not permit it.
They have to work rotating shifts and this conflicts with any regularly scheduled activities.
It seems that the desire to study also wanes with age and the burden of domestic and
work responsibilities.
Paid employment appears to have an impact on authority patterns, since more
than half of these married women maintain that they make decisions jointly with their
husbands, and only a few maintain that the husband makes them alone (Table 11). This
constitutes a real change from a traditional patriarchal pattern common to previous Cuban
working-class households, and probably reflects the importance of women working and
contributing to the household. Over half of these married women also administer
expenses jointly, and both husband and wife contribute heavily to household expenses.
The great majority of married women contribute all of their salary to the household (Table
6), as do an almost equal number of their husbands. In more than half the households,
one or more persons in addition to the husband and wife are working, usually grown
children or other relatives. These married couples have the best equipped houses (Table
4) and nearly half have savings of over 700 pesos.
Almost none of the husbands have asked their wives to stop working, which
represents another radical change from the pre-revolutionary period. Married women
tend to discuss problems with their husbands, although a good number also turn to their
mothers or non-relatives such as a neighbor or friend. Most married women say they
quarrel with their husbands, but few have considered divorce.
Despite the fact that authority is now shared, the wife continues to do most of the
household work, with some help from her mother or mother-in-law in cases where they are
still living together. The only household tasks in which the husband actively participates
are paying the bills, doing the shopping, and taking out the garbage. In short, the sexual
division of labor has remained quite traditional despite an apparent change in authority

patterns. The only households where husbands appear to take a greater role in
household tasks are younger, better educated couples who are living alone and could
not count on relatives to help.


Who Makes Decisions in Household by Marital Status in Ariguanabo

Who Makes Decisions

Marital Status Respondent Husband Both Other* Total

Married 12.9 17.2 52.7 17.2 100
Female-head 49.2 1.7 49.2 100
Single 18.8 6.2 75.0 100

Total N 44 16 51 57 168
% 26.2 9.5 30.4 33.9 100

Usually refers to parents or in-laws.

Older Women Workers
Women 45 and over were adults at the time of the revolution and thus have fully
experienced the changes it brought. This is most evident in the occupational changes to
be discussed in the next section and in improved educational levels. Before the
revolution, more than half these older women in our sample had never completed primary
school (sixth grade) and 6.5 percent were illiterate (which is much lower than the
percentage of illiteracy among the total female population in Cuba in the 1953 census).
After the revolution, illiteracy was eliminated, and nearly three-fourths had completed
primary school, while nearly one-fifth had gone to secondary school. Half of them
reported that they had to leave school as children because of economic problems. Like
middle-aged women, 60 percent continued their education after the revolution, but many
are not studying now because they think they are too old, or are not well, etc.
Older women have the highest percentage of female-headed households,
although 53 percent are married (Table 3). They often continue to reside with their
children and grandchildren in three-generation households (Table 6). This explains why
over 30 percent of these older women's households have five or more members (Table 5)
and why 35 percent of these households have four or more persons working in the
household (Table 7). On the other hand, nearly one-fourth of the women in this older

group live alone, reducing the average number of workers per household. Although the
highest number of children are found in this older age group (Table 9), most of them are
already grown and have moved off on their own.
If they are married, older women tend to share decisions and the administration of
household expenses with their husbands. Husbands tend to contribute the least in
household expenses in this older age group, with 48.5 percent giving all their salary and
42.4 percent half or more. In comparison, 66 percent of the women in this older
generation give all their salaries to the household. They sometimes turn to their husband
to discuss their problems but more often to their own children (who are now grown) or
other friends and neighbors.

Female-Headed Households
Female-headed households deserve separate consideration because they
constitute 35 percent of the sample and illustrate the problem of marital instability, which is
quite high in contemporary Cuba.9 Most are separated or divorced, although a few are
widows, particularly in the older age group. Female-headed households in our sample are
divided into this older group (45.8 percent), who are usually the heads of their
households, and the younger group under 30 (37.3 percent), who often live with and are
subordinate to their parents. Only a few of the younger female heads of household live
alone. Decision-making in female-headed households reflects this bipolar age
distribution. Older women who head their own households make the major decisions,
while younger women living with their parents or in-laws defer to them. Three generation
families constitute 55.9 percent of female-headed households, and are found both
among younger women living with their parents, and older women living with children and
grandchildren. One of our respondents was a divorced grandmother who lived with her
five children and grandchildren in a household totalling 26 persons. Over 40 percent of
these female-headed households contain five or more members.
Despite the large size of their households, however, female-headed households
have less earning power, with 62 percent having only one or two persons working in the
household. They also have higher dependency ratios than married women, since 82

9 Divorce rates increased rapidly in the post-revolutionary period and reached a high of
3.2 per thousand in 1986. In part this reflects the greater economic autonomy that the
revolution has provided women. As a result, the percentage of female-headed
households in Cuba has increased from 9.6 percent in 1953 to 19.7 percent in 1981.
(Integraci6n de la mujer cubana... p. 20-21). The predominance of female-headed
households among older women generally may explain their higher percentage in this
sample. (Academy of Sciences, p.17).

percent of female-headed households have young children under 18 in the household,
substantially higher than the 51 percent among married women. Among older female
heads, many of these may be grandchildren. Nevertheless, 61 percent of the
households are equipped with washing machines and refrigerators (Table 4) and over
two-thirds have savings of more than 700 pesos. Half of these households also own their
own homes, compared to 40.9 percent of married women's households.
Despite their low earning power, a smaller percentage of women who are female
heads of household give all their salaries to the household than married women (Table 8).
Those contributing less are generally younger women living with their parents, to whom
they give a monthly allowance for food and housing, while they pay their other expenses
for themselves and their children on their own. Some of these women receive a pension
as widows while divorced or separated women should receive child support from the
fathers of their children. However, many single mothers do not receive child support, and
in some cases prefer to support their children on their own because this limits the
authority fathers have over their children. Female-headed households in Cuba do not
receive special welfare payments from the state as in the United States or Puerto Rico,
except in cases where they cannot work. However, female heads of household are given
preference in employment because tCuban statejprofo encourageSthem to work
rather than becoming dependent on the state for their welfare .
One of the principal reasons behind the formation of female-headed households
appears to be early pregnancy. While age at marriage did not differ greatly, 57.4 percent
female-headed households had their first child under 20 compared to 42.1 percent of
married women (Table 12). These women are generally too young for the responsibility of
motherhood, and often leave the primary responsibility to their own mothers, with whom
they are still living. Household chores are also divided between themselves and their
mothers or other female relatives in the home. In effect, these younger women continue
to live as children in their parents' homes, although they may have children of their own.
The parents continue to make the decisions in the house, and many of these younger
women turn to their mothers for personal problems. Older women who head households,
however, have to assume much of the economic and decision-making responsibility
themselves, although they may turn to neighbors and friends for advice.
To summarize, it is evident that age and marital status have a marked effect on the
household, including family size, number of persons working in the household, number
of children, as well as household decisions and chores. It would appear that as women
work, they are assuming more authority in the household, as evidenced by the number of
married women who share decisions and household expenses with their husbands. On

the other hand, the age at marriage and particularly the age at which women have their first
child has remained very young, and helps account for the relatively high rate of marital
instability. Thirty percent of all the women have been married more than once, while
among female-headed households, the rate is 39 percent.


Woman's Age at Birth of First Child by Marital Status in Ariguanabo

Woman's Age at Birth of First Child

Marital Status Less than 20 20-25 More than 25 Total

Married 42.1 42.1 15.8 100
Household 57.4 27.8 14.8 100
Single 100.0 100

Total N 65 47 20 132
% 49.2 35.6 15.2 100

Excludes those women who have not had children.

Marital instability also helps explain the high percentage of three-generation
households, since most young, unwed mothers remain in their parents' homes.10
However, some young, married couples are also forced to double up because of the
severe housing shortage. Three generation families generally increase the number of
workers in the household, adding to the family income and assisting in carrying out
household chores. However, they also tend to maintain traditional patriarchal patterns in
which women are held responsible for most of the domestic work. They may also
contribute to marital instability because of the pressure of living in close quarters with
parents or in-laws.
The dramatic increase in educational levels among younger women and their
children is one of the most notable effects of the revolution. This can also be seen by
comparing the educational level of our respondents with that of their children. Among
those children who have completed their schooling, more than half the daughters and

10 The study by the Academy of Sciences (p. 21) notes that "incomplete" families have a
greater tendency to live in extended families. While incomplete families may include
households headed solely by a man (without a wife), these are very uncommon.

over two-fifths of the sons have gone beyond secondary school, including some who
have gone to the university. This has resulted in higher occupational attainments, with a
number of sons and daughters entering managerial and especially technical fields (Table
13). We shall examine changes in occupational status among the working women in our
sample in the next section.


Occupational Category of Sons and Daughters* In Ariguanabo Sample

Category Sons Daughters

Managers 3.6 2.5
AdministrativeWork 3.6 12.7
Technicians 20.0 22.8
Factory Work 40.0 20.3
Service Work 10.8 12.7
Housewives 18.9
Other 22.0 10.1

Total N 55 79
% 100.0 100.0

Represents only sons and daughters who have completed their schooling.

Occupational History and Mobility

Women workers in capitalist countries are commonly regarded as a secondary
labor force, and their needs are not given the same priority as those of men, who are still
viewed as the principal breadwinners. As a result, women industrial workers are utilized
primarily as a cheap labor reserve and kept in dead-end, unskilled jobs with high rates of
turnover and poor pay (e.g. Humphrey 1987). We shall see how this situation compares
with that in Ariguanabo.

Possibilities for Advancement
In Cuba as a whole women have made significant occupational advances in the
post-revolutionary period, as can be seen in the marked shift out of unskilled service
occupations into higher level technical and professional jobs. In 1986, women were most
heavily represented in fields such as education, public health, and finance and insurance,
while they represented less than 30 percent of all workers in industry (Table 14). Forty

over two-fifths of the sons have gone beyond secondary school, including some who
have gone to the university. This has resulted in higher occupational attainments, with a
number of sons and daughters entering managerial and especially technical fields (Table
13). We shall examine changes in occupational status among the working women in our
sample in the next section.


Occupational Category of Sons and Daughters* In Ariguanabo Sample

Category Sons Daughters

Managers 3.6 2.5
AdministrativeWork 3.6 12.7
Technicians 20.0 22.8
Factory Work 40.0 20.3
Service Work 10.8 12.7
Housewives 18.9
Other 22.0 10.1

Total N 55 79
% 100.0 100.0

Represents only sons and daughters who have completed their schooling.

Occupational History and Mobility

Women workers in capitalist countries are commonly regarded as a secondary
labor force, and their needs are not given the same priority as those of men, who are still
viewed as the principal breadwinners. As a result, women industrial workers are utilized
primarily as a cheap labor reserve and kept in dead-end, unskilled jobs with high rates of
turnover and poor pay (e.g. Humphrey 1987). We shall see how this situation compares
with that in Ariguanabo.

Possibilities for Advancement
In Cuba as a whole women have made significant occupational advances in the
post-revolutionary period, as can be seen in the marked shift out of unskilled service
occupations into higher level technical and professional jobs. In 1986, women were most
heavily represented in fields such as education, public health, and finance and insurance,
while they represented less than 30 percent of all workers in industry (Table 14). Forty

percent of the women who entered the labor force between 1976 and 1980 were
technical, skilled or professional personnel (Pdrez-Stable: 1987: 61), and this trend
continued in the 1980s. By 1986 women constituted more than half of all technicians in
Cuba but still represented a relatively low percentage of managers (Table 15).


Cuban National Occupational Profile by

Gender and Sector, 1986

Percent of Gender Percentage In Each
Sector Women Men Women Men

Industry 22.6 33.2 29.5 70.5
Construction 3.6 13.7
Agriculture and
Cattle Raising 5.9 12.6 14.0 86.0
Forestry .4 1.3 17.4 82.6
Transportation 3.0 8.1 18.5 81.5
Communications 1.1 .7 47.5 52.5
Commerce 14.8 9.4 49.0 51.0
Other Productive
Activity .6 .6 39.3 60.7
Personal and
Services 4.0 3.4 41.9 58.1
Science and
Technology 1.1 .7 48.0 52.0
Education 21.1 6.3 67.2 32.8
Culture and Art 1.4 1.1 43.3 56.7
Public Health and
Social Assistance 12.2 3.3 69.5 30.5
Finance and
Insurance 1.1 .3 69.7 30.3
Administration 6.0 4.6 44.7 55.3
Other Non-Pro-
ductive Activity 1.1 .7 47.1 52.9

Total 100.0 100.0 38.0 62.0

Source: Integraci6n de la Mujer Cubana a las Actividades Socio-Econ6micos y Politicas,
FMC, p. 27.

In 1987 approximately 88 percent of the labor force in Ariguanabo consisted of
production workers, while the remainder were distributed into administrative, technical,
service, and management positions (Table 1). As we noted earlier, Ariguanabo in the pre-
revolutionary period had an almost exclusively male labor force. Only 150 women were
employed, representing about 5 percent of the labor force. In fact, the workers were

considered a labor aristocracy because of their high level of skill and pay. Women did not
work in the factory in massive numbers until 1973, when 800 women were employed.
This was also the period in which women began entering the labor force in larger numbers
in Cuba as a whole. Since then, the number and percentage of female workers in
Ariguanabo has increased steadily, from 31.5 percent in 1980 to 37.3 percent in January,


Cuban National Occupational Profile by Gender and Occupational
Category, 1986

Occupational Percent of Gender Percentage in Occupational
Category Women Men Women Men

Workers 25.4 65.9 19.1 80.9
Technicians 30.0 14.2 56.4 43.6
Administrators 17.0 2.2 82.9 17.1
Service 22.2 8.3 62.1 37.9
Managers 5.4 9.4 26.2 73.8

Total 100.0 100.0 38.0 62.0

Source: Integraci6n de la Mujer Cubana a las Actividadas Socio-Economices y Politicas,
FMC, p. 24.

The increasing number of female workers in the Cuban textile industries
represents a reversal of most employment patterns in this industry in Latin America, in
which the percentage of women has declined with technological advances (Saffioti
1986). Ariguanabo has also undergone considerable modernization in the post-
revolutionary period, both in terms of physical plant and machinery, but this has not led to
the displacement of women. In fact, management complains of labor turnover due partly
to alternative opportunities for employment in the area, such as another textile factory, a
dairy and other agricultural work. Turnover is also attributed to rising educational levels,
which prepare young people for higher level jobs. It is possible that the greater
employment alternatives for men in the region have led Ariguanabo to recruit more
women. Many older men who were working in the pre-revolutionary period also retired in
the 1970s.
The increasing number of women workers also represents a conscious strategy
on the part of the Cuban government to encourage female employment. In 1980 the

state adopted a kind of affirmative action policy (Resolution 511 of the Comit6 Estatal de
Trabajo y Seguro Social) whereby in each workplace certain jobs would be declared
puestos preferences (preferential positions) for women. The decision as to the number
and type of jobs for women is made by the management and union officials in each
workplace in consultation with the Federation of Cuban Women, and is supposed to be
approved in a worker assembly. According to data provided by management, at the time
of our study, almost half of the jobs in Ariguanabo had been declared puestos
preferentes (preferential positions) for women, but about 35 percent of these were
actually occupied by men. The number of women in technical, administrative and service
jobs generally met the designated goals, but women fell short in certain production jobs
and particularly in management. In 1987, only 7 out of 169 dirigentes (managers) in
Ariguanabo were women (Table 1), though a majority of these positions had been
declared preferential for women.
One reason for women's lack of advancement into supervisory positions in
Ariguanabo is the way female production workers are inserted into the labor process. The
most numerous jobs for women as production workers are as winders, spinners and
weavers, to the extent that there are comparatively few men left in either of the former two
occupations, which may result in a possible new form of occupational segregation. There
are no women working as mechanics, who have the best chances for promotion because
they are more aware of all phases of the production process. They also earn more and
often become heads of sections or shifts or one of the new integrated brigades. While
there are no female heads of shifts or sections, 13 of the 94 heads of brigade are women,
but the latter are not considered management positions.
While women themselves have shown little interest in becoming mechanics,
management has also made little effort to train them. It is evident that management is still
governed by traditional sexist principles that underestimate a woman's physical ability and
magnify her concern for her appearance (e.g. greasy hands). As the plant director noted:
"Las manos de una mujer no son iguales que las de un hombre, para cortar cana, para la
meccnica, para andar con el martillo, muchas cosas las pueden hacer y las estdn haciendo
las mujeres"(The hands of a women are not the same as those of a man, to cut cane, for
mechanics, to work with a hammer; women can do many things and are doing many
things). Yet women do other dirty jobs in Ariguanabo such as cleaning or oiling machines.
By state law (Resolution 512) women are also barred from certain jobs that the Ministry of
Labor maintains present health hazards, particularly to women's reproductive functions.
This policy has been strongly contested by the Federation of Cuban Women and the

number of such positions closed to women has been sharply reduced (Pdrez-Stable
1987: 61).11
One policy under consideration is placing qualified technicians or university
graduates in these management positions. In Ariguanabo, in 1987 women comprised
more than half of the technicians or t6cnicos at the factory, and about one-third of the
engineers, all of whom have received advanced degrees, often in the Soviet Union or
other East European countries. But this still would not give women in lower level
positions an opportunity to advance.
The primary reason given by women in our sample for why women are not
promoted is that management prefers men, and several of the younger and middle-aged
women say that women are not valued. This indicates that some women are conscious of
gender discrimination in the factory, although many also claim that their domestic duties
do not permit them to obtain the training and devote the time to work in higher positions.
Here we can see the negative effects of the heavy household responsibilities that these
working women bear. Younger women are generally more optimistic about advancement
in the factory (Table 16), since they are better educated, and have fewer household
responsibilities. Many of the older women feel they are not qualified for supervisory
positions or are simply not interested.


Woman's Perceived Possibilities of Job Advancement by Age in
Ariguanabo Sample

Woman's Perceived Possibilities of Job Advancement

Age Positive Negative N Total

17-29 52.9 47.1 51 100
30-44 30.5 69.5 46 100
45 and over 23.0 77.0 61 100

Total N 55 103 158*
% 34.8 65.2 100

Respondents who answered "don't know" were not included.

11 Resolution 40 reduced the number of positions closed to women, but maintained the
principle of prohibition. The concern is largely with women's fertility and therefore at
present in the Labor Code the prohibition applies only to pregnant or fertile women. The
prohibited jobs include those requiring heavy manual labor and other health hazards.

Educational level would not appear to be a barrier to advancement, since the
educational level of women in Ariguanabo is equal or superior to that of men. According
to data provided by the factory, at the end of 1985, the percentage of women at the pre-
university level and especially at the technical level was higher than that of men, while the
percentage with just primary education was much lower (Table 17). However, women
have not been employed at the factory for the same length of time, since most of them
entered in the seventies. Though data on length of time employed was collected on only
about half our sample, among these respondents over 65 percent has been employed
ten years or less.12


Educational Level of All Men and Women Workers in Ariguanabo Factory

Men Women
N % N %

Primary 377 22.8 49 3.8
Secondary 872 52.7 611 47.6
Education 74 4.5 185 14.4
Pre-University 293 17.7 415 32.3
Education 39 2.3 24 1.9

Total 1655 100.0 1284 100.0

Source: Factory records.

Another fundamental factor explaining women's lack of advancement in
Ariguanabo is shift work. Shifts change weekly, so that workers are always working
different hours. While shifts are necessary in order to use the expensive physical plant to
full capacity, it poses more of a problem to women who already have heavy domestic
responsibilities. Shifts have recently been reduced from eight to six hours, which
reduces the strain for most women. Nevertheless, rotating shifts make it difficult to attend
regularly scheduled classes for advanced training, and sometimes also union meetings

12 Unfortunately, data on length of time employed in Ariguanabo was inadvertently
omitted from the interview schedule, but was collected on 81 respondents on which this
estimate is based. Since we overrepresented older women workers in our sample, the
average length of time all women workers in Ariguanabo have worked is probably lower.

and other events. While over half the women who rotate shifts say it does not create
problems for them, they also cite shifts as a primary cause of absenteeism and one of the
things they like least about working in the factory. One young separated women living
alone with her nine-year old son leaves him sleeping alone in the house when she works

Support services
Ariguanabo provides workers with a full array of support services that far surpass
those found among industrial workers in other world areas (e.g. Safa 1989; Humphrey
1987). These include transportation to and from work, a day care center, medical facilities,
maternity leave, prepared lunches, housing, and recreational facilities including a baseball
field, community center, and dances. Nevertheless, it would seem that some of the
facilities offered by the factory such as the lunchroom and the day care center are better
suited to the needs of white-collar workers in administrative, service or even technical jobs
than to production workers who rotate shifts.
The day care center, for example, is open from 6 A.M. to 6 P.M., and cannot
accommodate women working shifts. Almost 30 percent of our respondents sent their
children to the day care center, particularly among middle-aged women, while more of the
younger women rely on their mothers to take care of their children. While this reflects the
fact that younger women are more likely to live with their mothers, it may also reflect the
scarcity of day care facilities in recent years. Over 80 percent of our sample think more day
care centers are needed, even older women with grown children. In 1975 day care
centers were projected to expand to 150,00 children capacity, but by 1980, the number
had only reached 90,000. (Pdrez-Stable 1987: 63). However, as part of the rectification
campaign started in 1986, day care centers have received renewed emphasis, particularly
in Havana where 54 were completed in 1987 with plans for the construction of 50 more in
1988 (Smith and Padula 1988: 49). At the end of 1988, there were a total of 210 day care
centers in Cuba with a capacity for 129,817 children.
Management recognizes that day care is a problem for working mothers, but has
not found an adequate solution. They maintain that an experimental study was
conducted on 24 hour day care centers several years ago, but apparently mothers
preferred to leave their children sleeping at home. While undoubtedly this is a strong
tradition in Cuban families, it is possible that it has now changed with the greater
percentage of mothers working. The factory management also attempts to place women
with young children on fixed shifts, but has not been able to accommodate demand. A
total of 1,400 persons or about one-fourth the labor force are on fixed shifts. (Table 18).

However, men still predominate on fixed shifts, and only half of the 400 women on fixed
shifts work in production. Most of the 20 percent of our sample who do not rotate shifts
are technicians and other specialized personnel.


Type of Shift Work of All Men and Women Workers in Ariguanabo Factory

Type of Women Men Total
Shift Work N % N % N %

Fixed Shift 400 18.9 1000 28.3 1400 24.8

Rotating Shift 1706 81.1 2533 71.7 4239 75.2

Total 2106 100.0 3533 100.0 5639 100.0

Source: Factory records.

Nearly half the women workers in our sample complain about the working hours at
the factory, which includes not only shift work but work on Saturdays. This has improved
somewhat since the shift was shortened in 1988 to six hours, but they also have to work
under greater pressure in order to fulfill their quotas, which at the time of the study in
1986 were still being adjusted to the shorter hours.13 They also complain about the
working conditions, including the lunchroom facilities and the lack of ventilation, as well as
the noise which is common to textile factories. There is a lunchroom for all the workers,
but many women do not like the food nor the facilities. The hours in which the lunchroom
is open also do not accommodate the needs of most workers who rotate shifts. Most of
these workers prefer to eat at home before leaving for work, and only have a snack during
work which is brought to them in the factory.
The state provides women workers with paid maternity leave for eighteen weeks
and they can take off another year without pay. Pregnant women are taken off shift work
in their third month of pregnancy, and may go on maternity leave at seven months.
However, once they resume working, they must also work shifts, although as stated
previously, some attempts are being made to accommodate them on fixed shifts.

13 According to management, when the working day was reduced from eight to six
hours, norms were increased 9 or 10 percent an hour to help make up this loss. In
addition, the 30 minute rest period was reduced to 10 minutes.

Labor Turnover and Absenteeism
Labor turnover may be problem in a socialist society since the incentive to work is
not as great where services such as health and education are provided free of charge,
thus workers are not forced to seek paid employment to meet all their needs. In Cuba,
turnover was particularly prevalent among women in the early years of the revolution,
since women faced the added burden of housework and child care. This is one reason
why working women were provided with additional support services as well as material
incentives to make paid employment more attractive.
In the late seventies, the Cuban state placed a greater emphasis on material
incentives, particularly with the new management and planning system or SDPE,
designed in part to cope with problems of work discipline and underproductivity.
Previously, under the system of moral incentives, workers were paid a flat daily rate, and
there were no material incentives for working harder or better. Now work norms have
been installed which workers must fulfill, and if they exceed these norms they may receive
bonuses or primas, although these were reduced in many areas with the rectification
campaign after 1986 (Zimbalist 1989: 81).
Since the factory is now open six days a week with four six hour shifts, it is
producing more than previously with three eight hour shifts working five and a half days.
In addition, 700 new workers were employed. In 1988, Ariguanabo surpassed its quota
for the third year in a row, producing 62 million square meters of woven cloth.
Nevertheless, management claims that they still need to improve efficiency, which now
stands at about 70 percent, especially in weaving. Part of the problem is due to a high
rate of turnover, which with the shift to six hours, has recently been reduced from 30 to 25
percent. The majority of those leaving are new recruits who quit before they have working
six months. This represents a heavy investment in training for about 1,200 people
annually. To counter this problem, management is placing more emphasis on stability as a
criteria for recruitment, seeking people who are not only qualified but demonstrate
responsibility. They are also trying to reward good workers, especially in highly skilled
jobs for which it is difficult to recruit, by placing them on fixed shifts and providing them
with housing and other amenities. Escalafones or pay scales based on seniority may also
be relaxed to reward particularly productive workers. However, nearly three-fourths of our
sample says that pay scales are respected in the factory. Cuban state law requires that
men and women working at the same job receive the same rate of pay.
In Ariguanabo the percentage of women workers named as obreras destacadas
(outstanding workers) has increased steadily, and in 1986 constituted over 20 percent.

Almost 70 percent of the women interviewed have received material or moral incentives
as rewards for good performance on the job, which is measured by such things as lack of
absenteeism, consistently fulfilling their quotas, doing volunteer work, etc. Most of these
incentives have consisted of diplomas as vanguard workers, or gifts such as household
appliances, money, or paid trips within Cuba. Housing is also an incentive and, as noted
earlier, is being used to stabilize the labor force. However, only one of our respondents
has received housing as an incentive, despite the clear need among married women and
single mothers doubled up with their parents or in-laws. It would seem that men in highly
skilled jobs still receive preference in housing.
The need to stabilize the labor force in order to cut costs and boost productivity
apparently takes precedence over meeting women's special demands, although it could
be argued that turnover among women workers reflects inadequate attention to their
needs. Management says turnover is higher among the young, many of whom are
women, but it is not clear that female turnover rates are higher than male. Management
claims that some youth are undisciplined and do not need to work because they live at
home and can depend on their parents. However, in our sample, there is a strong
commitment to work among these young women, even when they are living at home.
Over 80 percent of our sample say they prefer to work whether they need the money or
Women often suffer higher levels of absenteeism because they must take off
work for family reasons, because their children are ill or need to be taken to the clinic. Until
recently, only women could accompany sick children in the hospital, but with pressure
from the FMC, this regulation has recently been changed to include men. In our sample,
illness (personal and familial), the lack of day care, and shift work are cited by women as
the primary reasons for absenteeism. Illness or family problems are also the main reasons
these women have taken leaves from their work in the factory in the past, although 30
percent claim that they have never taken leave. Although moral and material sanctions
may be applied, management claims that it is very difficult to fire anyone from their job in
the factory despite repeated absences.

Reasons for Working and Occupational History
Working-class women generally work because of economic need, in contrast to
the middle classes where personal achievement may be the primary goal. Similarly in
Cuba more than half of our respondents cite economic need as the principal reason for
their present employment (Table 19). However, in Cuba women's employment is not the
basis for family survival, as we have found in our studies of women garment workers in the

Dominican Republic and even Puerto Rico (Safa 1989). The pressure to earn money
increases in female heads of household, particularly when they are sole wage-earners,
and explains why in our Cuban sample, a higher percentage of women in these
households say that they work because of economic need than among single or married
women. However, most of our Cuban respondents work to improve their standard of living
through the purchase of increased consumer goods or to help meet the rising cost of
living, which also accelerated under the SDPE. Many also indicate that their primary
reason for working is that they prefer it to staying home, or that they consider their work
useful to society (Table 19), a value stressed in socialist society.


Reasons for Working at Present by Marital Status in Ariguanabo Sample

Reasons for Working

Marital Useful to Economic Prefers
Status Society Need to Work Other Total

Married 24.6 41.8 26.9 6.7 100
Female Head 12.2 73.0 9.5 5.4 100
Single 52.9 35.3 11.8 100

Total N 42 119 49 12 225
% 18.7 52.9 21.8 6.6 100

Based on multiple responses so total exceeds number of respondents.

Age and marital status have an impact on women's roles in the workplace as well
as in the household. For most of the younger women, this is their first job and they
started working between the ages of 17 and 19, when they finished school (Table 20).
Many of the older women, however, started working before they were 17, and nearly all
for economic need, reflecting the poor conditions in the pre-revolutionary period. Over
20 percent of these older women got their factory jobs through the Federation of Cuban
Women, though most women obtain their jobs through personal contacts. The middle-
aged and older women who were over 20 when they started working generally were not
gainfully employed in the pre-revolutionary period.
While 85 percent of the women sampled earned from 85 to 99 pesos a month
when they first started working in the factory, 65 percent now earn more than 200 pesos a
month, reflecting wage increases. This is a relatively high wage for Cuba, where the

average monthly wage in 1986 was 188 pesos (Anuario Estadistico de Cuba 1986: 198).
Most of the women in our sample prefer piecework to being paid a fixed hourly wage
because they can earn more. Efficient production workers can often earn more than
women in administrative positions, particularly clerical jobs that are paid a fixed hourly


Age at Which Started Working by Woman's Age In Ariguanabo Sample

Age at Which Started Working

Age Less than 17 17-19 20 or More Total

17-29 9.9 63.9 26.2 100
30-44 24.4 20.0 55.6 100
45 and Over 41.9 12.9 45.2 100

Total N 43 56 69 168
% 25.6 33.3 41.1 100

We noted earlier the sectoral shift of Cuban women out of unskilled service jobs
into higher level technical and professional occupations. This change is evident when we
look at the first occupations of the women over 30 in our sample (Table 21). Most of these
middle-aged and older women first worked in agricultural work or in domestic service and
other service jobs, work that was extremely strenuous and poorly paid. In the last census
before the revolution (1953), one-fourth of all employed women were in domestic service
(Larguia and Dumoulin 1986: 346) which is still the most numerous occupation for women
in most of Latin America. Domestic servants in Cuba were trained after the revolution for
more skilled jobs, and today they no longer exist as an occupational group.
Changes can also be seen in the occupational history of the parents of these
women in our sample. In the pre-revolutionary period, nearly 42 percent of their fathers
were agricultural workers while another 25 percent were factory workers, which increased
to 46 percent for those fathers living and working after the revolution. The most startling
change, however, is in the level of employment, since 32 percent of fathers were
unemployed much of the time in the pre-revolutionary period, while after the revolution,
almost all of those not retired or deceased were employed full-time. The changes among

women of this older generation were not so dramatic, with the percentage of housewives
being reduced from 62 to 53 percent.


First Job of Respondents by Age In Ariguanabo Sample

First Job

Ariguanabo Other
Age Factory Factory Agriculture Service Other N %

17-29 72.1 8.2 3.3 4.9 11.5 61 100
30-44 33.3 8.9 20.0 22.2 15.5 45 100
45 or more 19.4 11.3 21.0 27.4 20.9 62 100

Total N 71 16 24 30 27 168
% 42.3 9.5 14.3 17.8 16.1 100

Sixty percent of the husbands of the women interviewed are also factory workers,
and 58 percent of them work in Ariguanabo, primarily also as production workers.
Husbands have similar educational levels to their wives, although more of them have
gone beyond secondary school. Many of them also started to work before they were 17,
most often as factory or agricultural workers. In some cases they met working in the
factory, and many women also have fathers, brothers, sisters or other relatives who are
currently or were previously employed in Ariguanabo, reinforcing the strong sense of a
worker community in the area. When husband and wife both work in Ariguanabo, they
often work different shifts in order to share child care responsibilities. This policy is
promoted by management to encourage men to share more in child care, and also
relieves the demand for day care facilities.
It is clear from the data (Table 8) that women are making a major contribution to the
household economy and are not merely supplementary wage earners. In fact, in our
sample 45 percent of the husbands earn 200 or more a month compared to 68 percent of
their wives (Table 22), which suggests that most of these women are not in less skilled
jobs than their husbands. As a result, the number of cases where the wife earns more
than her husband far outnumbers those where the husband earns more than his wife.
This is even more surprising, when one considers their similarity in educational levels.
However, this is not representative of the factory as a whole, in which men are generally

better represented in skilled and managerial jobs which pay more. In addition, men earn
more by working longer hours and double shifts, which is more difficult for women with
domestic responsibilities.


Salary Level of Respondent by Salary Level of Husband in Ariguanabo

Salary Level of Husband

Less Than 150-199 200 or Don't
Salary Level 150 pesos pesos more pesos Know Total
of Respondent* N N N N N %

Less than 150 pesos 1 1 9 2 13 14.0
150-199 pesos 5 4 7 1 17 18.3
200 or more pesos 16 17 26 4 63 67.7

Total N 22 22 42 7 93
% 23.7 23.7 45.1 7.5 100.0

Note that number refers to actual number of cases rather than percentage. Includes
only married respondents.

Attitudes toward the Job and Union
Despite the strain of the double day, most women like their jobs, because they
find work stable and interesting, they like their fellow workers, and they think their work is
useful to society. The contribution that individual work makes to the collective good is
emphasized in Cuba as part of the socialist ethic, and workers are expected to contribute
extra unpaid work on occasional Sundays, and do other forms of volunteer labor. Among
the positive changes workers cite in the factory are the establishment of the integrated
brigades, higher salaries, and new machinery, most of which is imported from the Soviet
Union. The integrated brigades were established in the Cuban agricultural and industrial
sector to improve the quality and quantity of production through forming a stable group of
workers who draw up their own work plan, receive bonuses and may eventually become
responsible for their own finances. (Codina 1987: 133-4). The brigades represent
another important step in the effort to decentralize production and to increase worker
incentives and worker participation, but still cover only a small percentage of workers
nationally (Zimbalist 1989: 87).

Almost all the women plan to continue working indefinitely, unlike most women in
the pre-revolutionary period who did not work after marriage. Most of them plan to work
until retirement (55 for women in Cuba) and only one woman said she plans to quit when
she marries. This indicates that they have adopted a strong commitment to work, which
reflects both the economic advantages of working and their internalization of a strong
work ethic which is reinforced by state policy.
Women also feel that paid employment has improved their self-concept. Over 90
percent of the women interviewed feel that work has had a positive impact on them, that it
has made them feel more independent, experienced, and capable. Work has also
contributed to a change in attitude toward the family. Three-fourths of our sample are in
favor of women working even if they have young children, which again suggests a major
change from the pre-revolutionary period. Almost all agree that education is equally
important for boys and girls, which is reflected in the high educational attainment of their
sons and especially daughters. They hope their children will study and have better jobs.
Nearly 70 percent do not want their sons and daughters to work in a factory, though older
women have a slightly more favorable attitude. Of those children already working, twice as
many sons as daughters have continued as factory workers, although the percentages
who have moved into managerial or technical fields is very similar (Table 13).
The increasing percentage of women in the labor force, the high proportion in
technical or professional positions, their relatively high wage levels and their strong
commitment to work contradicts Nazzari's (1983: 260) assertion that women in Cuba are
used as a labor reserve. However, it could be argued that union and management
continue to undervalue women workers because of their failure to address women's
needs adequately. We have already discussed the shortage of day care and other
facilities and the problems of advancement for women in the factory. These are problems
that the union should address. Women are well represented in the union, which is part of
the Confederation of Cuban Workers, or CTC. There are 473 union supervisors or
delegates, of whom women constitute 37.4 percent (equal to their percentage in the
factory labor force). A woman administrator also heads the Frente Feminino or Feminine
Front of the union. Despite this strong female representation, the male head of the CTC
union at the factory said he saw no need for a separate Frente Femenino and thought that
the needs of women could be attended to through a single integrated union. It would
appear that the Frente Femenino is not responding adequately to working women's
needs in Ariguanabo. Women complain that they are not listened to in union meetings,
and there is considerable dissatisfaction with the union, particularly among older women.

However, nearly 61 percent of the sample feel that the union has improved the
work situation for women, particularly in regard to recent changes regarding shorter shifts,
better working conditions, and the renovation of the day care center. When asked to
choose who has done more for working women, more women indicate the union than
management or the Communist Party. (Representatives of the Party as well as the CTC
and Frente Femenino and management sit on the Junta Directiva or executive board of
the factory). Still most women present their problems at work to management rather than
the union or the party, since management is the normal route for worker complaints in
Cuba. Only if management does not satisfactorily address these problems would be they
be presented to the union or the party.
Part of the problem may also lie in the power of union vs. management. In her
study of the role of unions at the Cuban workplace, Fuller (1986) indicates that since
1970 unions have more autonomy, but that it is commonly acknowledged that they still
serve primarily to transmit orders downward rather than serving as vehicles through which
workers can voice their complaints and suggestions. Unions are expected to play a non-
antagonistic counterpart role as management overseers, but Fuller reports that workers
complain that some managers thwart the union in this role. Management has also been
given greater power over worker discipline, with the passage of a law in 1980 restricting
the rights of work councils to settle grievances. This law reflected problems of worker
discipline, noted earlier, and also the need for tighter control with the institution of a new
management and planning system, the SDPE, in the late seventies (Fuller 1987:146-7).
This new management system may have made it more difficult to address
women's needs. The SDPE put firms under increased pressure to reduce costs and
show a profit, which could make firms more reluctant to hire women workers who require
special support services and may experience higher rates of turnover and absenteeism,
as Nazzari (1983:262) claims. The SDPE also cut state supported services for women, as
is shown by the slowdown in the construction of day care centers until recently. Housing
construction diminished under the SDPE and the volunteer microbrigades that assisted
in construction were abolished, but they have recently been reinstated. The new
emphasis on stabilization of the labor force in Ariguanabo may also weaken support for
the needs of women production workers, particularly if priority is given to highly skilled
jobs in which men predominate.
Undoubtedly, the provision of special support services has made Cuban women
more expensive to employ then men, which contrasts sharply with capitalist countries
such as Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic where women constitute a cheap labor
reserve (Safa 1990). It would seem that if women are provided with adequate support

services to reduce the burden of a double day, they lose their advantage as a source of
cheap labor, although in Puerto Rico as well, some of these services are provided by the
state. Despite their cost advantage, however, the sex discrimination which women are
subject to in these capitalist countries is far worse than in Cuba, in terms of wage levels,
stability of employment, and even possibilities of advancement. In Brazil, for example,
married women are seldom hired for factory employment, or may be dismissed when they
become pregnant, in order to avoid absenteeism and the payment of maternity leave
(Humphrey 1987: 78-85). Thus, while the Cuban women workers here may be
undervalued in comparison with men, they receive far more support from the state than
women workers in capitalist countries.

Political Participation and Consciousness

The mass organizations created under socialism are a primary vehicle for
expressing democratic participation. They are a vehicle through which people can voice
their decisions as well as a mechanism by which the socialist state can mobilize specific
groups in support of the revolution. Critics of the Cuban revolution have generally
emphasized the mobilizing function, but Fuller (1986) argues that unions are much
stronger and more active in defense of workers rights than they were during the first
decade of the revolution. Similarly, Lutjens (1987) in her study of Poder Popular or
Popular Power emphasizes the important shift toward greater decentralization and
participation that has taken place with the institutionalization of the Cuban revolution in
the 1970s. Our data do not lend themselves to a systematic evaluation of this debate.
But we can try to measure the extent to which working women are participating in mass
organizations and whether they perceive these organizations have done anything for
There are various mass organizations at the neighborhood level (the Committees
for the Defense of the Revolution or CDR), at the workplace (the Confederation of Cuban
Workers or CTC), and representing special interests such as the FMC or Federation of
Cuban Women. Almost all the women interviewed belong to these three organizations,
but their participation varies (Table 23). They report the highest degree of regular
attendance at union meetings, which may reflect the growing importance they attach to
their work activity. Participation in all three organizations is quite high considering the time
pressures and heavy responsibilities these women are already facing. In addition, over
half the women have held office in one of these organizations, especially the FMC and
CDR, but the number of those currently holding office is considerably smaller (Table 23).

Younger women have a particularly poor record of holding office: 70.5 percent of them
currently hold no office and 57.4 percent of them never have. While this might indicate a
waning interest in participation among mass organizations among the young, it is more
likely that younger women have simply not had the same opportunity as older women to
become officers of these organizations, since they have been members for a shorter
time. The FMC has also adopted a policy of encouraging younger women to assume
professional leadership positions in the organization, which has resulted in a substantial
increase in professional cadres of women under 28 from 1985 to 1988 (Table 24). The
average age of these professional women is 31.5 at the municipal level, and 45.6 at the
national level (FMC 1988).


Women's Current Partlclpaton In Mass Organizations In Ariguanabo

Level of Participation

Participate Participate Don't Hold
Regularly Occasionally Participate Total Office

CDR 42.8 56.0 1.2 100 11.9
CTC 87.5 10.1 2.4 100 10.7
FMC 41.7 56.5 1.8 100 14.3

Table 24

Professional Cadres in the FMC by Age

27 and Over
under 28-35 36-45 46-55 55 Total

1985 16 29 39 15 1 100
1988 34 34 25 6.7 .3 100

Source: FMC Statistical Office.

When asked which organization had done the most for working women, the
overwhelming response in our sample was the FMC, the mass organization working most
directly with women. The major accomplishments of the FMC are seen to be day care and
employment, both of which functions of the FMC have now passed to other government
ministries. Day care continues to be seen by far as the most important benefit the FMC
could provide for working women, followed by employment and support services for the
home (such as laundries, special shopping hours for working women, etc.) (Table 25).
Although these services are undoubtedly important to working women, the emphasis on
day care and support services conveys an image of the FMC as a service organization
designed primarily to tend to women's domestic needs.


Perceived Achievements and Desired Objectives of FMC in Ariguanabo

Respondents' Perceived Respondents'
Achievements Desired Objectives

Day Care 43.5 64.9
Employment 44.6 29.8
Self-Attainment 26.8 14.9
Support Services
for Home 8.3 25.0
Equality 30.4 16.7
Health 15.5 1.8
Children's Education 22.0 9.5
Ideological and Political
Advancement 16.7 10.7
Other 22.6 21.5
Total N 390* 335*

Because of multiple responses, the number of responses total more than the total
number or respondents. However, the percentages are calculated on the basis of 168
Includes legislation, sports and cultural activities, and others.

There are two important factors which help explain the identification of the FMC
with women's immediate domestic needs: I) The real need for services such as day care in
Cuba, which is shown by the fact that nearly three-fourths of our informants indicate that
the lack of day care is the primary impediment to improving women's status. The strong
demand for day care services represents not the failure of the FMC to respond to
women's demands, but the lackof resources in Cuban society to fill these needs,
particularly in the period of the SPDE when they were given less emphasis. 2) These
demands have grown together with the increasing participation of Cuban women in the

labor force, in which the FMC played a major role in the 1970's. However, as a result of the
growing number of working women, responsibility for them was transferred from the FMC
to the Frente Femenino of the CTC, although there are joint FMC and CTC commissions
to coordinate policies on women and work. This shift in focus of the FMC from working
women to housewives may have contributed to the FMC's current identification with more
domestic needs, although working women continue to constitute an important
constituency of the organization.14

The FMC also carries out important ideological work designed to raise women's
consciousness through lectures, reading and other activities. Thirty percent of the
women list equality as a major accomplishment of the organization, while a substantial
number also note its work in ideological and political advancement (Table 25). Equality is
also seen by women as one of the major accomplishments of the revolution, along with
employment. As one of the older women remarked, referring to the pre-revolutionary
period: "Antes eramos esclavas" (We used to be slaves). However, for most Cuban
working class women, what Molyneux (1986) has termed strategic gender interests such
as equality are less important than immediate, practical needs such as day care,
education and employment. For most Cuban women, the practical accomplishments of
the revolution in these areas are more important then ideological changes in women's
equality. These are the accomplishments which women refer to, when 85percent of our
sample say that their lives have improved over those of their parents, while all feel that
their children will live even better.

Much of Cuba's progress is attributed to the Communist Party, whom most of our
respondents feel has shown a concern for the needs of working women. However, 69
percent did not know the platform for women approved at the Third Party Congress in
1986. Over 90 percent of our respondents recognized Vilma Espin as head of the FMC,
a position she has occupied since it was founded in 1960, but only 15 percent
recognized her as a newly elected full member of the Politburo. Almost all of our
respondents watch television and listen to the radio, and the majority also read
newspapers and magazines, so they should be well informed. Presumably party
members would be better informed, but only 11.9 percent of the women interviewed
belong to the Cuban Communist Party, while another 9.5 percent belong to the U.J.C. or

14 In 1987, at the national level, 42 percent of the members of the FMC were working
women, as compared to 37 percent housewives (Integraci6n econ6mica de la mujer
cubana, p. 53)

the Union of Communist Youth (for persons under 30). Membership in these political
organizations is only by nomination and is based primarily on performance in the
workplace. The party pledged in 1980 to increase membership to reflect women's labor
force participation, and women accounted for 22 percent of party membership in 1984-5
(Perez-Stable 1987: 56).
The primary organization for resolving neighborhood problems is Poder Popular,
which was started in 1976 in an effort to decentralize decision-making and increase
popular participation. It is an elective body with assemblies at the local, provincial, and
national levels. Women have generally had a poor representation in these assemblies
(Ibid.: 55) although their representation has increased substantially in recent years at all
levels. Only one of our respondents has held office in Poder Popular, but nearly half the
women said they attend the meetings regularly. Poder Popular is seen as the main
resource for solving neighborhood problems such as housing or lack of water, both cited
by women as major problems in Ariguanabo. However, 35 percent of our respondents
report that they do not go to anyone with these neighborhood problems, which suggests
that many feel these problems are not being adequately addressed.
In her analysis of Poder Popular, Lutjens (1987: 770) argues that it has been
effective in decentralizing problem identification and increasing local participation in
decision-making. Her analysis of community participation through Poder Popular in the
Cuban schools shows that policy-making is centralized, but she maintains that local
participation cannot be judged solely on the basis of opposition to central policy, since in
Cuba consensus between the center and local levels on overall goals is so high. In part,
such consensus is achieved through extensive discussion of new laws and mechanisms
of governance such as Poder Popular at the local and provincial level before they are
formally adopted in party congresses.
Certainly our respondents show overwhelming approval for the advances made
after the revolution, not only by women but by the entire society. Their support of the
revolution is indicated by their participation in mass organizations and Poder Popular, and
by their approval of the Family Code and other achievements of the Communist Party and
the Federation for Cuban Women. But as we have shown, some women also feel that
some issues such as day care, housing, and support services for women have not been
adequately addressed, at either the workplace or neighborhood level. Undoubtedly the
need for such services has increased with the increasing incorporation of women into the
labor force, and Cuba's present economic constraints have not allowed supply to keep up
with demand (Perez-Stable 1987: 63). We shall summarize the implications of increasing
female labor force incorporation for state policy in Cuba in our conclusion.


Certainly the incorporation of women into the labor force has been a key element
of Cuba's development policy, as in most socialist countries. According to the classic
theory of "scientific socialism," female paid employment not only provides the country
with needed labor power, but integrates women into the revolutionary process and raises
their consciousness by reducing their isolation in the home and imbuing them with new
collective values (Kruks, Rapp and Young 1989: 9).
The data in this paper provide us with some evidence of the degree to which this
policy has succeeded. Most studies on women in Cuba note that there has been an
impressive growth of women's participation in the Cuban labor force and a marked shift in
their sectoral distribution. Here we can begin to see the impact of these changes at the
household level. Women are clearly making an important contribution to the family, and
this is leading, in some cases, to more egalitarian relationships between husband and
wife. Female employment has added to the family income, and in most cases their homes
are well equipped and they have substantial savings. Women have a strong commitment
to work, and no longer expect to stop working and rely on their husbands' wages when
they marry or have children. They expect their children to study and work at better jobs
than they have, and this applies equally to boys and girls. All of this implies a fundamental
change in women's roles from the pre-revolutionary period.
While paid employment has given women a new sense of self-esteem, it has not
substantially altered the traditional division of labor in the household. Despite the Family
Code and the massive incorporation of women into the labor force, men's household role
has changed little. The only families that approach the ideal conceptualized in the Family
Code are younger nuclear families who are relatively independent of their kin, and where
the husband and especially the wife are better educated and often in technical or
supervisory positions. While men accept the idea that their wives work, and probably also
welcome the added income, most of them do not share in the housework or child care,
nor do their wives appear to encourage them. In part, this stems from the high
percentage of three-generation households in our sample, which reinforces traditional
patterns of authority and domestic labor. Additional women in the extended family may
provide working mothers with important assistance in child-care and other household
tasks, but they discourage men from taking more responsibility.
This leaves working women with a heavy burden of domestic responsibilities,
especially if they have young children. This is the prime reason our respondents

constantly reiterate the urgent demand for day care along with other support services for
working women. It is interesting that these women look to the state to provide these
services rather than expecting their husbands to take more responsibility, as mandated by
the Family Code. This may emanate from all of the services the Cuban state-andthe
CflmmuiistPafty has provided for women, which has led them to look to the state to solve
their problems rather than requiring more from their husbands. Most women in our
sample seem to identify gender equality with more opportunities for employment and
greater services from the state rather than with a transformation of gender roles at the
household level.
In Cuba, women's demands are supposed to be channeled through the
Federation of Cuban Women and otheorganizations such as the Frente Femenino of
the CTC created by the statelto promote women's equality. contrary to the rest of Latin
America, where autonomous grassroots women's movements have grown significantly in
recent years, in Cuba women struggle within and not against the state to press their
demands. The theme of working women has been amply discussed at the congresses of
the FMC and the Communist Party, indicating that the struggle for women's equality is not
confined to women. Vilma Espin, President of the FMC, has spoken out strongly on
many occasions on issues such as job discrimination against women and the sharing of
household and child care responsibilities. Espin (1986: 61) has also criticized women for
not being more conscious of these issues, noting that women (and men) often speak of
men "helping" with the household chores when they should speak of "sharing." Espin
adds: "Las costumbres arraigadas no pueden justificar actuaciones incorrectas. Tales
tradiciones, tales atrasos deben ser enfrentados con valentia, y hacer prevalecer la razdn
sobre semejantes injusticias que atentan contra los principios de la revolution"
(Deepseated customs do not justify incorrect actions. Such traditions, such delays must
be confronted with courage, to make reason prevail over all such injustices that weaken
the principles of the revolution).
Despite these efforts, it is clear that the struggle for gender equality is not
completely won in Cuba, due largely to women's continued identification with their
domestic role. Although women now see paid employment as a lifelong commitment,
which does not cease with marriage or motherhood, they continue to see their domestic
role as taking precedence over their role as workers. The women in our sample work
primarily to provide more for their families. Women stay home when their children are sick
and wait in line to buy scarce consumer goods, rather than working longer hours in the
factories as men do. Even one of the female managers in Ariguanabo argues: "Aqui
nosotras mismas las mujeres nos discriminamos un poco, yo te lo digo, a punto de que ya

yo soy dirigente y no s6 que, pero en un moment determinado con mis hijos, mira
primero mis hijos y primero es mi casa, primero es esto" (Here women themselves
discriminate against each other a little, I tell you; to the point that I am a manager and I don't
know, but at a certain point, with my children, look-my children first and first my house,
that is first). As long as women continue to view paid employment as of lesser/importance
than their domestic role, they are likely to continue to assume major responsibility for
household tasks, which weakens their possibilities of achieving equality/with men in the
But part of the reason for women's continued identification with their domestic
role stems from policies at the workplace that undervalue women as workers. While there
have been efforts in Ariguanabo to recruit and promote women through the creation of
puestos preferentes, training programs, and the hiring of women technicians and
engineers, the women we interviewed complain that they do not have equal chances for
advancement and that their needs in terms of support services are not adequately
addressed. Undoubtedly this reflects the need to cut costs with the implementation of
the SPDE, the new economic management and planning system in the late seventies,
which intensified the shift from moral to material incentives. Nazzari (1983) predicted that
this shift would have a negative effect on female employment, but the percentage of
women in the Cuban labor force continues to climb, attracted by the new opportunities for
employment and the availability of consumer goods as well as apparent increases in the
cost of living.
Undoubtedly, the high rates of turnover and the pressure to achieve greater
productivity have made the management in Ariguanabo give top priority to the
stabilization of the labor force. However, I would argue that paying greater attention to
women's needs may be an additional way of stabilizing the labor force, which has not
been given sufficient attention. For example, giving women with children who are
currently doubled up with relatives greater preference in housing or placing more women
with young children on fixed shifts would ease many of their problems. The factory might
also consider having people work permanent rather than rotating shifts, even if it meant
some women always worked nights, since permanent shifts would enable more women to
taken advantage of the day care center, training courses, and other services offered at
fixed hours.

The ideological constraints on women's advancement also need to be
addressed. Women are relatively recent recruits to the labor force in the factory, which
has a strong male worker tradition. Some of the older women who have worked in

Ariguanabo for many years note that there was considerable resistance on the part of
male workers to hiring women initially. I think this has led union and management to
undervalue women workers in comparison to men. The factory is still marked by a sexual
division of labor, and women production workers appear to be recruited primarily for lower
level jobs, and are not given certain jobs like mechanics that offer the best salaries and the
most possibilities for advancement. Sex discrimination is not intentional, but stems from
looking at women workers as having less physical and mechanical ability than men. As in
recent studies of women industrial workers in other Latin American countries such as
Brazil, Chile, or Nicaragua, gender is integrated into the hierarchical structure of
production (cf. Humphrey 1987; Galvez and Todaro 1988; P6rez, Martinez and Widmair
Socialist states should be in a better position to combat sex discrimination on the
job because they do not have to face resistance from the private sector. Certainly there
has not been a lack of political will on the part of the state in Cuba to promote women's
equality in the workplace, but the state is faced with competing demands. Under
socialism,there is a constant tension between productivity and equity, between an
increase in output such as industry and the provision of social services. This tension is
evident in the changing economic programs of the state and the in the debate over
material and moral incentives. While the SPDE emphasized productivity, the current
program of rectificacidn has-i bac to a focus on moral incentives and the provision of
social services such as day care and housing.
Certainly, socialist states take far more responsibility for social reproduction than
capitalist states, and this can be illustrated by briefly comparing Cuba's policy toward
women workers with that of Puerto Rico and especially the Dominican Republic. In these
countries as well, women's labor force participation has increased substantially due to the
growth of export-led industrialization, but in contrast to Cuba, women's work is often the
basis of the family's survival (Safa 1989). Women are making a critical contribution to the
household, which has become even more important with increases in the cost of living
and cuts in government services brought on by the recent economic crisis. In the export
processing zones of the Dominican Republic, there are no unions and workers are poorly
paid and lack job security and even adequate medical attention. In Puerto Rico, where
the garment workers we studied are unionized, working conditions are much better, and
the state, as in Cuba, provides extensive health and educational programs. But Puerto
Rican workers are in constant fear of losing their jobs as plants threaten to move to
cheaper wage locations elsewhere, as many have done already, and both the union and
the state are powerless to stop them. Because of the strength of the private sector in


Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, which in the case of export processing zones
consists largely of U.S. multinationals, the state can do far less for workers than in Cuba.
In all three countries, women workers must combat a cultural legacy of sex
discrimination, but the Cuban state has done more to support women in this struggle than
either Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic. However, while Cuba has made clear
gains, major ideological as well as material obstacles to women's equality remain.
Ideological obstacles are more difficult to overcome, in capitalist or socialist societies,
because they are embedded in a culturally defined sexual division of labor, which
continues to emphasize women's reproductive role, despite their increasing importance
in the labor force. This is not to deny the validity of financial and other material constraints
in the drive for women's equality in Cuba. But the ideological recognition of women as
workers equal to men is vital to their continued integration into the revolutionary process.


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