Vilma Espín Guillois commonly referred to as Cuba’s First Lady, to foreigners is an often unheard of revolutionary who arguably changed the roles of women under socialism forever. She’s a powerful symbol from women, minorities, and the working class across the globe. Her direct involvement in the revolution helped to transform the gender norms of the country, because of this and much more many would go on to describe her as an outspoken supporter of gender equality, not just in Cuba but the world.
“Her involvement in securing the revolution smashed gender norms and helped her become the president of the Federation of Cuban Women.”
In 1959, at the height of the Cuban Revolution Espín fought alongside Raúl and Fidel, helping to secure the victory for the oppressed people of Cuba who had lived under the US-backed Batista dictatorship. Her involvement in securing the revolution smashed gender norms and helped her become the president of the Federation of Cuban Women. With this new found power she helped advocate female literacy, women’s right to work, and teaching women basic skills in health and education. 1960 saw the creation of the Emergency Medical Response Brigades, which mobilized women against counter-revolution during the attacks on sugar mills, and cane fields leading up to the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. The Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, and the countries government shared her views, and in 1966 Castrol presented a speech to the nation that urged women to join the labour force.
Her role in the Cuban government would grow quickly over the course of her life due to her close relationship with Castro. She went on to serve as a member of the ‘Council of State.’ as well as the Central Committee and the Communist Party of Cuba between the years of 1980-1991. She was dubbed Cuba’s ‘First Lady’ for her direct involvement in the revolution and her amazing advocating for women’s rights as well as her frequent appearance representing Cuba at the United Nations General Assembly. She would go on to be one of Cuba’s most loved female politicians. She helped implement ‘The Cuban Family Code’ which sought to involve men in the household chores and childcare alongside their wives. This helped dismantle the patriarchy of modern Cuba after the revolution and promoted equal rights for women.
“her efforts and what she fights for carrying on thanks to her involvement, her efforts, and her dreams.”
She would, unfortunately, go on to die on June 18, 2017, after a long illness. The day after Fidel Castro delivered a eulogy in which he praised her virtues and work not only for women of the world but also the people of Cuba. Though she may have passed, her efforts and what she fights for carry on thanks to her involvement, her efforts, and her dreams. Women of Cuba and the world must never forget the works of Espín, they must take them in their stride to help with the battle for equal rights across the board. The story of Vilma’s advocation should not be seen with sorrow, instead, see it as an opportunity – she’s created the building blocks for the Cuban state to pave the way for a revolutionary change in gender norms, equality, and feminism forever.