The following are excerpts from a statement made by Cuban President Fidel Castro on June 20, the day after revolutionary leader Vilma Espin Guillois died in Havana.
Vilma's example today is more necessary than ever. She devoted her entire life to the struggle for women's rights.
In our country, women came out from under one of the most horrible forms of society, that of a Yankee neo-colony under the aegis of imperialism and its system, where everything that the human being is capable of creating was turned into merchandise.
Cuban women used to work as domestic servants, or in luxurious shops and bourgeois bars, selected for their looks. Factories assigned them the simplest jobs, the ones that were the most repetitive and worst paid.
In education and health care — services provided on a small scale — their indispensable cooperation was as teachers and nurses who had only been offered basic training. Cuba only had one higher education centre located in the capital and later, several faculties in university campuses in two other provinces. As a rule, the only young women who could study there were those from the most affluent families. In many activities, the presence of a woman was not even dreamed of.
For almost half a century, I have been witness to Vilma's struggles. I cannot forget her presence at the meetings of the July 26 Movement in the Sierra Maestra. She was eventually sent by the movement's directorate to carry out an important mission on the Second Eastern Front. Vilma did not shrink from any danger.
After the triumph of the revolution, she began her ceaseless battle for the rights of Cuban women and children, which led her to found and lead the Federation of Cuban Women. There was no national or international forum too distant for her to attend in defence of her assailed homeland and of the noble and just ideas of the Cuban Revolution.
Her gentle voice, steady and timely, was always listened to with great respect in party, state and mass organisation meetings.
Today, women in Cuba make up 66% of the technical work force of the country, and they take part, in the main, in almost all the university degree courses. Previously, there were hardly any women involved in scientific activities, but in this field as well, today women are in the majority.
Long live Vilma!