Firstly, let me express thanks for this opportunity to come to Middlebury College and share with you some of the road that has been covered by Dominican women in building their political participation and in combating violence against women. Never has the discussion of these issues been more relevant than it is today.
Indigenous Taina women would commit group suicide in order to avoid bearing children for the Spanish conquistadores, the first expression of political participation known to the history of the island which my country, the Dominican Republic, shares with Haiti. No one, no historian, takes note of it as such—one more example of what Luis Vitale, referring to women, described as “the invisible half of history.” From that time down to the present, it is clear that the changes our country has gone through have not been a product of the actions of men alone, but most of the leading female figures who acted alongside them are nearly faceless women, their visage erased by time, virtually buried by history. One of the tasks that remain before us is that of rescuing and making visible the social and political initiative shown by those women, saving from oblivion
their achievements, tragedies, contributions and, above all, highlighting their example, to guide and inspire us as we continue in their footsteps.
Violence against women has significantly changed the public agenda. For a long time, the public agenda of Dominican women revolved around political participation understood as a space for the building of democratic processes, through parties, parliaments, town halls and the Executive. That perspective, as in many other countries, led to advancing laws to grant women a share or quota in the various fora of national politics, and to positive initiatives ensuring a prominent position on the electoral lists of our political parties. Where democracy prevails, and in countries that are embarking upon a process of transition to democracy, participation is a central focus of the political dynamic.
This brings us to the difficulty that women face in achieving effective participation. The need to bring about “equal opportunity for women in political life” also brought other themes to the foreground, such as empowerment of women and the need for greater leadership in decisionmaking. Today, women legislators and party leaders are demanding more power for women, with a view to building a more just society and a more complete democracy. Unfortunately, the
representation gap in our country can be seen not only in popularly elected positions but also, and chiefly, in the platforms of political parties and of public policies—for political equality remains out of reach without formal machinery for representation and without women forging
alliances to change a social system dominated by male values.
However, despite the achievements, the growth of gender violence and intra-family violence has taken on such proportions that it has come into the foreground in the public agenda of government institutions, congresses and, in some cases, political parties, taking the form of a
demand for more resolute decisions and actions. That situation is not peculiar to the Dominican Republic or to our hemisphere, and it has long since ceased to be a private matter. Nor could it be private when figures from the office of the National Prosecutor and from the press show that
in the Dominican Republic during the last six years nearly 911 women of various ages have lost their lives in “femicides” committed—in the name of love!—by husbands, fiancés and live-in boyfriends. And so far this year nearly 8,000 women have reported cases of intra-family violence
(bear in mind that we are talking about a country with a population of under 10 million). Similarly, figures from the National Police show that intra-family violence affects six out of every ten Dominican homes. According to the same source, a woman is raped every five and a
half hours and at least 40% of Dominican boys and girls have suffered some form of physical, psychological, sexual, or multiple abuse in the home context. Given the under-reporting of cases that prevails in the large majority of public institutions in the Dominican Republic, the numbers
are necessarily higher.
In the national legislative arena the passage of Law 24-97, which penalizes violence against women and domestic or intra-family violence, constituted a far-reaching step, given that this is a penal law, contemplates some measures of orders of protection for abused women, is more enforceable in its content, and includes measures aimed at changing aggressive behavior. (Look out for the New Penal Code and its threats!) A cardinal goal for Dominican society, and, more
specifically for women legislators in the Dominican Congress, is to tackle putting an end to gender violence. Many initiatives are being pursued along these lines, from draft laws and resolutions aimed at implementing campaigns against violence to the creation of mechanisms
supporting compliance with Law 24-97 and the undertakings assumed in the Convention of Belem do Pará, to fostering an even stronger commitment to prevention in society as a whole. This is an indispensable task, calling for involvement by all public and private institutions (from
schools to the media) with a view to eradicating any attitude, message or practice which offers a justification for gender violence.
…But the organizers of this event have asked me to touch on the history of the Mirabal sisters, whose example rallies the women of the world to the struggle to eradicate gender violence every November 25th, the date on which they were murdered. Minerva, Patria, and Maria Teresa, the
daughters of a prosperous peasant family of Cibao, the central region of my country, are emblematic figures in the struggle of Dominican women to achieve their rights to political participation and the construction of democracy. They paid with their lives to pave the way for
us Dominican women and men living in a democratic regime today.
Born between the 1930s and 1940s, they had a happy childhood and adolescence, surrounded by material wellbeing and the love of their mother and father. At a time when it was unusual, and in a place where it was unusual, they had a primary and secondary education and two of them— Minerva and Maria Teresa—managed to overcome parental resistance and went on to university studies. From a very early age, Minerva, my mother, the third of the four sisters, distinguished
herself by her great social and artistic sensibility and leadership qualities, which very soon led her to a political awareness and to forging bonds of friendship with other young people opposed to the regime, in the oppressive environment of the long Trujillo dictatorship of 31 years,
probably the bloodiest our region has endured.