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Book Recommendation | International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Today, November 25, is known as the International Day of No Violence against Women, in which we all make a stand for all the women that have ever been exposed to any kind of abusive relationship or situation.

I think we can all agree that violence of any sort — towards anyone — is horrible and inhumane. Everyone deserves to be respected and treated fairly. But, unfortunately, we live in a world in which such treatment, instead of being a right, is a privilege. Gender violence is only one of the many ways in which this issue manifests.

Global estimates published by WHO indicate that about 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Most of this violence is intimate partner violence. Worldwide, almost one third (30%) of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner in their lifetime.

While gender-based violence can happen to anyone, anywhere, some women and girls are particularly vulnerable – for instance, young girls and older women, women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex, migrants and refugees, indigenous women and ethnic minorities, or women and girls living with HIV and disabilities, and those living through humanitarian crises.

In order to spread the word further for this important cause, I wanted to share with all of you the story behind this day. Personally, it is a story that touches home because it’s part of my country’s history and culture. Hopefully, you all will learn something new with this and be inspired to try to make a difference.

In 1930, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo became the president of the Dominican Republic. However, no one imagined that, eventually, his government would become a dictatorship that would last over 30 years.

Overall, Trujillo achieved many positive things for the country, including large infrastructural projects, the payment of all foreign debts, a surplus in resources, increase in foreign relationships and trade, among many other things. Unfortunately, all of these benefits came with a price. Because Trujillo was so obsessed with maintaining power, he would quiet everyone and anyone that dared to speak against him. Terror plagued the country for all his regime. Any given day, family and friends would disappear to be tortured, coerced, and, ultimately, killed. With time, small insurgent groups formed, quietly working to become strong enough to defeat the tyrant. Among these, one of the most renown was El Movimiento 14 de Junio, of which the Mirabal sisters were a part of and were known by everyone as Las Mariposas (The Butterflies).

Patria, Minerva, Maria Teresa, and Dedé Mirabal were daughters of a business man. Even though they always lived comfortably, Trujillo’s dictatorship had a strong effect on their family’s income. Despite this, they were all able to have a proper education, which allowed them to recognize the harm that was being done to their country and people. They spoke and fought against the regime, determined to make a change, which they achieved. Quickly, the Mirabal sisters became a beacon of hope and everyone in the country looked up to them. Unfortunately, because of their influence on the people and their blatant disagreement with the tyrant’s rules, he decided to take the matter into his own hands.

On November 25, 1960, when Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa were on their way to visit their husbands (who had been imprisoned for treason), their car was stopped at the brink of a cliff. Later that day, they were found dead at the bottom, their bodies beaten, and their car torn to pieces. Because Dedé hadn’t been with them, she was the only one that survived.

Monument for the Mirabal sisters, located where they died.

The people of the Dominican Republic were outraged with what had happened to them. Even though Trujillo claimed that he had nothing to do with their deaths and that it had been an accident, everyone knew he was responsible. A few months later, on May 30, 1961, he was murdered in his car as retaliation for what he had done, officially ending his regime.

Despite this, the country never forgot everything the Butterflies risked for them, and their bravery was admired worldwide. Because of this, on 1981, the United Nations established November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in their honor. This year is the 60th anniversary of this tragedy.

If you are interested in knowing more about them and their story I recommend these books:

  • Vivas en Su Jardín (Alive in their Garden) by Dedé Mirabal. It is a nonfiction in which Dedé explains their involvement in those insurgent organizations and how her family and the country coped after the death of her sisters.
  • En el Tiempo de las Mariposas (In the Time of the Butterflies) by Julia Álvarez. This is a work of fiction that is heavily inspired on the Mirabal sisters and everything they stand for.

If there is anything you can do, or anyone you can help that is involved in any type of abusive relationship, there are many ways in which to take action.

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