A blog by Amanda Alcantara

Monday, November 26, 2018

Q & A on Las Hermanas Mirabal, Feminism in Dominican Republic for #DíaInternacionaldelaNoViolenciaContraLaMujer

Source: Wikimedia. 

Last Sunday November 25th, was el Día Internacional de la No Violencia Contra La Mujer (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women). For the ocasion a publication in Turkey titled Birgun reached out to me for a a Q & A on the Mirabal Sisters and their legacy. You can view the original piece here.

Still, since that piece is in Turkish, here is the original Q and A in English:

Could you please tell us briefly about the living conditions of women and girls in The Dominican Republic?

Dominican Republic is a developing country suffering from the legacy of colonialism, yet like any other place, people of all different classes live there, although the majority of the population is poor. Women and girls in Dominican Republic suffer the brunt of wage disparities in the country, and their rights are constantly limited. Furthermore racism (a global issue and the direct result of a history of oppression and colonial past) within the Dominican Republic and it’s diaspora means that Afro-Dominican women and girls are taught to value whiteness, affecting our self-esteem.

 Also, cases of traffic of young girls are commonplace in Dominican Republic, especially as a result sex tourism. Overall, women in Dominican Republic don’t have many means or opportunities to support themselves, even though they go to college at higher rates than men. A 2017 study shows that though more women are enrolled at universities in the country, women with degrees work at 66.3% rate vs. 81.3% for men. 

Lastly, the public perception of women and girls in Dominican Republic hasn’t shifted despite feminist efforts. In the country women are hypersexualized and valued mostly for their ability to be “good wives” and sustain family values. 

]What are the legacies left by Mirabal sisters to the Dominican Republic and The Whole world?

To be honest, it’s hard to gauge their legacy in the country without visiting and recognizing the symbols there dedicated to them. I wrote about it on my blog, saying that they’re part of a history that we still live and breath in the country with monuments and murals dedicated to them and their name being constantly invoked both in protests and by established institutions. 

The Mirabal sisters (Minerva, Patria, and María Teresa) were murdered by the regime of the dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo after they stood up against him. It is believed that the outrage following their assassination is what led to the movement that eventually ended with his murder, particularly because they came from a well-known family. 

They were part of the group also led by Manolo Tavárez Justo, Minerva’s husband, who later were vital in a leftist fight in Dominican Republic in the early 1960’s. The group became known as El Movimiento 14 de Junio, though at the time of their death it didn’t have that name. Today, Minou Tavárez Mirabal, Minerva’s daughter, is involved in government and ran for President in 2016 though her likelihood to win was minimal. 

Today, they are still hailed in the country as symbols of resistance and of women’s power and strength. In schools, young girls are taught about the Mirabal sisters. The Mirabal sisters are probably the strongest feminist symbol in the Dominican Republic.

And beyond the country, they have become a symbol across the globe of women’s resistance and of feminism, especially after the UN named November 25 the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. I’m always amazed at how far their reach is; I went to Buenos Aires, Argentina where a small group of feminist women call themselves “Las Mariposas” in their honor.

]How is the current struggle of women in Dominican Republic?

The feminist movement right now in Dominican Republic is struggling against the increasing number of femicidios committed against women and girls, and for abortion rights. 

Last year, the case of Emely Peguero particularly caught the national eye. She was a 14-year-old murdered by her boyfriend, who’s mother is a local politician. The fight for justice in the case of Emely became prominent and brought out thousands of people in protest because it paralleled a fight against corruption called “La Marcha Verde.”

Between 2003 and 2017, 1,247 cases of murder against women were reported. Just this year, there have been 6,012 complaints of gender violence, and an average of 8 women have been killed per month. When it comes to the LGBTQ community, 38 transwomen were murdered between 2006 and June of 2017.

When it comes to abortion, it is illegal under all circumstances, and feminists are fighting just for the minimum which is the right to abortion in three cases: when the life of the woman is in danger, when the pregnancy is the result of rape, and fetal infeasibility.

What is your message for the November 25? What kind of reactions should be shown for a better world for women and girls under these conditions?

One of the darkest aspects of machismo and patriarchy is the narratives surrounding violence against women. Gendered violence, and even women’s deaths at that the hands of a partner is often blamed on women ourselves: we’re taught that we were asking for it, that we invited the violence, that men can’t help themselves. First of all, the very fabric of our society that promotes messages like “men can’t help themselves” “women are weak”, needs to be dismantled and rebuilt with one that undoes not only strict gender norms but also the effects of colonization in places like Dominican Republic. Also, Institutions that protect patriarchy cannot then turn around and hail women like Las Hermanas Mirabal as a means to promote patriotic symbol, patriotism itself is often rife with machismo. 

My message is that the fight must continue —la lucha sigue— and yet this fight cannot solely rest on the shoulders of women. A narrative that shifts the perception of women and girls needs to be promoted worldwide, one where women are hailed as equal but also as powerful. Girls and women need to be protected, and the #metoo movement has also shown that we need to be believed.

We are light, strength, and for women of color, our capacity to resist even under the oppressive circumstances of racism and sexism is astounding...I can only imagine what we can achieve when we’re respected, celebrated and valued. #NiUnaMenos 


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