16 Days of Action for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – 25 November to 10 December

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – 25th November

November 25 was declared International Day Against Violence Against Women at the first Feminist Encuentro for Latin America and the Caribbean held in Bogota, Colombia, July 18-21, 1981. At that Encuentro women systematically denounced gender violence from domestic battery, to rape and sexual harassment, to state violence including torture and abuses of women political prisoners. November 25 was chosen to commemorate the violent assassination of the Mirabal sisters (Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa) on November 25, 1960 by the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. In 1999, the United Nations officially recognized November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

The “feminist encuentros” are conferences of feminists from Latin America who come together every 2-3 years in a different Latin American country in order to exchange experiences and to reflect upon the state of the women’s movement. Sexuality and violence in their wide ranging forms and contexts have always been included in the wide ranging themes of these gatherings. These encounters have stimulated the creation of regional networks, workshops, video and radio programs, women’s studies curricula, and a growing number of women’s documentation centers throughout the region which are dedicated to collecting and making available information about the history and priorities of the women’s movement. They have also provided a space for formulating and discussing the focus of a growing number of women’s magazines and newsletters, which contain articles, analysis and reports of the wide ranging actions being undertaken by women throughout the region.

Patria, Minerva, Maria Teresa and Dedé, were born in Ojo de Agua near the city of Salcedo, in the Cibao region of the Dominican Republic to Enrique Mirabal and Maria Mercedes Reyes. The Mirabal sisters – “Las Mariposas (the Butterflies)” – were political activists and highly visible symbols of resistance to Trujillo’s dictatorship. They were repeatedly jailed, along with their husbands, for their revolutionary activities toward democracy and justice. On November 25, 1960 three of the Mirabal sisters, Minerva, Patria and Maria Teresa were murdered along with Rufino de la Cruz by members of Trujillo’s secret police. The three women were being driven by Rufino to Puerto Plata to visit their imprisoned husbands. The bodies of the three sisters were found at the bottom of a precipe broken and strangled. The news of their murders shocked and outraged the nation. The brutal assassination of the Mirabal sisters was one of the events that helped propel the anti-Trujillo movement. Trujillo was assassinated on May 30, 1961 and his regime fell soon after.

The sisters have become symbols of both popular and feminist resistance. In the years since their deaths, the Mirabal sisters have been commemorated in poems, songs and books. An exhibition of their belongings has been mounted at the National Museum of History and Geography, a stamp in their memory has been issued and a private foundation is raising money to renovate a family museum in their hometown. On March 8, 1997, International Women’s Day, a mural was unveiled on the 137-foot obelisk (that Trujillo had erected in his honor) in Santo Domingo. It depicts the images of the four sisters. The painting on the obelisk is entitled “Un Canto a la Libertad” (A Song to Liberty).

For more information see Julia Alvarez’s fictional account of the Mirabal sisters in her 1994 novel, “In the Time of the Butterflies;” Bernard Diederich’s book “Trujillo: The Death of the Dictator;” and “The Mirabal Sisters,” in Connexions, an International Women’s Quarterly, No. 39, 1992.

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