November 25 marks a very important date for women the world over. Waves of critical events transpired on this particular date bringing to the fore violence against women as a legitimate societal concern in turn engendering awareness towards this issue.
On December 17, 1999, the United Nations General Assembly designated this date as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (IDEVAW). Since then, UN member states begun celebrating this date defining strategies “to end violence against women, empower women, and achieve gender equality”.
However, it is not really to UN’s credit nor to governments celebrating this day around the world why the issue of VAW started to be given fundamental importance. Way before UN countries formally recognized this historic event, commemorations had long been taking place organized by women activists who had grasped the real meaning behind this date.
IDEVAW started as a venue for paying tribute to three courageous women who were clubbed, strangled and beaten to death by security forces of then Dominican Republic’s president Gen. Rafael Trujillo on November 25, 1960 after they came from prison to visit their husbands who were themselves
imprisoned by the dictator.
Patria Mercedes, Maria Argentina Minerva and Antonia Maria Teresa, more popularly known as the Mirabal sisters were born to a family of middle class farmers in a rural community in the Dominican Republic. At a period when it wasn’t ordinary for women to finish schooling, they were able to earn themselves their college degrees. For this, they became the honor of their hometown. Their education however was not just confined inside the classroom. They were able to raise their awareness on the social realities of their country as well.
Minerva, the youngest among the three, took up law but she was denied her license to practice for she outrightly rejected the romantic advances of Trujillo. Trujillo reportedly threatened her stating: “What if I send my subjects to conquer you?” To this, the brave Minerva responded, “And what if I conquer your subjects?”
Also, while others would give utmost priority to their families, the sisters took on a wider calling. Patria, the eldest among the three sisters articulated their sentiment about this matter- “We cannot allow our children to grow up in this corrupt and tyrannical regime. We have to fight against it, and I am willing to give up everything, even my life if necessary.”
The three sisters established the group known as the “Movement of the Fourteenth of June,” named after the date of the massacre earlier witnessed by one of the siblings. It was a clandestine popular resistance movement which fought the dictatorial rule of Trujillo. They went by the name “Las Mariposas” or The Butterflies, their pseudonym in the underground which later became the symbol of resistance in their country.
On several occasions, Trujillo gave orders for the harassment, arrest and imprisonment of the Las Mariposas. But they did not waiver, ready to sacrifice even their lives for the cause. Teresa contended, “Perhaps what we have most near is death, but that idea does not frighten me. We shall continue to fight for that which is just.”
And it was their uncompromising position against the dictatorship that led to their cruel demise. But their violent death did not break the resistance. Instead, it ignited further spurring many more to join the movement. Consequently, it led to the end of the Trujillo dictatorship 6 months after the hideous death of these noble women.
In this important occasion of honoring the “Las Mariposas”, it is essential to go back to the real essence of celebrating International Day to End Violence Against Women. IDEVAW when it was first celebrated as an event which commemorated these valiant women who led a resistance movement against a corrupt and tyrannical government. It was an occasion which underscored state perpetrated violence against women as a grave crime. The celebration of their lives yielded the campaign to resist violence committed against women, in the context of the advancement of women’s rights and for social transformation.
For the past decades, UN and many among UN member-states, including the Philippines started to recognize VAW as a matter of concern leading to formulations of policies towards tackling this issue. Domestic and sexual violence, and other forms of VAW perpetrated against women at home, in schools, in the workplace and in the streets begun to be legally recognized as crimes against women. It must however be stressed that these achievements were not just handed over to women on a silver platter. VAW became acknowledged as a legitimate concern because of women’s painstaking struggles. These are gains of the women’s movement in the campaign to end VAW.#