The Mirabal Sisters- a History of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women begins the 16 Days of Activism, which ends on December 10th with Human Rights Day. During these 16 days, people all over the world unite to raise awareness and campaign about ending gender-based violence,

The day stems from activism and has been marked annually, on an international basis since 1999- although the history behind the day pre-dates this. The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women commemorates the death of 3 of the Mirabal sisters.

Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa were three sisters who lived in the Dominican Republic whilst the country was under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. Rafael Trujillo’s reign was extremely brutal. Those who stood in his way were imprisoned, tortured and murdered. In the late 1930’s, Trujillo ordered a racially motivated mass murder of thousands of Haitians who were living in the Dominican Republic. His reign lasted 31 years, and his power suppressed many citizens and their rights in a totalitarian regime. Trujillo would often employ people to find young girls for him to exploit.

The three Mirabal Sisters actively opposed the cruel and systematical violence of Rafael Trujillo’s reign, and led an underground movement to challenge his regime. They had a fourth sister, Dede, who did not join them in the activism. The Mirabal Sisters all experienced threats from Rafael Trujillo-he would often order people to arrest and harass them.

In their campaigning to bring awareness to Trujillo’s actions, the Mirabal sisters produced and distributed leaflets, which named the individuals that he had killed. On the 25th of November 1960, Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa were clubbed to death by individuals sent by Rafael Trujillo. Their bodies were put into the jeep belonging to the sisters, which was run off the road with the intention of making it look like an accident.

‘’If they kill me, I’ll reach my arms out from the tomb and I’ll be stronger.” Minerva Mirabal.

The murder of the three Mirabal sisters sparked a public outrage, which in part lead to the assassination of Rafael Trujillo 6 months later by former allies.

The Mirabal sisters became symbols of democratic and feminist resistance. They became known as ‘Las Mariposas’ which translates to ‘The Butterflies’. Dede Mirabal dedicated her time to commemorating her sister’s memories and keeping their work evolving. In 1999, the United Nations General Assembly designated the 25th of November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in their honor.

The Mirabal Sisters have left a lasting impression on women today. They emphasised the importance of speaking up against repression and speaking out against violence against women. They  set a precedent for being outspoken and for speaking out about  wrong-doing in the world. Every woman has a right to life without violence.

The campaigning and awareness that the Mirabal Sisters carried out is vital. Their feminist resistance is still important today.

This year, the Mirabal Sisters have been included in the Time’s 100 Women of the Year.

Violence against women is still prevalent all over the world.

This year, the rate of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence increased so much that it has often be referred to as the “shadow pandemic” that ran alongside Covid-19.  During the first wave of the pandemic in Wales specifically, contact with the  Live Fear Free helpline increased; calls were longer and often more complex. It means that marking this day is still important- there is still work to do across the globe.

It is crucial that we continue to fight for the rights of survivors who face violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence; this can be through campaigning, raising public awareness, compassion and lobbying. Communities across Wales have a vital role to play in this. For advice on how you can stand with survivors, look to Welsh Women’s Aid Covid-19 Bystander Toolkit.

All of this can help to influence policy and governmental changes that can prevent violence against women, ensuring that gender equality is enshrined in our laws and in our social attitudes at large.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence campaign helps with pushing these issues into the spotlight and reminds the world that they are still on-going. Violence against women can only be eliminated with a unified approach- violence against women is everyone’s business.

By Allie Iftikhar
Public Affairs and Communications Volunteer

(Art work by @ecyan