While under the tyranny of a corrupt dictatorship, three brave sisters – Minerva, Patria and Maria Mirabal – set out to create a safe, just world for the people of the Dominican Republic. The Mirabal Sisters, who called themselves “Las Mariposas” (“The Butterflies”), resisted the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo and participated in clandestine acts against his political reign. They were assassinated on his orders on November 25, 1960, which turned them into folk legends and symbols of the power of feminine resistance. November 25th was chosen as the International Day For The Elimination of Violence Against Women to commemorate the day of their assassination.
These brave women grew up in a middle-class family on a farm in the Dominican Republic. They were intelligent, college-educated women who went on to marry and have families of their own, in addition to their political activities. Due in part to the influence of their politically involved uncle, Tío Jose, who eventually acted as a go-between for the sister’s political activities, the sisters joined the political movement against Trujillo’s cruel dictatorship. Minerva joined the resistance first, followed by Maria Teresa after learning of her sister’s involvement while visiting her home. Finally, Patria joined her sisters after witnessing a massacre by Trujillo’s men while she was attending a religious retreat. A fourth sister, Dede, was prevented from joining her sisters in their political aspirations by her husband.
In their ongoing effort to oppose the Trujillo regime, the three sisters founded the group, Movement of the Fourteenth of June, which marked the date of the massacre Patria had witnessed. Their goal was to help restore peace and democracy to the people of the Dominican Republic. The group circulated pamphlets and collected materials and donations for guns and bombs. As the group progressed and became better known, the sisters, along with their husbands, were arrested and jailed when their plot to assassinate Trujillo was uncovered.
Although the women were released in 1960, their husbands remained incarcerated, and their political beliefs held steadfast. The Rejected Princesses website, dedicated to their memory, states, “No matter how many times Trujillo jailed them, no matter how much of their property and possessions he seized, Minerva, Patria and María Teresa refused to give up on their mission to restore democracy and civil liberties to the island nation.”
After visiting their husbands in prison on that fateful date, the Mirabal sisters were stopped by Trujillo loyalists, dragged to a sugarcane field, savagely beaten, then strangled to death. In an attempt to cover up this horrific crime, the sister’s bodies were thrown into their Jeep, which was then forced over a cliff. The truth of their assassination was not made known until Trujillo, himself, was assassinated in May 1961. Following his death, General Pupo Román admitted the truth about the assassination of the Mirabal sisters.
Since 1981, November 25th has been recognized as the International Day For The Elimination of Violence Against Women. It received its official United Nations resolution on December 17, 1999. This day of recognition is intended to increase awareness of the number of women globally, who are subjected to rape, domestic violence and other forms of violence and brutality. One of its main goals is to bring awareness of these acts of violence that are too often hidden from public view, such as the assassination of the Mirabal sisters.
According to UN Women’s Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, “In 1995, 189 governments came together in Beijing. They adopted a Platform for Action that spelled out key strategies to end violence against women, empower women, and achieve gender equality. Those promises from long ago are still valid today. Now is the time for action.” Those actions include:
- Prevention strategies that speak to gender inequality issues
- Enhanced services for women who survive violence, including safe shelters, police protection, and therapy
- Enlisting men and boys as advocates against violence aimed at women
(such as the HeForShe Campaign started by UN Women
- Increased rates of accuracy in data collection and risk prevention
To further celebrate and commemorate the heroic lives, and tragic deaths, of these brave women, and their fight for justice and equality for everyone, their family home in the Dominican Republic has been turned into a museum. Their legacy culminates to this day in the recognition of their fight to end violence for women globally and ensure peace for people everywhere.
November 25th kicks off the 16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, ending on December 10th, Human Rights Day. Greater awareness followed by action will continue to evoke positive changes to help end violence and abuse against girls and women around the world. For more information, get the facts and take action by being aware, helping spread awareness, donating to domestic violence counseling programs and shelters, speaking out against violence, writing congress to support women’s programs and more. By choosing to maintain a healthy relationship, you will be a positive role model for young children and others. If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Violence against girls and women is a global issue and collectively we can eliminate it!