The Murder of the Mirabal Sisters, How a Terrifying Episode Gave Birth to the International Day For the Elimination of Violence Against Women

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While the world faces a pandemic caused by an invisible virus, women everywhere have been facing a silent pandemic for centuries: gender-based violence.

As the UN platform explains, violence against women and girls (VAWG) is one of the most widespread, persistent, and devastating human rights violations in the world today. It often goes unpunished due to silence, institutional complicity, stigma, and shame.

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women issued by the UN General Assembly in 1993 defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

However, despite international organizations’ efforts and the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979, violence against women and girls remains a widespread problem throughout the world.

To date, only two out of three countries have outlawed domestic violence. In comparison, 37 countries worldwide still exempt rape perpetrators from prosecution if they are married or end up marrying the victim, and 49 countries currently have no laws protecting women from domestic violence.

Thus, the observation of November 25 as a day against gender violence remains crucial.

The date coincides with the murder of Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa Mirabal on November 25, 1960, three Dominican women who strongly opposed the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo.

The Mirabal sisters grew up in an upper-middle-class home. When Trujillo came to power, the family lost almost all its fortune, and the young women, convinced that the dictator would lead the country into chaos, joined a group of opposition to the regime, known as the Political Grouping 14 de Junio, where they were dubbed Las Mariposas (The Butterflies).

Two of the sisters, Minerva and Maria Teresa, were imprisoned, raped, and tortured on several occasions. One of them went to the La Victoria prison, and together with their husbands, were subjected to torture.

Seeing that no method deterred them from fighting against their government, Trujillo decided to kill the sisters. After putting them on trial on May 18, 1960, and blaming them for attempting to undermine the security of the Dominican State, the Mirabal sisters were sentenced to three years in prison.

However, Trujillo decided to release Minerva and Maria Teresa on August 9, hoping that the sisters would give him a reason to proceed.

Under the command of the Military Intelligence Service and General Pupo Román, the Mirabal sisters’ husbands were transferred to Puerto Plata. On one of the trips back from visiting their husbands, the sisters were ambushed by four men, taken to La Cumbre, and chocked to death in their home.

The beaten bodies were put into a car to simulate a traffic accident.

Believing he had gotten rid of the problem, Trujillo’s shot backfired when the murder of the Mirabal Sisters became the last straw in the Dominican Republic that would lead to his own murder less than a year later.