Image Source: “Idan Raichel: I wear orange because I want the message against violence towards women
to go wherever my music goes” by UN Women Gallery is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
While our study of Leadership as Virtual Presence by identifying Fifty Great World Leaders of the Past Twenty-five Centuries and the types of their leadership was in progress, one of the professors brought to the notice of one of the assemblies that there were very few women leaders in the list of fifty.
Madam Curie and Florence Nightingale were the only selected ones and they were from the modern centuries. There were nine criteria for the selection of the leaders. Some of them were that they should not be leaders of faith or kings or those who committed genocide. Hitler and Velupillai Prabhakaran remained nearer but above the fifty. There were more than four hundred names which were listed up initially and many were removed as per the criteria. While searching for great female leaders of the past twenty-five centuries, the researchers chanced on Mirabel Sisters of the Dominican Republic who belonged to the twentieth century.
The UN General Assembly designated 25 November, the day in 1960 when the Mirabel Sisters were killed, the ‘International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women’, in 1999. While resolving the Assembly referred to the Mirabel Sisters; Patria, Minerva and Maria Theresa; who were ‘symbols of both popular and feminist resistance’. They considered the three sisters as women more than rebels in the way they rose against a dictator, Rafael Trujillo.
They were assassinated on 25 November in 1960 by Trujillo, the dictator who ruled the Dominican Republic for more than three decades. He also was killed in 1961 for the atrocities against and the assassination of the three women, Mirabel Sisters, six months earlier. The sisters were waylaid, beaten and strangulated to death. Their death was falsely depicted as an accident by pushing the jeep in which they travelled as if it ran off the road. There was also an allegation that the CIA planned the killing of Trujillo as US was afraid that he could become another Fidel Castro who led the Cuban revolution in 1959. US was fighting against Castro and Cuba then.
The Dominican Republic is one of the oldest of the Americas with Spanish backgrounds as Christopher Columbus first landed in this island in 1492 during his journey in search of the Indies and called it ‘Espanola’, in Spanish, meaning the ‘Spanish Island’. He reached out to the rest of America from there. Later, it was given St. Dominic’s name. Today the Dominican Republic is more than half of an island with the remaining being Haiti. Among popular nearer islands are Cuba, Jamaica, Bahamas and Puerto Rico. The Spanish Island was ruled by native Taino chiefs who managed their kingdoms together before its colonisation. With the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean on either side, the Republic is known for its beaches and peaceful lifestyles of people for more than four centuries. When Trujillo managed to take over as a dictator, he became very unpopular as he massacred of thousands of Haitians who were brought to the Republic by the earlier rulers as sugarcane cutters.
The Mirabel Sisters were four, the three were killed and the fourth one lived till 2016. The four sisters were born into a family of agriculturists with a small business of a coffee mill and a general store. They were brought up well and were attracted towards groups of people who were fighting against the dictator. Minerva wanted to study law and put up her application. Trujillo, the dictator, had a habit of selecting young women for not only appointments but even for admissions to higher education. He not only married thrice after leaving the previous wife each time. He had several mistresses across the country, a fact which he boasted about. When Minerva appeared for the interview, she was noted by the dictator. The clever dictator gave her an admission and closely followed her though she did not give him a chance to catch her. When she had to get her certificate, the dictator refused it and told her that she would not be allowed to practice unless she obliged him which she flatly refused. This made Minerva become a hardened rebel against the dictator which led to her and her sisters’ deaths.
In ‘The Time of the Butterflies’, a 2001 film by Metro – Goldwyn – Mayar, provides details of the life of the three sisters. The word ‘Butterflies’ refers to the three of them symbolising freedom and independence. There are also many books which were published on the courageous fight of the sisters against the dictator, especially after they were killed by him.
25 November is the day designated for Elimination of Violence against women, done in honour of the Mirabel Sisters by the United Nations. There is an unusual and strong statement from Minerva Mirabel. She said ‘if they kill me, I will reach my arms out from the tomb and I will be stronger’. It is this attitude and willingness to fight against the cruel acts of the dictator that made her and her sisters very famous even before their death. It is the death of the three sisters which gave courage to the movement against Trujillo leading to his death. The activities connected with Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25 November continues till 10 December which is the Human Rights Day being celebrated by the United Nations.
This year, TIME magazine listed hundred notable women for the year and included Mirabel Sisters in that. The concept of ‘Shadow Pandemic’ is brought up world over after Covid made many homes places for domestic violence. As per the UN report published in 2021 titled ‘measuring the shadow pandemic: violence against women during Covid’.
It was reported that in thirteen nations in Africa, Asia and South America, domestic violence against women increased during pandemic by 25 to 33 percent. The violence against women in Iran is considered something far beyond the comprehension of sociologists and psychologists. The sacrifices that are made by the Iranian women for not only their freedom but also their stand against harassment and cruelty meted out to them are referred to as modern resistance against violence against women.
Among all forms of violence against women, including acts of dishonouring their sanctity as women, domestic violence is considered more rampant and more disastrous from the point of view of mental development and associated attitudes of growing up children. Moreover, domestic violence goes unnoticed in most cases because of social belief systems of many societies that women are not equal to men.
Despite democratic rights being accorded to women through functional laws, the unfortunate status of women in several societies are not conducive for women to fight for their justifiable rights, even as per existing laws.
One wonders whether mere fight against violence against women by women will be the need of the hour. The attitudes of the men have to change if cruelty meted out to women have to be eliminated. Therefore, one needs more men’s association and groups to stand against violence against women if that has to be neutralised. What may be needed more is a change in the attitude of men towards women rather than women alone fighting against such violence.
By:- Sunney Tharappan