International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Did you know that November 25th is designated as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women? I learned about this a number of years ago thanks to my mom. She was working on the music for a documentary called “Code Name Butterflies” and I joined her in New York City to record the background vocals. Now, years later, I have learned that most people are not aware of this day’s designation by the UN and the true story that inspired its international observance.

Nowadays, many people think that this day addresses domestic violence against women. While it does address this type of violence, it also incorporates a larger picture and is speaking to any and every kind of violence that is all too prevalent in our world. Political violence is what was occurring on this day in 1960, in the small island of the Dominican Republic. My mother was born and raised in this beautiful tropical island and remembers hearing stories from her parents of when her mother was pregnant with her and the dictator, Rafael Trujillo, was finally assassinated and his brutal reign over the country was put to an end. Yet that end and that victory for the people did not happen in that year of 1961 alone. It started years before, through the lives of the Mirabal Sisters.

Very close to where my mother grew up in the center of the Dominican Republic, is where years earlier the Mirabal family lived. They had four daughters who became revolutionaries and political activists who conspired to liberate their country from the dictator Trujillo. Several times, three of the sisters were imprisoned and their husbands as well. Now, only one still lives, Dede Mirabal, because on November 25, 1960, the other three sisters were brutally assassinated by Trujillo. Although it cost them their lives, their efforts were not in vain and were the largest and most essential contribution to the final overthrow of Rafael Trujillo and freedom from his violent oppression.

Throughout the world, this commemorative day is recognized greatly in Latin countries. This past week, I had the opportunity to perform one of my mother’s songs with her that she wrote for the documentary “Code Name Butterflies”. The song, “Bachata de las Carteras” tells of what things may have been found in the purse of Minerva, which was found in the vehicle where the bodies of the three sisters were placed after being beaten to death and the vehicle then pushed off a mountain cliff so it would look like an accident. Although sad and tragic, it is a perspective that reminds us that no woman is exempt from the damage of violence. What is done to one woman, extends out to others. These women were not only daughters and sisters, but they were also wives and mothers. The song tells of how perhaps a diaper for her son would be found in the purse among other items endearing and special only to a mother.

We presented the song at the monthly assembly for the government of the region of Extremadura in Spain. In attendance were military dignitaries and political figures, among which was the president of parliament of the region, the president of the government of the region, and the director of the Institute of Women of Extremadura. It was wonderful to see the great presentation that was also given by the Institute of Youth of Extremadura. When I saw these high school age teens standing up for at the front, I thought to myself these are the next Spaniards…this is where the country is going…

The presentation by the youth documented their projects in the visual arts, demonstrating how images can speak louder than words and deeply correlating how violence can be silent and yet affects everyone powerfully. There was no music in the video as it clicked through the images, slide by slide, in silence. It really made a motivating impact and I find myself still picturing the images, like a red heart made of yarn that on the next slide is torn in half and unraveling.

On this important day, I hope that you take time to think about any ways that you have ever witnessed violence being done against others. And although it can be the scariest and hardest thing to do, I hope that you give yourself the time and will yourself to take a look at yourself and your own life – have you ever experienced violence being done against you? Have you ever been the one to commit violence against another? These are not enjoyable or easy things to consider, yet where else do we start? With our own individual selves is the only place to start and doing so affects even entire countries, each other, and our societies. This day is important not only for women, but for men as well. For men and women alike are both capable of and called to being the instruments of education to prevent such violence, personal character to live as a person who would not accept or carry out such violence, and leaders who would advocate for this as they would for any other cause they deem personally and politically important.

A great way to personally commemorate this day and ensure you are ready to stand for such a cause when the need arises (for believe me, the need will arise and most likely, is already present in your life), is to educate one’s self. I highly recommend reading the book “In the Time of the Butterflies” by Julia Alvarez as part of that education. It tells the story of the Mirabal sisters and is a great way to connect even more so with the importance of this cause and the significance of your part in this issue.