Tuesday, November 25, 2014

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

I welcome the chorus of voices calling for an end to the violence that affects an estimated one in three women in her lifetime. I applaud leaders who are helping to enact and enforce laws and change mindsets. And I pay tribute to all those heroes around the world who help victims to heal and to become agents of change. -UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 2013

The struggle for women's rights, and the task of creating a new United Nations, able to promote peace and the values which nurture and sustain it, are one and the same. Today - more than ever - the cause of women is the cause of all humanity. -UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, 1993

   The Dominican Republic during the late 1950s, ruled by ex- President, military strongman Rafael Trujillo, an American marine trained dictator, who had brought  stability and prosperity to the country at the cost of the absence of civil liberties, murder, and brutal human rights violations.  
   The Mirabal Sisters, Patria, Dedé, Minerva, and María Teresa, who opposed Trujillo’s dictatorship.  
   The sisters grew up in an affluent family and were well educated at a time when most women did not receive such privilege.
   It was Minerva who first became involved in politics and the growing movement against Trujillo. She had been influenced by her uncle and a friend whose family had been imprisoned and executed by Trujillo’s army.
   She studied law, and was first arrested in 1949 after she refused Trujillo’s sexual advances and, along with her mother, was placed under house arrest in the capital and tortured by members of the regime. 
   Her sisters Maria Teresa and Patria soon joined with Minerva in the fight against Trujillo. That’s a picture of the three sisters above. They would become known collectively as The Butterflies. Along with their husbands they founded the Fourteenth of June movement, named after the day when exiled Dominicans attempted to overthrow Trujillo’s government and were defeated by his army.  
    Most of its members were arrested, including the sisters and their husbands at the end of the 1950′s. Other nations ostracized the Dominican Republic due to Trujillo’s behavior, and that scrutiny possibly saved the sisters and their families from disappearing altogether... for awhile. A younger generation desiring democratization generated an increasing anti-government atmosphere that pushed Trujillo to release the women from La Cuarenta prison in February of 1960.  Their husbands were kept captive though, and the sisters themselves were taken back to La Cuarenta on March 18th and sentenced to 3 years in jail.  However, they were again released  on parole on August 18th, 1960 as a result of the condemnation of  Trujillo’s actions by  the Organization of American States.
    On November 25th, 1960, Minerva, Maria and Patria were all returning to their home town of Salcedo with their driver Rufino de la Cruz, after visiting their imprisoned husbands. As they drove back home along the main highway between Puerto Plata and Santiago their Jeep was stopped by the secret police. 
   There is really no way to know exactly what followed on that rainy night. Yet there is the following narrative from one of the participants, one Ciriaco de la Rosa. This is an exert from the Dominican Encyclopedia 1997 CD ROM:
   “After stopping them we led them to a spot near the chasm where I ordered Rojas to pick up some sticks and take one of the girls, he obeyed the order and took one of them, the one with the long braids, that was Maria.  Alfonso Cruz took the tallest one, that was Minerva, and Malleta took the driver, Rufino de la Cruz.  I ordered each one of them to go to a sugar cane grove on the edge of the road, each one separated so that the victims would not sense the execution of one another, I ordered Perez Terrero to stay and see if any one was coming who could find out about the situation.  That is the truth of the situation.  I do not want to deceive justice or the state.  I tried to prevent the disaster, but I could not because if I had he, Trujillo, would have killed us all...."
   In the end the three Mirabal sisters and their driver were clubbed, beaten and then strangled to death. 
   If you would like to learn more about the Mirabal sisters, dear readers, there is a fictionalized novel of their lives, “In the Time of Butterflies,” by  Julia Álvarez. 
   “Code Name: Butterflies," a documentary by Chilean filmmaker Cecilia Domeyko, includes  interviews with the surviving sister, Dedé Mirabal and other members of her family.
   The lovely and talented actress Michelle Rodriguez, stars in (as Minerva) and co-produced the film “Trópico de Sangre (Tropic of Blood)," which recounts the lives of the sisters. Dedé, also participated in the development of the film.
   A 2001 Showtime television film based on “In the Time of Butterflies,” starring the talented and lovely Salma Hayek is also available, and was the movie that first made me aware of the Mirabal sisters and their fate. 
   For those who cherish a certain sense of justice, six months after the murder of the three sisters, on Tuesday, May 30th, 1961, Rafael Trujillo himself was assassinated by members of his own government when his car was ambushed on a road outside of Santo Domingo. 
   Today, November 25th, the date of the murder of the Mirabal sisters, has been designated by the United Nations as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (Resolution 54/134). In 1981, activists marked today as a day to combat and raise awareness of violence against women throughout the world. The resolution was adopted on on December 17, 1999. 
   The purpose for the designation is to raise international awareness that women are subject to widespread abuse, rape (also used as a weapon in war), murder, domestic violence, and other forms of harassment, from inside the workplace, or be it simply walking down a city street.  And that the continuance of such behavior and actions toward women are of course completely unacceptable in any way shape or form.  
   We’ve discussed this issue before here, and here. And it takes all but a cursory glance at the day's headlines to discover another incidence of violence directed toward women (and girls). 
   Two weeks ago in Nairobi, Kenya, hundreds of men and women marched in the streets wearing miniskirts (traditional male Kenyan clothing resembles a short skirt), demanding that the government discover the identity and deal with several men caught on video stripping and knocking down a woman because she tempted them by wearing a miniskirt. 
   At least the Kenyan government was responsive.  A Nairobi senator offered a 100,000 Kenyan shilling reward for turning in those responsible, and tweeted several messages in support of the woman, calling what happened to her as being unconstitutional and a violation of her basic civil  rights.
   But cultures in different nations are.. well different. In Kenya’s neighbor to the west, Uganda, the government actually sanctions such actions against women. After a Anti-Pornography Act was signed into law, a number of women around the country were stripped for wearing skirts. The police issued a warning to women to stop dressing provocatively if they didn’t want to face harassment. The nation’s Minister of Ethics and Integrity issued a warning to all of the  women in the country, letting them know that anyone wearing anything “above the knee” would be arrested.
   And I don’t have to tell you of the prevailing attitude toward women in Muslim countries, the more fundamental the dominant religion is, and how closely it is tied with the state, the worse it is for the women in said state. 
   Other examples:
   Acid thrown on the faces of girls whose only crime was attending school.
   High incidents of infanticide of girls in Asian countries and India. 
   A multi-billion dollar sex trafficking trade that currently thrives throughout the world, including the United States.
    Some estimates claim that 0.5% of the world’s population, about 36 million people, are bound in modern day slavery. Some of these are women.
   On and on. 
   Yes I know, there is violence committed against men as well, but I don’t care about them. They are for the most part the perpetrators of violence against women, and they are much better equipped to defend themselves from all forms of violence than their female counterparts.
   But men go to war Rick, in order to protect women and the country.
   Yes, they do. But unless they are drafted, which hasn’t happened since Viet Nam, they volunteer to do so, so whatever happens to them is on them. Those who go to war out of some sense of blind patriotic duty shouldn’t, for far too often the U.S. has used it’s military might at the behest of corporations whose financial interests are at stake. The oil industry for example, in the first Gulf War (no one except Bush knows the real reason we went to war in Iraq the second time, but military contractors, and their ancillary services, made billions). When one volunteers to fight for one’s country, one better understand the real reason for the conflict, and if those who would send you to war, at one time fought themselves. People like Senator John McCain, who did serve in the military, and whose claim to fame in the Viet Nam War was that his plane got shot down, would have us now in several new conflicts for dubious reasons. As it is the United States is pretty much in a state of perpetual war.
   Of course politicians will often lie about the real reasons for going to war, or wanting to go to war. One must be careful about that as well.
   And before I start getting a lot of comments or Emails, please remember I am a veteran who volunteered for service between 1978 and 1982, when the country was not at war.
    Anyway, the UN would tell you 35% of women and girls globally experience some form of physical and or sexual violence in their lifetime with up to seven in ten women facing this abuse in some countries. 
   It is estimated that up to 30 million girls under the age of 15 remain at risk from Female genital mutilation/cutting, and more than 130 million girls and women have undergone the procedure worldwide.
   Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children, 250 million of whom were married before the age of 15. Girls who marry before the age of 18 are less likely to complete their education and more likely to experience domestic violence and complications in childbirth.
   The costs and consequence of violence against women lasts for generations. 
   Violence against women is a human rights violation.
   Violence against women is a consequence of discrimination against women, in law and also in practice, and of persisting inequalities between men and women. 
   Violence against women impacts on, and impedes, progress in many areas, including poverty eradication, combating HIV/AIDS, and peace and security.
   Violence against women and girls is not inevitable. Prevention is possible and essential. 
   Violence against women continues to be a global pandemic.
   I abhor violence against women. I know they can be difficult at times (and I say that with much love and affection), but everybody is difficult at times. I abhor, and do not understand violence in general, and it’s manifestation is more than likely a hold over from our evolutionary past. Yet the reason we have laws is to guard against rampant  manifestations of behavior representative of our evolutionary past. 
   I turn off slasher films that target mostly attractive young females. I turn away from gross depictions of domestic violence. I don’t watch television shows like “The Sopranos,” or “Sons of Anarchy,” which seem to celebrate violence... the more the better. I am not violent towards women, although at one point in my life I was toward my sister and first wife. 
   I’m living proof that people can change. In my case, I think I simply grew out of it. Alcohol was involved as well, and I don’t drink anymore. 
   Still, change is possible. And if I can do it, so can other men.
   This year  the United Nations Secretary-General’s Campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women invites you to “Orange YOUR Neighborhood.” Take the UNiTE campaign to local establishments, businesses, libraries, 7/11s, Food 4 lesses, Pep Boys, Rite-Aids, neighbors, local stores, food-sellers on the corner of your street, gas stations, local cinemas, barbers, schools, and post offices! 
   From November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, to December 10th, Human Rights Day, 16 days of activism are planned, Activism Against Gender Based Violence Campaigns, to end violence against women and girls around the world. 
   Hang orange flags wherever you can, tie orange ribbons where you are allowed, and organize local ‘orange marches’ today through December 10th, to raise awareness about violence against women and discuss solutions that would work locally, in your community.  
   The violence needs to stop. 
   Say no to it. 
   Just say no.

Addendum: 11-26-14: How Gender-Based Justice Can Help Palenstinian Women Survive Violence
Addendum: 11-27-14: First Responders in Fiji Learn to Address Sexual Violence During Disasters
Addendum: 12-1-14: 23 year old woman beaten to death after defending teen girls from harassment
Addendum 12-1-14: Fighting Back

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