The three Butterflies

Wednesday, April 24, 1996 - 10:00

By Jackie Coleman

SANTO DOMINGO — November 25 is observed in many Latin American countries as International Day Against Violence Towards Women. The date marks the anniversary of the assassination of the three "Butterflies": Minerva, Maria Teresa and Patria Mirabal.

Part of the July 14 Movement, they were key members of the underground resistance to the Trujillo dictatorship. The sisters, all mothers of young children, had been captured and jailed, but were released after an international campaign put pressure on the regime.

On November 25, 1960, they were returning from visiting Minerva and Patria's husbands, who were still imprisoned and had recently been transferred to a more distant jail. Trujillo's agents were waiting on an isolated stretch of mountain road. They killed the three women and their driver. To make it appear an accident, the car was pushed over a cliff.

"The Butterflies" continue to be important symbols of struggle in the Dominican Republic, particularly for women, who have traditionally been excluded from power and relegated to an inferior social position. Women were deeply involved in the two years of discussions that led to the fusion of revolutionary forces at a unity congress held in February, and were vocal participants in the congress sessions.

Conference documents analysed the structure of Dominican society and the marginalisation which affects women. Women aged 18-25 form the majority of the 140,000 work force in the factories of the industrial free trade zones. Unionisation is illegal, and women work 10-hour days in appalling conditions for slave wages, with no access to child-care or health care. They also suffer similar conditions in menial positions in the tourist industry, while many others are under- or unemployed.

Progressive Dominican women play central roles in the popular movements which organise sectors traditionally excluded from Dominican society. The country has well-organised community networks, and more than half the members of local and national mass movement organisations are women. There are also close to 100 women's organisations nationally, which campaign specifically for women's popular education and organisation.

The new organisation which emerged from the Congress, the Revolutionary Forces, has women, such as Lilliam Ovieda, on its National Directorate. While the issue of the development of women's participation is central to the new organisation, a proposal for a quota of 50% women in leadership positions was rejected.

A political, rather than arithmetical, approach was adopted. It was decided that the party would strive to create spaces and experiences for women so as to allow them to develop their leadership potential. The resolutions also made an effort to use non-gender language.

The participation of women from the different racial and age groups that make up the country's population of 7 million was a feature of the conference. However, as one woman delegate commented, women's participation has to be a priority from the very top of the party to its base.

She pointed out that the new party could not tolerate male comrades who opposed their wives attending meetings, or their involvement in community organisations, the very core of party work. With such important and practical concerns being debated freely and openly, the new party seems to be tackling the issues in the defiant spirit of "the Butterflies".

From GLW issue 228