The Butterflies: How Today Became “International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women”

Today is “International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women”, which seeks to raise awareness of the number of women around the world who have been victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and other forms of violence.   Worldwide, one in three women have been the victims of some form of violence. Most often they are victimized by their partner or a family member.  Violence against women is a pandemic of global proportions, but a preventable one.  Each November 25 has been the commemoration of this day worldwide since 1999.  This day is chosen because it is the anniversary of the deaths of three brave young sisters in the Dominican Republic who stood up to a despicable ruler, and lost their lives because of it.

     Between 1930 and 1961, the Dominican Republic was ruled by a brutal, murderous, racist, oppressive dictator named Rafael Trujillo.  Civil liberties were non existent and human rights abuses occurred daily.  He was tremendously greedy as well, accumulating the majority of the nation’s wealth for himself and his family.  He had the Capital of Santo Domingo  change its name to Ciudad Trujillo, as well as having hundreds of statues of himself erected across the small country.  He had his opponents jailed, beaten, and often murdered.  Nearly everyone in the Dominican Republic was terrified to speak out against him.   He owned nearly everything, and had secret police and henchmen ready to eliminate any threat to his power.

He also had what he called “beauty scouts” who roamed the country looking for young women (sometimes very young). W omen that Trujillo could have his way with.   Four sisters with the last name Mirabel and the first names: Minerva, Patria, Maria Teresa, and Dede were invited to one of Trujillo’s parties.  At the party, Trujillo made repeated advances at Minerva, who politely declined.  When he became more adamant, Minerva slapped him in the face, gathered her family, and quickly departed.  Because she stood up to him, Minerva had placed her and her extended family high upon Trujillo’s enemy list.

Photo Credit: Latina Magazine

Trujillo began to harass and toy with her life in a variety of ways.  Even though she was a brilliant student, Minerva was barred from class until she agreed to give a speech lavishly praising Trujillo.  Her father was imprisoned and beaten.  He was ultimately released, but died soon after.  Her mother and her were held hostage at a hotel. She was told the only way she would be released if she had sex with Trujillo. She refused, but eventually her mother and her escaped.

After this, the sisters and their families became all out activists against the Trujillo regime.  The went by the code name “Las Mariposas”,which means “The Butterflies.”
They passed out pamphlets about the many people killed by Trujillo. They organized dissidents, and even collected weapons for a revolution against the evil dictator.  Ultimately, the sisters and their husbands were imprisoned.  An international outcry led to their release of the sisters, but not the release of their husbands.

On November 25 1960, “The Butterflies”: Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa went to visit their husbands in jail.  On the way home, they were stopped by Trujillo’s Henchmen and brutally clubbed to death.  Their bodies were put back in their jeep and pushed over a cliff intended to make it appear to be an accident.   The people of the Dominican Republic didn’t buy it, and this moment was the beginning of the end of Trujillo.  In May of 1961, four assassins were tipped off to where one of Trujillo’s mistresses lived, and when he was going to visit her.  They waited along the roadside and shot at his car multiple times.  A gunfight ensued, and Trujillo was killed. The momentum started by the Butterflies finally caught up to him, even though they were dead.

Car in Which Rafael Trujillo was Assassinated
The car of Rafael Trujillo, May 1961
Photo Credit: Warfare History

The “Butterfly Sisters” became symbols throughout Latin America as martyrs and the heroines in the fight for the rights of women.  They are often featured in songs and poetry.  Dominican textbooks now refer to them as “National Martyrs.”  In 2001, a movie titled “In the Time of the Butterflies”, starring Selma Hayak was released.  They are also featured on Dominican currency.
Photo Credit: Latina Magazine

The family of the sisters would eventually rise to positions of great power in the Dominican Republic.  Minvera’s daughter, who was four year old when her mother was murdered became the Dominican Republic’s Foreign Minister.  Their nephew, Jaime David Fernandez Mirabel would become the Vice President of the country.


November 25, the anniversary of the murder of the Mirabel sisters officially became the “International day for the end of violence against women” by official resolution of the United Nations in 1999.  Today, we should all remember the magnitude of this problem, and the urgency in which it should be addressed.

Here are just a few of the alarming statistics published by the United Nations:
– 15 million girls between the ages of 15-19 have been raped.
– Over 50 percent of sexual assaults in the world are committed against females under 16 years old.
– Over 200 million females alive today have been the victims of genital mutilation.
– Of all female murder victims in the world, half were killed by their partner or a family member.
– Over one in four of the first sexual experience among women worldwide was forced.

Unfortunately, the statistics go on and on……..

Screen Shot 2018-11-25 at 8.17.12 AM

As this problem is thousands of years in the making, fixing it will not be quick or easy. It is always important to remember that it is possible and every little bit of progress means giving a woman the opportunity to pursue a life as it should be: violence free.  We must teach young men and women to respect all life regardless of gender.  We must seek out ways to help in prevention of violence against women and support for victims on a local, national and international level.  We must treat it with the same level of priority given to fighting terrorism, because that is what it is.

We must make sure that the “Butterflies” continue to fly, and multiply.

If you have a few dollars you can spare today, please click on one of the links below to help protect and defend the women of the world.

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