Travel Tales: Remembering the Butterflies

November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It’s a day selected to coincide with a date very important to the founders of the Maiposa DR Foundation. Read why.

By Patricia Andersson
Travel Program Director

The namesakes of our sponsored program the Mariposa DR Foundation sparked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Since the year 2000, the United Nations has designated November 25th as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a global remembrance day that I for one had never heard of. Which is surprising to me since I consider myself fairly well-informed about this sort of thing. But what was even more surprising to me was to find out the story behind this designation, and the connection to it that Dining for Women has.

DFW supported a program in April 2014 called the Mariposa Foundation, based in the Dominican Republic. Running programs that support school-aged girls living on the wrong side of the tourist dollars, Mariposa helps to educate and empower girls, creating sustainable solutions to end generational poverty.

Mariposa, which means “butterfly” in Spanish, was chosen as the name for this organization to honor the three most famous sisters in the Dominican Republic – Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa Mirabal – who were assassinated in the Dominican Republic on the orders of the Dominican ruler Rafael Trujillo on November 25, 1960.

From 1930-1961 the Dominican people were repressed under Trujillo’s power. During the last days before his assassination, these three young women, who were committed to the revolutionary overthrow of the regime, were ambushed and assassinated as they drove back from visiting their jailed husbands. Thus martyred, the Mirabal sisters have become mythical figures in their country, where they are known as las mariposas (the butterflies), from their underground code names. Each of the girls, and their surviving sister, Dede, endured the arrests of their husbands, their own imprisonment and Trujillo’s revenge.

Activists on women’s rights have observed a day against violence on the anniversary of the deaths of these three women since 1981. And since the UN took on this day of remembrance, the campaign has grown. Now, every year, November 25 and the ensuing 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence which follow (ending on December 10, Human Rights Day) are commemorated around the world, providing individuals and groups a chance to mobilize and call attention to the urgent need to end violence against women and girls.

Violence against women is just one of the issues faced by the girls and women in the DR. Through their programs, Mariposa is aiming to develop a new generation of strong girls and women, with an increased ability to keep themselves safe and with the inspiration of the Mirabal sisters helping them strive for a better life.

The Travel Program is fortunate to be able to take a group of DFW members to the DR to visit Mariposa, spend time with the girls at the center, and help out for a number of days in whatever way we’re needed. An aspect of Mariposa’s program is to encourage the girls’ interaction with visitors from other countries, to expose them to other ways of life, and help them envision a life for themselves beyond the barrio.

While in the DR, our travelers will also visit the museum dedicated to the Mirabal sisters, learn more about the contribution they made to their country and why their lives inspired a global day of remembrance. A powerful book written about the Mirabal sisters by Julia Alvarez, “In the Time of the Butterflies,” tells the full story of this tragedy, conveying the sisters’ courage and their desperation. This book is required reading for our Dominican Republic travelers.

Now that I’m aware of this day and its history, I feel more compelled to bring that awareness to others, as I believe that through awareness can come change. UN Women is suggesting wearing orange – the official color of the UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign – and to share a photo with a message “I wear orange because…” on their Facebook page.

How will you mark November 25th this year?