Powerhouse Dominican Women Activists

The outstanding achievements of Dominican women are poorly represented in the media.

What is obvious from a casual internet search is that Dominicanas are seen by many primarily as sexual objects. The complex characters and outstanding minds of Dominican women are flattened to focus in on their sexuality.

This has been the case throughout history and the attitude persists today.

Let me introduce some powerhouse 20th-century Dominican women activists who did not let the patriarchy crush their multidimensional amazingness.

These women fought hard for what they believed in, even if it meant losing their lives.

Dominican women activists

The Mirabal Sisters aka Las Mariposas

You may recognise these three ladies’ faces from the Dominican 200-peso bank note.

The Mirabal sisters, nicknamed Las Mariposas, are famous for their brave opposition to Trujillo’s brutal regime in the 1950s.

Their assassination on November 25th 1960 sent shockwaves through the DR. Many even credit the sisters’ deaths with being the catalyst the country needed to boot out, well murder, the oppressive dictator.

Minerva, Patria, and Maria Teresa were respectable Dominican women who became key activists against Trujillo.

It all started when Minerva refused to give into Trujillo’s lecherous demands on her body. The dictator was well-known for his sexual appetite, and had ‘beauty scouts’ scour the country for his next conquest. Often, they were young, some barely teenagers.

But, Trujillo was not a man who took rejection well. If you refused to give up your daughter to him, you might find the secret police on your tail and face imprisonment or a swift ‘mysterious’ death.

Minerva’s refusal led to her being banned from her law school classes and denied a licence to practice law by the state. Oh, and her and her mother were effectively kidnapped. You can guess what the ransom was.

Anyway, the sisters became resistance heroes, circulating anti-Trujillo leaflets, organised weapons, and even made bombs out of fireworks in Minerva’s kitchen.

They persisted in their efforts, even though their parents and husbands were imprisoned and treated horribly.

The sisters were ambushed on their way to visit their husbands in prison, their beaten bodies thrown in their truck and over a cliff to make it look like an accident.

The public outcry after news spread of the Mirabal sisters’ murder was a factor that led to Trujillo’s downfall. He was assassinated six months later.

November 25th, the day the sisters were murdered, was chosen for the yearly UN International End Violence Against Women Day.

Aniana Vargas

Aniana Ondina Vargas Jáquez, or Madre de las Aguas, was a badass environmental and political activist. Her nickname came from her later work defending the countryside of the Yuna and Blanco river basins.

Vargas was a member of the 16 de Junio resistance movement against Trujillo. She had a brief time of exile in the US, but returned to her country to fight for the freedom of her people from the oppressive regime.

In 1965, she was one of the few women to fight in the Guerra de Abril, a Dominican civil war, in one of the most intense conflict zones of the capital.

Vargas later founded the Federación de Campesinos hacia el Progreso to unite farmers against efforts to displace them from their land.

She led the charge against the Falconbridge mining corporation to protect Dominican natural resources in 1989.

The Aniana Vargas National Park (among many landmarks and street names) honours her life’s work, and is located near Bonao where Vargas died in 2002.

The national park is a site of special cultural interest due to its 21 caves, in which many hundreds of petroglyphs and pre-Columbus paintings are preserved in the rock.

Mamá Tingó

Mamá Tingó, real name Florinda Muñoz Soriano, was an activist who fought for rural farmers’ rights.

In the 1970s, a guy named Pablo Díaz Hernández tried to claim ownership of land in Hato Viejo, Yamasa, that had been farmed by local communities for nearly a century. He fenced the land with barbed wire and uprooted the farmers’ crops. Mamá Tingó was having none of it.

She was a member of Liga Agraria Cristiana and used her voice to support farmers’ rights to their land. She was a prominent member of the fight even though she was in her 50s at the time. Mamá Tingó won back the land rights of at least 300 families.

After the landowner failed to show at trial, Mamá Tingó was murdered by one of Hernández’s workers. He released her pigs and shot her while she went to round them up.

Mamá Tingó is an important symbol to this day of the strong rural woman and of farming communities’ rights.

The fight continues

These powerhouse Dominican women activists had incredible courage, integrity, and determination.

They were not afraid to stand up against injustice, though it was likely to end badly for them.

Today, we celebrate the achievements of these women and the example they offer us. We also remember the road to equality and opportunity is paved with incredible hard work and sacrifice. There’s a way to go yet.

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