We’re Still in the Age of the Butterflies

55 years ago on this day, three sisters were clubbed to death by the secret police in the Dominican Republic. The United Nations has chosen November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, in memory of the sisters Mirabal, in homage to all women in the world, and to support and energize everybody all over the world who try to stop the violence.

My heart was beating faster as I stepped through the doors to the reception area at the Brussels Airport. I had flown in from Vancouver while F had arrived from Tokyo a few days earlier.  We had not seen each other for months, and it was only a week until our wedding.  I saw her immediately, of course, standing right across the floor, just inside of the ropes, with a big smile. A little girl was clutching her hand, looking at me a bit skeptically. F lifted her little goddaughter so I could give her a hug.  «Camila will be with us until Minou arrives.»

I was thinking about this episode today; and of Minou and her daughter Camila. For it is a special day. On this day 55 years ago, on November 25 1960, Camila’s grandmother and her sisters, Minerva, Maria Teresa and Patria Mirabal, were clubbed to death by General Rafael Trujillo’s secret police. And the United Nation’s General Assembly has chosen this date as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, in memory and in homage to the brave sisters.

General Rafael Trujillo held absolute control over the Dominican Republic for 30 years. His formula for holding power was simple. More than 30,000 people were executed during his regime.

Trujillo was known to use his power to have his way with young women, and the families of the bourgeois feared the invitations to balls and dinners at his residences. The young Minerva defiantly withstood Trujillo’s attempts at seduction. Under a New Year’s celebration in San Cristobal,Trujillo asked Minerva if she agreed with his political ideology.  Minerva replied that politics did not interest her. «And what if I send my subordinates to conquer you?» said Trujillo. Minerva replied «And what if I conquer your subordinates?» [1].

Minerva studied law and became a lawyer, but was declined a license to practice. Minerva and her sisters, Maria Teresa, Patria and Dedé, became involved in the political movement against Trujillo, and together they formed a group they called «The movement of the fourteenth of June», named after the date of a massacre Patria had witnessed. The sisters nom de guerre became «the Butterflies» – Las Mariposas.

But Minerva and María Teresa were discovered, imprisoned, mistreated and raped. Fortunately Trujillo’s regime  experienced an increased international opposition, and the Organization of American States sent observers to the country. This was probably the reason why a number of female political prisoners, including Minerva and María Teresa eventually were released.

But Trujillo had a problem. The Butterflies were becoming a strong symbol of the resistance against him. 25. November 1960, on the way home from a visit to Maria Teresa and Minerva’s jailed husbands, Patria, Minerva, Maria Teresa, and their driver, Rufino de la Cruz, were stopped by Trujillo’s secret police. One of them explained later as follows:

«After we stopped them, we took them to a place near the ravine where I ordered Rojas to pick up some sticks and bring one of the girls. He obeyed the order and chose the one with the long braids. Alfonso Cruz chose the highest and Malleta the driver. I ordered them to go to a sugar cane grove beyond the road.  They were separated so that they should not witness the execution of each other.»[3]

The murder of the Butterflies had great effect on the Dominicans, and Trujillo died in an assassination attempt six months later. He had ruled the country for 30 years.

Much has changed since the death of the Butterflies. Minerva’s daughter Minou is a deputy in parliament and is campaigning to become the country’s next president.  The granddaughter Camila has just finished her studies at Sciences Po and the London School of Economics.

But although much has changed, we still live in the time of the Butterflies. Women are still oppressed.  They still experience violence.

Women are subject to violence all over the world. Political violence, domestic violence, systemic violence, institutionalized violence, random violence. They experience violence because they bloom, because they smile, because they cry, because they have ambitions.  They experience violence because they want to become something more, something better, something for themselves. They experience violence because they are strong, because they resist, or because they give in. They experience violence because they are women.

35 percent of all women will in their lifetime experience violence. Over 600 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not illegal. In many countries, girls are prevented from going to school. 250 million women today were married before the age of 15. An estimated 133 million girls and women have experienced some form of genital mutilation. And each year in Norway, hundreds of women and children bear the brunt of fleeing from their homes to a shelter to save lives and health.

Violence against women is about human rights, democracy, equality, crime and public health. And it is about what’s right and what’s wrong.  Please reflect on how you can contribute to change this. Get Involved.


[1] Miguel A. Garcías, “Tres Heroinas y un Tirano”, as refered here.

[2]  Frank Moya Pons, “The Dominican Republic: A National History”, Markus Wiener Publishers (May 1, 1998)

[2] Ciriaco de la Rosa, fra den Dominikanske ensykolpedia 1997, CD-ROM, as refered here.


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