On the 17 December 1999, the General Assembly at its 83rd plenary meeting of the fifty-fourth session, on the basis of the Report of the Third Committee (A/54/598 and Corr.1 and 2), adopted Resolution 54/134 on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

The General Assembly expressed alarm that endemic violence against women was impeding women’s opportunities to achieve legal, social, political and economic equality in society. The Assembly reiterated that the term “violence against women” refers to acts capable of causing physical, sexual or psychological harm, whether in public or private life.

The UN General Assembly invited Governments, the relevant agencies, bodies, funds and programmes of the United Nations system, and other international organisations and non-governmental organisations, to organise on that day activities designed to raise public awareness of the problem of violence against women.

Previously, 25 November was observed in Latin America and a growing number of other countries around the world as “International Day Against Violence Against Women”.  With no standard title, it was also referred to as “No Violence Against Women Day” and the “Day to End Violence Against Women”.  It was first declared by the first Feminist Encuentro for Latin America and the Caribbean held in Bogota, Colombia (18 to 21 July 1981). At that Encuentro women systematically denounced gender violence from domestic battery, to rape and sexual harassment, to state violence including torture and abuses of women political prisoners. The date was chosen to commemorate the lives of the Mirabal sisters.  It originally marked the day that the three Mirabal sisters from the Dominican Republic were violently assassinated in 1960 during the Trujillo dictatorship (Rafael Trujillo 1930-1961).  The day was used to pay tribute to the Mirabal sisters, as well as global recognition of gender violence.

The Mirabal Sisters
The three sisters, Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa were born to Enrique Mirabal and Maria Mercedes Reyes (Chea) in 1924, 1927 and 1935 respectively in the Cibas region of the Dominican Republic.  All three were educated in the Dominican Republic, Minerva and Maria Teresa going on to achieve university degrees.

All three sisters and their husbands became involved in activities against the Trujillo regime.   The Mirabal sisters were political activists and highly visible symbols of resistance to Trujillo’s dictatorship. As a result, the sisters and their families were constantly persecuted for their outspoken as well as clandestine activities against the State.  Over the course of their political activity, the women and their husbands were repeatedly imprisoned at different stages.  Minerva herself was imprisoned on four occasions.  Despite Trujillo’s persecution, the sisters still continued to actively participate in political activities against the leadership.  In January 1960, Patria took charge of a meeting that eventually established the Clandestine Movement of 14 June 1960 of which all the sisters participated.  When this plot against the tyranny failed, the sisters and their comrades in the Clandestine Resistance Movement were persecuted throughout the country.

In early November 1960, Trujillo declared that his two problems were the Church and the Mirabal sisters.  On 25 November 1960, the sisters were assassinated in an “accident” as they were being driven to visit their husbands who were in prison.  The accident caused much public outcry, and shocked and enraged the nation.  The brutal assassination of the Mirabal sisters was one of the events that helped propel the anti-Trujillo movement, and within a year, the Trujillo dictatorship came to an end.

The sisters, referred to as the “Inolvidables Mariposas”, the “Unforgettable Butterflies” have become a symbol against victimisation of women. They have become the symbol of both popular and feminist resistance.  They have been commemorated in poems, songs and books.  Their execution inspired a fictional account “In the Time of the Butterflies” on the young lives of the sisters written by Julia Alvarez.  It describes their suffering and martyrdom in the last days of the Trujillo dictatorship. The memory of the Mirabal sisters and their struggle for freedom and respect for human rights for all has transformed them into symbols of dignity and inspiration.  They are symbols against prejudice and stereotypes, and their lives raised the spirits of all those they encountered and later, after their death, not only those in the Dominican Republic but others around the world.

Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign
The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence came out of the Global Campaign for Women’s Human Rights.  In June 1991, the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) with participants of the first Women’s Global Institute on Women, Violence and Human Rights, a forum involving 23 women from 20 countries called for a global campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.  The campaign would highlight the connections between women, violence, and human rights from 25 November to 10 December 1991.  The time period encompassed four significant dates: 25 November, the International Day Against Violence Against Women; 1 December, World AIDS Day; 6 December, the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, when 14 women engineering students were gunned down for being feminists; and 10 December, Human Rights Day.

Co-ordinated by the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership, the annual campaign, is observed globally by activities at the local, national, regional and international levels.  Activities include radio, television and video programming; press conferences; film screenings; workshops, seminars, panels and other meetings; demonstrations, protests, marches and vigils; photo, poster, art and book exhibitions; lectures, debates, testimonies and talks; petition drives; public education campaigns; concerts, plays and other theatre performances; street dramas and other community programmes; distribution of posters, stickers, leaflets, information kits and other publications;

The  16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign is inspired by the strength and commitment of the movement that works tirelessly to eliminate gender-based violence in the home and in the world. Over the years, the 16 Days network has multiplied and now includes participation from more than 800 organisations in over 90 countries. The growth of the Campaign exceeded initial expectations - not just in the numbers of those participating but also in spirit. The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence has become an annual event in many towns, states and regions. Women's human rights activists have used this 16-day period to create a solidarity movement which raises awareness around gender-based violence, works to ensure better protection for survivors of violence and calls for its elimination. The 16 Days solidarity network welcomes those who join the campaign annually by co-ordinating activities in their own regions.

The organising strategies employed by groups during the Campaign vary and are reflective of the region and its current political situation. In 2000, the Centre urged that organisations link to global events such as the recent five-year review of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing +5) and the upcoming World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (31 August - 7 September 2001 in South Africa) to pressure local and national governments to implement promises made and increase their commitment to women's human rights in the future. The Centre encourages activists to use this 16-day period to raise awareness in student, local, national and regional communities by co-ordinating events such as tribunals, workshops, festivals, etc.

SOURCE: This note was provided by the Division for the Advancement of Women of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

The "feminist encuentros" are conferences of feminists from Latin America who come together every 2-3 years in a different Latin American country in order to exchange experiences and to reflect upon the state of the women's movement. Sexuality and violence in their wide ranging forms and contexts have always been included in the wide ranging themes of these gatherings. These encounters have stimulated the creation of regional networks, workshops, video and radio programs, women's studies curricula, and a growing number of women's documentation centers throughout the region which are dedicated to collecting and making available information about the history and priorities of the women's movement. They have also provided a space for formulating and discussing the focus of a growing number of women's magazines and newsletters, which contain articles, analysis and reports of the wide ranging actions being undertaken by women throughout the region.

CIS 16 Days ~ CaucasusNOW

© Copyright WomenAid International 2001

TEL:  +44 (0) 20 7839 1790    FAX: +44 (0) 20 7839 2929
E-MAIL: womenaid@womenaid.org  Reg. Charity No. 299224