by Patricia Daniel
I think it's worth recalling the origin of the international day for the elimination of violence against women. It actually commemorates the assassination of three sisters, members of the underground working to depose the dictator Trujillo, on the 25th of November 1960 in the Dominican Republic.
The picture shows a mural of the Mirabal sisters, called ‘Song of Liberty', on the seafront in Santo Domingo. It was painted on an obelisk erected by Trujillo and thereby subverts him in more ways than one.
The collective code-name for the three sisters was las mariposas (butterflies) which gave the title to a 1998 novel based on their experiences "In the time of butterflies" by Julia Alvarez.
This was later (in 2001) turned by and with Salma Hayek into a movie which was doubtless further romanticised.
But still, how often do we have the chance
to see a strong female role model in the cinema these days? Even Joe
Queenan has said: "I think women
need to start their own film industry: this (mysognynist) one isn't
November 25th was initially declared
International Day Against Violence Against Women at the first Feminist
Encuentro for Latin America and the Caribbean held in Bogotá, Colombia,
July 1981. Almost twenty years later, in 1999, thanks to lobbying from
the Center for Women's Global Leadership at
Rutgers University in the US, the special significance of November
25th was officially recognized by the United Nations.
In fact, there are plenty of inspiring women to learn from. But all too frequently (and all too quickly) they become invisible. It seems that we have to struggle to uncover or recover their lives and stories, over and over again. Why does this happen? Clearly it's necessary to keep our own records and celebrate our own achievements.
In a stunning article a couple of years ago, S J Childs describes what the butterflies novel meant to her and how she used it in teaching a Social Issues Literature course "about women and the power of story, the power of ordinary people who are willing to speak out."
She also discusses what her students
derived from the book in developing their own view of the world, quoting
from an assignment by Andrea Townsend on what characterises a hero: "Someone
who we can all relate to, who helps us look inside ourselves for the
strength to stand up against those who would push us down."