Song of liberty - a little history

Patricia Daniel
5 December 2007

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 working."

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."

Nearly 50 years after the assassination of the butterflies (that is, almost my entire lifetime) violence against women and violence in general in the world continues unabated. For how many more generations do we have to strive to sing these songs of freedom?

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals

To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.

By adding my name to this campaign, I authorise openDemocracy and Foxglove to keep me updated about their important work.

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