Perspectives on Women’s Empowerment in the Dominican Republic

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SANTO DOMINGO — The Dominican Republic is a beautiful island country in the Caribbean. It is also one of the nations with most severe domestic violence in that region. While Dominican women are considered to have equal rights as men under the law in the political, financial, cultural domains and in the family, poverty-related issues are the main factors leading to domestic violence. The fight for women’s empowerment in the Dominican Republic has been a long one.

The progress of women’s empowerment in the Dominican Republic can be analyzed through representative feminist works. In the nineteenth century, feminist writer La Deana wrote the essay The Story from a Woman, which depicts the desperate existence of women in the Dominican Republic. Besides the earliest poems created by female writers from the era of colonization to the late nineteenth century, the most famous female poet, Salomé Ureña de Henríquez, built up the first school for Dominican girls in 1881. She strongly advocated independence of her motherland, wrote a series of nationalist poems and also criticized the nations’ dictator in 1884. These keynote works supported women’s empowerment in the Dominican Republic.

In the final two decades of the twentieth century, a group of democratic female Dominican writers started to emerge. In 1990, Julia Alvarez published García Girls Lost Their Accents, bringing immigrant literature to a mainstream readership. The works of Dominican feminist writers show poverty, cultural and intergenerational conflicts, changes in the family structure brought about by new forms of education and the emancipation of children and women. Meanwhile, some contemporary female writers in the Dominican Republic sharply manifested transnationalism in their works, for instance, Geographies of Home in 1999, Soledad in 2000, The Song of the Water Saints in 2001, to name a few. Contemporary literature injected new elements towards the liberty of Dominican women.

Dominican Women are now significantly the breadwinners for their households, and the unemployment rate of the female labor force dropped from 33.6 percent in 1991 to 22.2 percent in 2016. It is much easier for women to find a job in rural areas in spite of lower income.

In recent years, there has been considerable traction in anti-violence campaigns pursuing women’s empowerment in the Dominican Republic. On the annual “International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women”, many in the Dominican Republic held a demonstration, calling for the prevention and elimination of all forms of violence against women. On the same day, Dominican Republic president Danilo Medina appealed to all sectors of society to attach greater importance to violent crimes against women and to do more to combat the culture.

One of the latest activities took place on Nov. 1, 2017, in Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic. Hundreds of men participated in a march under the slogan of “Stop Violence Against Women”, calling for measures on protecting women and reducing femicide.

ONU Mujeres, a branch of U.N. Women in the Dominican Republic, carries out high-quality training for gender equality, by means of providing a diverse range of curriculums, tools and services on topics such as anti-violence, and the economics of female wellbeing.

While significant progress on women’s empowerment in the Dominican Republic has been achieved, greater efforts are still needed for further elimination of gender-related violence, discrimination and other hidden inequalities in this nation. Gender equalities and other promising aspects of protecting Dominican women require a significant commitment in government budgets and public concern for a change of culture.

– Xin Gao
Photo: Flickr

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