Women’s Rights Violations in the Dominican Republic
Although there have been advances on the legislative and policy front regarding women, many of the reforms exist only on paper. In fact, violence against women is actually increasing, says Tian Spain.
The Dominican Republic has made the transition from an agro-industrial economy to a service economy in the last few decades. Despite the economic growth that has occurred overall, these changes have not been reflected in improving women’s access to resources. Violence against women has increased, as has femicide, and legislation introduced has proved ineffectual. Even though there is a National Plan of Gender Equality (PLANEG 2007-2017) this has not been implemented due to the lack of necessary budget allocations in each institution. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs has the second smallest budget in public administration and the Women’s Advocate Office does not even have its own budget.
Despite the Law against Domestic Violence being in force for 15 years, violence against women and girls continues to rise. No government has allocated the necessary attention or resources to confront the issue. The fight against femicide and gender violence does not even have an allocated budget and as a consequence the country only has a few refuges for abused women and their children. There is a deplorable lack of care centres for victims; there are no assistance programmes for the 800 children who are orphaned every year due to femicides and no prevention programmes or widespread awareness campaigns at a national level. Governments continue to implement outdated and counter-productive legislation, such as the absurd practice of victims being made to deliver subpoenas to their aggressors, among others.
Women are still traditionally seen as domestic care providers, whose place is at home and not in the workplace. With regard to women’s economic opportunities, there are few public policies that promote the generation of female employment and foster reconciliation between work and family life, in such a way that the State, and not women, take some responsibility for care work (children, elderly people). This is why, despite that fact that women have overtaken men in the field of education (making up 62.2% of university enrolments), they still constitute the majority of the unemployed population. Moreover, women who are economical dependent are often obliged to remain with their aggressors.
Reproductive and sexual rights are integral to women's rights. However, given the stronghold of the Catholic Church over State policies, the Dominican Republic continues to be one of the few countries in the world that criminalises abortion under all circumstances and maintains a high rate of maternal mortality. On the 17th September 2009, the National Congress passed Article 30 of the New Constitution, establishing the right to life as inviolable from conception until death. The passing of this Article was due to many members of Congress wanting to make it constitutionally impossible to approve the criminal Code, which would have decriminalised abortion in cases such as when the mother’s life is at risk, or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. In doing so the State directly violated international agreements such as CEDAW (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women), ICESCR (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) and ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights).
According to the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights – CLADEM (http://www.cladem.org/), 20% of women aged between 15 and 49 have experienced some form of physical violence in their life and 30% of married women or those in relationships have suffered emotional, physical or sexual violence at the hands of their husband or partner. Impunity for these crimes is rife, as shown by figures from the Statistics Department of the Public Prosecutor's Office of the National District in Santo Domingo from January to September 2008: the Violence Prevention and Care Unit presented 8,316 reports of gender violence and 17 convictions.
Femicide is now the primary cause of death among women of reproductive age in the DR. Recent figures, according to CIPAF (see below), show that 163 women were murdered between January-October 2012 in the Dominican Republic. Aside from the figures for femicide and sexual and domestic violence, the National Observatory on Migration and Trafficking of Women and Children, places the Dominican Republic among the top four countries in the world with the highest number of female victims trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation. Child sexual abuse and forced sexual initiation are also widespread problems, but research and estimates on these problems are scarce.
There is a glaring lack of any recent studies analysing the widespread discrimination and violence against women and this has hampered political advocacy. Some investigations on violence against migrant women, have detected cases of sexual harassment and fraud at official border crossings, rape and murder in the “bush”, abuse in the border market region and in family homes where Haitian women work, forced sexual labour and trafficking of women and girls. Despite the dearth of research and analysis into women’s rights in DR, two organisations: CIPAF and Colectiva Mujer y Salud work at the grassroots to try to change the current situation and campaign for the protection of women’s basic rights. CIPAF, alongside other NGOs, are campaigning to include femicide as a crime typified in the Criminal Code, so it is not merely classified as homicide or murder. LAB also spoke to Colectiva Mujer y Salud (CMS) about the vital work they are doing in the DR, including campaigning for the legislation of abortion in certain circumstances where women are forced to endure a form of cruel and inhumane torture.
CIPAF: Centro de Investigación para la acción femenina
One of CIPAF’s many campaigns focuses on promoting equal parenting. In spite of the strong patriarchal tradition in Dominican society, the father figure is conspicuously absent in the domestic realm. Traditional gender role division encourages this absence by assigning men the role of provider, belonging to the outside world and having a public presence, while women are left being solely responsible for domestic duties. CIPAF are campaigning, with the support of the ILO (International Labour Organization), to promote the ratification by the Dominican government, of the ILO Convention No.156 on Workers with Family Responsibilities. The aim of this is to open an important dialogue on finding new ways of parenting, given that this Convention seeks not only to reconcile work with family and domestic responsibilities, but also calls for fostering public policies and actions that involve men in a more equal distribution of care and family responsibilities. CIPAF have proposed 29th July as Day of Equal Parenting, calling on men and women to participate in a new concept of parenting. Faced with the avalanche of advertising that promotes machismo and the image of men being in the street and at the workplace, CIPAF present proposals, models and multiple examples of loving and caring fathers, involved in the development of their children, including participating in the daily tasks for their care and upbringing.
Policy promotion for male and female workers with family responsibilities is one of the ILO’s priorities in Latin American and the Caribbean, with the aim of creating greater gender equality. These policies aim to increase women’s labour participation, diminish the income gap and the informal nature of women’s work, by removing the barriers that women workers face, especially those who must reconcile family life with work. For more information about ILO’s reports on work and family, please see http://igenero.oit.org.pe/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=174&Itemid=113.
CIPAF are also campaigning against the draft proposal of the Criminal Code, which was approved on the 16th October 2012 by the Chamber of Deputies. It proposes to eliminate punishing gender violence against women by only considering domestic violence serious in cases where the victim is killed, suffers a permanent disability or one that lasts for more than 90 days, as well as reducing the sentence for incest and sexual assault, minimising rape of minors and penalising abortion under all circumstances. Femicide is also limited to those acts solely committed by partners, effectively excluding all women who are murdered by those who are not their partners. According to the Attorney General’s Office, 1,382 cases of femicide where reported from 2005 to November 2011, and 660 of these women were killed by men with whom they did not have a relationship.
These proposed articles are considered a serious setback and negation of women’s fundamental rights. More than 62,374 reports of domestic violence and 5,657 reports of sex offences were registered by the Attorney General’s Office in 2011, clearly demonstrating that these are issues which require urgent attention and remedy.
Colectiva Mujer y Salud
To read the full English transcript of the hard hitting interview Tian Spain conducted with Segia Galvan of Colectiva Mujer Y Salud, please click here.
Colectiva Mujer y Salud (CMS) work to promote comprehensive healthcare for women throughout all stages of their life, through defending human rights and in particular, sexual and reproductive rights. Included among their campaigns is the right to legal and safe abortions. They cite one particular case of Lucita, an 11 year old girl, who was raped by her sister’s husband and became pregnant. Under Dominican law, abortion is illegal under any circumstance, so the child is being forced to continue with this unwanted pregnancy, in spite of the added risks to her health. Another compelling case was of Esperancita, a 16 year old girl who became pregnant when she was suffering from leukaemia. For fear of falling foul of Article 37 of the Constitution, doctors refused to give her a therapeutic abortion so that she could start receiving chemotherapy, and she died. It is situations like these that CMS see as State femicide and believe would not occur in a Secular State, so they are calling for the decriminalisation of abortion in cases of rape, incest and when the life and health of the woman is at risk. Their campaign for legal and safe abortion is highlighted by the fact that 95% of abortions in Latin America are illegal, clandestine and unsafe and are the cause of 11% of maternal deaths in the region.
Alongside this they are campaigning for sexual education in schools, for public policies that help to prevent and effectively sanction sexual violence against women and children, and to ensure that sexual offenders are effectively dealt with by the law. They also advocate for a SecularState, promote active citizenship of women through the Observatory of Women’s Rights and monitor national legislation and State compliance with International Human Rights Treaties. As highlighted in LAB’s interview with CMS, they believe that the Catholic Church’s heavy influence in the DR is fundamental to the oppression and violation of women’s rights in their country.
CMS are also implementing a project, financed by the AECID (Spanish Agency for International Cooperation), for improving the condition of Haitian women migrants in the Dominican Republic. These women experience high levels of discrimination and violence due to their gender and race. Migrant Haitian women, including those who are displaced and those who are in transit across the Dominican-Haitian border, find themselves in particularly vulnerable situations and are victims of gender based violence. Many migrate to improve their life situation; some have been displaced by the 2010 earthquake and others more recently due to the post-electoral violence of April and May 2011 in Haiti. Women in the region experience high levels of normalised violence such as physical, sexual, economic, verbal and psychological violence, including high risks of illegal human trafficking and forced sexual labour. The outbreaks of cholera in Haiti (2010-11) meant that the border was closed on various occasions, which meant that many women crossed the border via non-official posts, where they were subjected to robbery, sexual violence and in extreme cases, femicide.
The number of Haitian women who report these incidents is extremely low, given the lack of awareness of their rights and the inadequate service of care centres in the Dominican Republic and their scarcity in Haiti. In equal measure, the majority of these women do not speak Spanish, do not know where to go for help, are unfamiliar with the system, come from a context where institutions are almost powerless and are afraid of being repatriated. Other reasons for not denouncing these incidents are similar to those of Dominican women who are assaulted: social or family pressure, religious beliefs, “learned hopelessness”, fear of the aggressor, economic dependence and distrust in institutions to protect them or resolve the situation.
From an institutional perspective, there is a great deficiency in support networks, general health services and help for post-traumatic stress disorder. Added to this is the general disregard for women’s rights at a local and national level, discriminatory and xenophobic attitudes of the authorities and service providers, as well as generalised impunity for the perpetrators. Haitian women face multiple discrimination in the Dominican Republic, due to being women (not men), Haitian (not Dominican), poor (not rich, or middle class), having an illegal status and being afrodescendents (not “indias”).
To read the report: “Una Mirada a la violencia contra las mujeres haitianas, en transito y desplazadas en la frontera dominico-haitiana” please click here.
Although the Dominican Republic is a country enjoying the benefits of modernity and a booming tourist industry, it would seem, that women’s rights are stuck firmly in the past. Dominican women and women of Haitian origin are subjected to serious human rights abuses, related to patriarchy, antiquated legislation, inadequate services and ineffectual support systems. It is not enough to merely sign international treaties and agreements if these are not adhered to. The inability of the State to act independently of the Catholic Church is another crucial setback to women’s sexual and reproductive rights. Women still do not enjoy respect and equality, and fundamental reforms in legislation and shifts in public opinion are vital for these new foundations to be laid.