The following is the full English transcript of the interview Tian Spain of LAB conducted with Sergia Galván of Colectiva Mujer y Salud (CMS). We also include an English translation of two campaigns CMS have recently conducted at the end of the interview. To read the article about violence against women in the Dominican Republic, please click here.
LAB: Can you please tell us a bit about the work your organisation is involved with at the moment?
SG: Colectiva Mujer y Salud is a feminist organisation that has been working for more than 28 years, defending women’s rights, with an emphasis on sexual and reproductive rights and active citizen participation of women. At this moment, our work is focused on advocacy and public policies for women’s rights. We work by monitoring judicial reform processes in the DR. For example, we have monitored the Dominican Constitution and we are currently working on the modification of the Criminal Code. Our Criminal Code dates from 1800 and is extremely harmful for women’s rights. We are monitoring the Criminal Code reform and have been involved in debates on this for the last decade. We are also currently working on influencing the Civil Code, which is undergoing modification with regard to the Family Code and the adoption of a comprehensive law against violence towards women.
Apart from the work we do monitoring these reforms, we are also involved in many other areas ranging from writing proposals to Congress, advocacy work with decision makers and organising citizen demonstrations to support rights. We are constantly organising marches to Congress, picketing and demonstrating on these issues. We work on decriminalising abortion. In the DR, abortion is criminalised under all circumstances, even when the mother’s life is at risk or in cases of rape. For a long time now, we have been fighting to decriminalise abortion when the life or health of the mother is at risk or in cases of rape. This fight keeps us constantly mobilised.
We have a Women’s Citizenship Observatory through which we monitor 6 or 7 different issues. One of these is on political participation; we have a permanent campaign on this issue which you can find on our website called Zero Mujeres, so we are constantly denouncing the exclusion of women from the political arena. In the Observatory we monitor cases of violence, for example, we permanently monitor femicide and rape cases, we publish public newsletters, we create public pressure and with this we monitor maternal mortality. We also publish information and statistics on maternal mortality and do advocacy work on this.
Furthermore we work in areas of sexual diversity and exclusion of women more generally. All this we do through the Observatory, which allows us to be permanently active and generating public opinion and citizen activism on each of these issues.
We also work on the issue of HIV, so that the policies on HIV reflect reality and the experience of Dominican women. We work on training, awareness and information, and also providing palliative care for those women living with HIV and children in vulnerable situations with respect to HIV.
Another issue we work on is monitoring the international commitments of the Dominican State on human rights. We monitor the Belém do Pará Convention, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. We do this by producing shadow reports, presenting shadow reports where the State must be held accountable, denouncing the non-compliance of the State with regard to their responsibilities as set out in these agreements and also strengthening the capacity of women and leaders in public sectors so they can also monitor and remedy State compliance.
Our website gives a wider perspective of all the work we do.
LAB: In your opinion, would you say that the violation of women’s rights in the DR is more serious than in other countries in the region?
SG: In general terms of Latin America and the Caribbean, the situation of women in the DR is serious. I think there are certain nuances in some countries more than others, but in general terms, the situation here is very severe. If I had to make a comparison with the DR, I would say we differ in some aspects to other countries in the region. For example, we are one of the few countries in the region: Chile, Nicaragua, and Honduras, who have complete and absolute criminalisation of abortion. This complete and absolute criminalisation of abortion also impacts on other indicators, which are extremely high in relation to other countries in the region, for example, maternal mortality. The levels of maternal mortality are very high in the DR, in relation to other countries in the region. This is directly related to the criminalisation of abortion.
Another difference we have which I think is very pertinent, is that here we have the Concordat. This is an agreement between the Vatican and the DR. Through this Concordat, the Catholic Church hierarchy interferes with all the policies that are related to sexual and reproductive rights and health, and women’s rights in general terms. For this reason in the DR, there is a total absence of sexual education in schools. We do not have sexual education programmes in schools of any type. In the matter of teenage pregnancies, we are the 16th country out of 37 countries with the highest incidence of teenage pregnancies. This represents an extremely precarious situation.
We are also at the top of the list of Spanish-speaking countries in the Caribbean of HIV prevalence. It is extremely worrying that if the prevalence of HIV is 1% in general terms, then it is 0.7% among women from low-education backgrounds. This shows a high prevalence of HIV, only comparable to other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. We therefore have extremely high indicators.
Women still have a high level of unemployment of 21.5%. This is discriminatory, because it is double the level of unemployment in men. We also have an extremely high salary gap. Dominican women earn 69% of what a man earns for the same job. This salary gap is truly unacceptable.
With respect to maternal mortality, another serious trend that we have, apart from the extremely high maternal mortality, is that 65%, nearly 66% of maternal mortality occurs in very young women, women between 13-29 years of age. Therefore this has a great impact on young women. Teenage maternity is the second highest cause of girls leaving school. This shows that we have serious problems.
Although this doesn’t necessarily differentiate us from the rest of the countries in the region, we have one of the highest rates of femicides. In the DR, every year around 200 women are killed. The situation of violence against women is very severe. In addition to this, the DR is one of countries in the region with the highest incidence of trafficking and smuggling of women.
LAB: Is this trafficking of women internal within the country or external to other countries?
SG: Women are trafficked internally and also externally to countries in Europe, and in the last decade, including to countries in Latin America, such as Argentina and more recently Chile. So the trafficking and smuggling situation here is alarming, internally as well, and the fact that the girls who are being trafficked are very young. This situation also relates to Haitian women, who experience high levels of exclusion, marginalization and violence. The women who cross the border, migrant women and those of Haitian descent, suffer particular experiences of oppression. This also has to do with racism, because it is an extremely racist country, although the racism is very subtle, and this affects women in particular.
LAB: How exactly does this racism affect women?
SG: It is very particular and is also linked to racism in relation to trafficking and smuggling. It is also related to employment discrimination of women, such as exclusion of women in certain areas of the work field. Another aspect, which is very severe, is how the women’s body and sexuality is used under racial preconceptions and this forms part of the discrimination. Women of Haitian origin, for example, are closely affected by this situation of racism in the country.
LAB: Do you as women who work to defend women’s rights experience violence because of the work you do?
SG: In the DR, this situation has barely been documented, but there exists a permanent environment of harassment, violence and exclusion of women activists in the area of sexual and reproductive rights and violence against women. The Catholic Church hierarchy insults us, humiliates us, incites hate against us, defames us and this is constant. Our web sites, our accounts and our pages are constantly sabotaged. They burst into our demonstrations, including the fundamentalist groups such as the Pro-Life Movement.
We also constantly under threat and receive assaults from violent men in the cases that we investigate. However, so far these intimidatory measures have not had serious repercussions yet, apart from a case in Santiago of violence against a woman. The aggressor, who was in jail, was plotting how to find all the feminist activists involved in the case and one of the lawyers involved in the case was attacked.
The most common occurrences we experience are inciting hate, being accused of being anti-patriotic, anti-Dominican, for example when we participate in a hearing for the Inter-American Commission or produce a shadow report, we suffer direct attacks. We are constantly being harassed and defamed for our lobbying on abortion. Although we have a lot of evidence of this, such as the letters we are sent and eyewitness accounts, we have little actual documentation about these occurrences.
LAB: It seems that one of greatest problems your country faces in the influence of the Church
SG: Yes, the Catholic Church hierarchy has a tremendous influence on all the policies that deal with sexual and reproductive rights and women’s rights in general. An example of how far this influence is exerted is when we were discussing a Constitutional reform. Article 30 was being laid down, which establishes respecting life from conception to death, but we understood that this Article would be manipulated to support the reform on abortion legislation, so we opposed this Article. Then in the Easter of 2010 or 2009, I don’t remember exactly, the Catholic Church published a list of all the congressmen and women who were opposed to this Article, and in their sermon, which is televised throughout the whole country, they mentioned these names when the election campaign was in full swing and called on people to not vote for these people and put these names on posters and these posters were even put up in polling stations.
LAB: What is the attitude of the Dominican people? Is it a conservative society?
SG: It is a society with double standards, for example, in the DR a high percentage of the population are in favour of decriminalization of abortion. Out of 25 countries in Latin America, we are in 8th position for being favourable towards the decriminalization of abortion. Among educated, university populations the figure is more than 70% of those who are in favour and more than 60% among the general population. Yet in spite of this, it remains punishable. The very congressmen and women who are in favour for decriminalizing abortion realize nothing can be done because of the Cardinal.
The Catholic Church hierarchy influences all of the State’s policies and the State does not dare contradict any of their policies. We are truly under a confessional State. The Cardinal imposes the rules of play. We are yet to find a leader who is able to stand up to him. They all openly say, we completely agree with you, but we can’t contradict, not the Church, but the Cardinal. This is a person who has a lot of special economic power linked to the most reactionary, conservative sectors of the conservative oligarchy of this country. The situation is highly complex and this is why any progress in the area of sexual and reproductive rights does not get passed in this country. Here you cannot distribute condoms in secondary schools.
LAB: As an organization, what changes do you think are necessary to improve the situation of women in your country?
SG: Firstly, as we see it, we are convinced that after so many years of struggle, there needs to be a change regarding the influence of the Catholic Church hierarchy in the State’s decisions. This change has to take place on a profound level. There have to be greater levels of progress in guaranteeing the exercise of sexual and reproductive rights. In spite of the fact that the DR has signed and ratified nearly all of the Conventions, Treaties and Agreements on sexual and reproductive rights, this is merely paperwork. We need reforms. We have to reform the Criminal Code to decriminalize abortion. We have to modify the Civil Code to be able to allow same sex marriage, or at least, to not discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This is a huge challenge that needs to be taken on. I believe that if we can advance in the area of sexual and reproductive rights and achieve this separation or reduce the level of influence the Catholic Church exercises over the State’s decisions, I believe this would be a good way to move forward.
We are also fighting to revoke the Concordat. The Concordat gives the Catholic Church hierarchy power to influence the educational curriculum. So this is what we need to work on first, producing changes in rights, mainly sexual and reproductive rights. As well as this, we need to work on the area of women’s political participation and equality. There are still very disparate levels of women’s political participation, so we need a majority of women voting, a majority of women in political parties. At the level of decision-making we are still in a minority. Women hold only 7% of local council positions. Out of the 21 Ministries that exist in the country, women head only 4. In the Senate, out of the 30 senators, 4 are women, and this is a lot in comparison to what it used to be. Barely 20% of women are in congress, whilst the Law establishes it should be 33%.
So we have many challenges to create equality in political participation, this equality that is referred to in the Constitution, and to continue fighting the serious problem of violence against women. One example of this is the case of Esperancita, an extremely severe case, but this is a daily occurrence here, given the total indifference of the decision makers. She was a young girl who was pregnant, but who was also suffering from leukaemia, and when she had her first medical consultation, it was suggested the pregnancy should be terminated, but the doctors who were treating her refused to terminate the pregnancy. However, they also refused to give her chemotherapy until she had reached 14 weeks of pregnancy, to ensure the life of the foetus. After campaigning intensely, we managed to get them to give her chemotherapy, but by then it was too late, and they did not terminate the pregnancy. This girl died of a haemorrhage when she had a miscarriage. It was an inhumane and cruel case of torture. This girl was crying from the pain, but they wouldn’t give her tranquilizers for fear of aborting the foetus.
Another child of 12 years, Lucita, was pregnant and was forced to carry her pregnancy to full term, even though she almost died. When I went to visit her in hospital in the Intensive Care Unit, I was extremely moved by how this child, when she gained consciousness, asked for a doll. The image of this child in the Intensive Care Unit with her doll, forced to give birth, is extremely cruel and tortuous and it is also a serious violation human rights. It is unbelievable to see this happening now in the 21st century.
To see the campaign in Spanish please click here.
On the 8th March, Colectiva Mujer y Salud and CIPAF acknowledged the progress made by Dominican women as a result of the tenacious fight and persistence of many women throughout history. This progress can be observed due to the broadening of rights in the civil, political, social and economic sphere.
However, we still face great challenges before we can enjoy full citizenship, which is why we support the demands that the Feminist Forum have been proposing for some time now:
Call for a greater commitment from the authorities towards reducing the employment gap between men and women
Promote housing policies and access to basic services for disadvantaged women and women heads of household
Take measures to assure reconciliation between family responsibilities and work obligations for women
Implement the constitutional mandate of shared responsibility of domestic work and childcare between men and women
Assign the necessary resources from the State’s budget to eliminate violence against women and children
Approve and effectively apply the Law of Prevention, Care, Punishment and Elimination of Violence Against Women
Strengthen measures of prevention, monitoring and punishment of abuse and commercial sexual exploitation of children and physical and sexual abuse, and all types of violence against children and adolescents
Establish urgent measures to reduce the maternal mortality rate to the levels set in the Millennium Development Goals
Decriminalisation of voluntary termination of pregnancy within the first 12 weeks of gestation, when this is the result of rape, or when the health or life of the woman is at risk, or when the pregnancy is the result of non-consensual fertilization
Guarantee gender equality at power and decision making levels in line with Article 39 of the Constitution, which establishes the principle of equality between men and women and the State’s obligation to promote balanced participation of both in government bodies
Guarantee the modification of the Dominican Civil Code for same sex marriage, free of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity
Guarantee equal opportunities and treatment in employment through the incorporation of the necessary provisions for protection of the homosexual, transsexual and bisexual population into the Labour Code, avoiding discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace and establishing measures for sanctioning discrimination
Sexual education in schools, which is scientific, secular and eliminates discriminatory treatment against pregnant adolescents in school, prohibiting the exclusion of pregnant adolescents from the education system or forcing them to change their course
Provide national public policy with promoting the use of information and communication technologies with a focus on gender equality as a strategy to increase the competiveness levels of women in the labour market in the area of information and awareness.
Improve Dominican women’s access to information and communication technologies as a means of overcoming the digital gap between men and women.
Incorporate gender perspective in the national environmental legal framework and in environmental policies and plans.
Include actions directed towards eliminating violence against migrant Haitian women, especially those who are smuggled and trafficked, in the National Plan for Regularization of Foreigners referred to in the regulations for the implementation of the Migration Act, between 2011-2013.
Work towards policies aimed at guaranteeing the disabled population, and women in particular, specialised health services and low cost medicines. Offer care and support services to disabled women who need long term care.
Propose policies aimed at building decent housing, adapted to the particular needs of disabled people, with an emphasis on access for women and women heads of household.
Maternal Mortality Campaign:
Feminists call upon State to make maternal mortality a priority
In 2012 there were 175 maternal deaths, 2 more than in 2011
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic
Colectiva Mujer y Salud (Women and Health Collective) through the Observatorio Ciudadanía Activa de las Mujeres (Women’s Active Citizenship Observatory) have drawn the attention of the authorities to the need for providing a response to the issue of maternal mortality, and at the same time demand that the solution to this problem be considered a national priority.
The rate of maternal mortality is a measure of women’s health conditions, social and economic development and of the exercise of human rights.
They explained that in this regard, the country has made a commitment through the Millennium Development Goals and National Development Strategy to reduce maternal mortality to 47 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2015.
The Collective outlines that the new government ratified this goal, however, the slow pace of its reduction indicates that it will not be possible to attain this goal unless they revolutionise the health system and implement a national response that goes beyond speeches, affectations and regrets. It requires an enormous social commitment with a high impact response in coordination with national development policies.
CMS indicates that in 2012 there were 175 maternal deaths, 2 more deaths than in 2011. They highlight that the majority of these deaths are avoidable and the victims’ age is a factor, which adds to the severity of the situation: 65.71% occurred in women under 29 years of age.
They called on the authorities to make maternal mortality a national priority, which amongst other things means linking reduction in maternal mortality to the development of social policies; improving the quality of care; reducing impunity though effective punishment of healthcare professionals when negligence or violation of protocol and standards occur.
Adding to these demands, they are calling for the decriminalisation of abortion when the women’s health and life are at risk and in cases of rape; a high quality sexual education in schools which is integrative, scientific and secular; implementation of permanent prevention strategies; involvement of civil society and community members in preventative actions and social auditing of maternal deaths.