DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Advocacy for women under domestic violence must work from ‘ground up’

Dominican Republic elder woman
Due to their dependence on male partners for financial and emotional support, women often continue to suffer in silence in the Dominican Republic. Silence and isolation often feeds into violence against women. This elder woman stands in the doorway of her home in Barahona. Image: Davinder Kumar/Plan International

The reality begins to sink in when Deputy Attorney General Reyes, a woman herself says the police and the judges – even female judges – have cultural prejudices and myths around domestic violence. For women, starting from the perpetrator to family members, to the community, police and the judiciary, there are multiple barriers and prejudices to reporting violence and seeking justice. At every level victims drop out in their attempt to stop the violence. This often happens to victims as they often return to the cycle of violence that also often continues, if they manage to survive.

“It takes on average 5 years for victims of violence to realize their status and up to 15 years for women to come out of the circle of domestic violence,” says Reyes. Reyes, who holds the highest office in Dominican government for a woman, is trying to tackle Dominican’s systemic culture of gender-bias head on, starting with sensitizing her key constituents in the legislature, including the executive and the judiciary branches of the Dominican Republic’s government.

“The majority of political leaders are male,” says Reyes. “They do not necessarily look at the female perspective. We need to revolutionize the system,” she outlines.

It may well warrant efforts on the scale of a revolution to save the women of the Dominican Republic from violence, as lack of funds and inherent gender discrimination means that women are ‘way down’ on the priority list.

In Barahona province, 17-year-old Orvis is on the frontline taking his anti-violence message straight to the communities and homes where violence occurs. He spends his after school hours in nearby villages going door to door raising awareness on the issue of domestic violence. Like other provinces, alcoholism, drug-abuse and domestic violence is rife in Barahona’s villages. “In my village there is a man who used to beat his wife with a stick. He thought it was his right to beat his wife and so did others in the village. I told him that he was committing a crime and that he could be jailed. It took some efforts and a few visits and he finally stopped,” outlines Orvis.

Orvis is part of a small force of young people who are volunteers for child rights organization Plan International. As part of the focus, the young people work in communities, raising awareness to stop the cycle of violence which affects the lives of children in families where violence is routine. Having what advocates call  “devastating consequences” for the women and children who experience or witness it, experts believe children who grow up in families where there is repeated violence may suffer a range of behavioral and emotional trauma.

Organizations, like Plan, can often only address limited aspects of society problems in the Dominican Republic that often run deep. The solution, like the work of Deputy Attorney General Reyes, is now trying to filter down from the top, but advocates say it also must start from the bottom grassroots – from families and communities upwards.

It means reaching people like 60-year-old Lourdes who have resigned to their fate.  She says, “It is common in our community to hit women. It is a tradition.” After suffering 23 years of incessant violence, Lourdes had no other choice but to separate from her husband as she was certain she would be killed one day. “He used to attack me with a machete. He nearly slit my daughter’s throat,” she adds.

The Dominican Republic is certainly not the only country where women face indiscriminate violence and death in their daily lives just because of their gender. Violence against women is a universal phenomenon. It is not only restricted to developing nations. It persists in all countries and cultures across the world with cases that can be ‘alarmingly’ common and accepted as ‘normal’ within numerous societies.

According to United Nations data in Australia, Canada and Israel, 40 to 70 per cent of female murder victims were killed by their partners. In the United States, one-third of women murdered each year are killed by intimate partners. In Guatemala, two women are murdered, on average, each day. In South Africa, a woman is killed every six hours by an intimate partner. In 2007 reports from India have indicated that 22 women were killed each day in dowry-related murders.

Women aged 15 to 44 currently are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, motor accidents, war or malaria, says the World Bank. However, today there is still little comparable data that has surveyed the magnitude of violence against women, and little to guide policy or monitor implementation. The often used reference point for numerous stop-domestic-violence advocates is a WHO – World Health Organization multi-country study in 2005 that found that between 15 and 71 per cent of women reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner at “some point in their lives.”

Advocates and experts believe that this form of violence results in physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health problems, among other issues.

Alta Gracia, for instance, is now battling serious repercussions from the attack that nearly killed her. Physically and psychologically scarred she contemplated suicide on a number of occasions, but changed her mind thinking of her son. Pointing to her scarred face which has still not healed she asks: ”Who will ever love me?” Battling depression she hopes a reconstructive surgery can help her to face the world again.

Her perpetrator, like many others, is still absconding justice.

(Special note: some names have in this story been changed to protect identities.)


In the Dominican Republic poverty is becoming more urban. As urban poverty increases, domestic violence increases. This video produced by shows the vast amount of deplorable conditions that still exist just outside the capital city of Santa Domingo in one of the urban slums called La Puya. Today the push to make improvements in urban problems is an ongoing initiative supported by the Dominican government as they work to try to reach the UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015.


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Davinder Kumar is an award–winning development journalist and global press officer for child rights organization Plan International. In addition to WNN, his work has appeared on The Huffington Post, CNN, Al Jazeera English and AlertNet/Reuters. Kumar is also a Chevening Human Rights Scholar. You can follow Kumar on Twitter via: @davtox


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