Lack Of Women’s Rights Led To Death Of Leukemia Patient In The DR
In the wake of the death of a pregnant sixteen-year-old leukemia patient, the Dominican Republic’s controversial abortion ban has gained international attention once more. The young girl’s tragic case has sparked discussion within the country and around as world as women’s rights organizations press the legislature to reconsider the abortion ban that eventually led to the girl’s death.
If not for the Dominican Constitution, which bans abortion under any circumstances (including rape, incest and if the life of the mother is at risk), this could have been prevented. The victim was forced to wait approximately 20 days after being admitted to the hospital before receiving a possibly life-saving treatment because chemotherapy might have terminated her 13-week pregnancy. Her death, brought on after cardiac arrest that followed an earlier miscarriage and complications with her treatment, has renewed the controversy over abortion in the Dominican Republic. The debate heated even further when her mother, Rosa Hernandez, told CNN “My daughter’s life is first. I know that (abortion) is a sin and that it goes against the law … but my daughter’s health is first.”
In the Dominican Republic, there is no separation of church and state. It is a very proud Catholic country and it is clear that the anti-abortion law draws from religious rhetoric. The Dominican Constitution states “the right to life is inviolable from the moment of conception and until death.”
Women’s rights organizations around the world and within the country are using this case to argue against the strict federal mandate banning abortion. This also brings to the table why feminism is still important in Dominican Republic.
The girl in question is just one victim of the oppressive nature women live under in DR. Men are dominant in this country from which I draw my heritage, fueled by machismo and a system that is challenged by virtually no one.
Machismo, which lies at the root of the culture’s problem, is defined as a strong sense of male, masculine pride and an exaggerated exertion of masculinity. Men are strong, men are dominant, men are conquerors. Women are left to be the submissive housewives. They cook, clean, care for the children and put their husband’s needs above their own.
Before becoming housewives, women serve as being “notches” on a man’s belt. By the standards of machismo, the hyper-masculine male is un conquistador, and women are there for them to take. This aggressiveness is seen in the way Dominican men pursue women, as if they have a kind of right to them.
This hyperbolized stereotype isn’t true of every Dominican man, but for some reason it is idealized in the DR and it rules the culture and society. Men are expected to be dominant and aggressive while women are left to be their victims.
Until 1997, not only was violence against women in the Dominican Republic legal, but it was not even seen as a violation of human rights. It was only after pressure from international human and women’s right organizers and DR’s own internal Asociación Dominicana Pro-Bienestar de la Familia that the federal legislature passed “La ley contra la violence domestica,” or “the law against domestic violence.” However, that was only 15 years ago. Dominican women are still far from achieving equal rights and socio-economic equality to men.
The law against domestic violence has been slow to take effect since its implementation. According to data from 2007, up to one-third of women in the DR has suffered physical violence at the hands of their husbands or other men, and more than half the victims received no help. Thus far in 2012, there have been almost 100 cases of husband-on-wife femicides –and it is widely known among the natives that the Dominican police are corrupt, with the price of buying off your local police official starting as low as 500 pesos.
However, there is much backlash against femicide in the Dominican Republic; the men and women of the country are appalled when such a tragedy occurs. This was seen during the recent mourning day, when hundreds picketed outside of Congress because the recent string of husbands killing their wives.
The rights to freedom of speech, assembly and association are all upheld by the law regardless of gender. Women’s rights organizations on the island have used this to their advantage in promoting women’s political participation and raising awareness of gender-based violence. The women of the Dominican Republic have realized that changing the machismo ways of their fathers, brothers, and uncles is a feat that seems nearly impossible. However, they have discovered that if they protest long enough and scream loud enough, they can start to gain attention on an international scale. When outside pressure is placed on the reluctant legislature, the Dominican people may finally see change.
Written by Alicia Perez
Opinions stated in our editorials do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Feminspire and its staff as a whole, but instead reflect the opinions of the writer.
May 22, 2013
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