November 25th was declared International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women at the first Feminist Encuentro for Latin America and the Caribbean held in Bogota, Colombia, July 18-21, 1981. The “feminist encuentros” are conferences of feminists from Latin America who come together every 2-3 years in a different Latin American country in order to exchange experiences and to reflect upon the state of the women’s movement.  At that first Encuentro, women systematically denounced all forms of gender violence from domestic battery to rape and sexual harassment to state violence including torture and abuse of women political prisoners. November 25th was chosen to commemorate the violent assassination of the Mirabal sisters (Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa) on November 25, 1960 by the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic.  In 1999, the United Nations officially recognized November 25th as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Who were the Mirabal sisters?
Patria, Minerva, Maria Teresa and Dedé were born in Ojo de Agua near the city of Salcedo, in the Cibao region of the Dominican Republic. “Las Mariposas” (“the Butterflies”), as they were called, were political activists and highly visible symbols of resistance to Trujillo’s dictatorship.  They were repeatedly jailed, along with their husbands, for their revolutionary activities toward democracy and justice.  On November 25, 1960, three of the Mirabal sisters, Minerva, Patria and Maria Teresa were murdered, along with Rufino de la Cruz, their driver, by members of Trujillo’s secret police.  The three women were being driven by Rufino to Puerto Plata to visit their imprisoned husbands.  The bodies of the three sisters were found at the bottom of a precipice, broken and strangled.  The news of their brutal assassinations shocked and outraged the nation and helped propel the anti-Trujillo movement.  Trujillo was assassinated on May 30, 1961 and his regime fell soon after.
The Mirabal sisters have become symbols of both popular and feminist resistance.  In the years since their deaths, they have been commemorated in poems, songs and books.  An exhibition of their belongings has been mounted at the National Museum of History and Geography in the Dominican Republic, a stamp has been issued in their memory and a private foundation is raising money to renovate a family museum in their hometown. On March 8, 1997, International Women’s Day, a mural was unveiled on the 137-foot obelisk (that Trujillo had erected in his honor) in Santo Domingo.  It depicts the images of the four sisters.  The painting on the obelisk is entitled “Un Canto a la Libertad” (A Song to Liberty).
For more information see Julia Alvarez’s fictional account of the Mirabal sisters in her 1994 novel, “In the Time of the Butterflies;” Bernard Diederich’s book “Trujillo: The Death of the Dictator;” and “The Mirabal Sisters,” in Connexions, an International Women’s Quarterly, No. 39, 1992.