“Never before have I seen a woman that’s eight months pregnant killed by her husband, and then he shoots himself,” says Dr. Martha Butler de Lister, the FH country director for the Dominican Republic (D.R.).
Martha grew up in the D.R., and she has noticed a rising trend in violence — violence against women in particular.
She reports that her country has the highest rate of femicides (the killing of a woman) in the Western Hemisphere. Each year, 22 of every 1,000 women are found dead, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reports that 80 percent of these murders are committed by men who either are related to or romantically involved with the victims.
So these murders aren’t random; they’re the result of a break-down in relationships.
Martha also says that as gender-based violence has increased in the D.R., so has the rate of HIV among young women — especially over the past decade.
Martha speaks with a fiery passion about this issue, and she cites several reasons for it:
- Pop music. Over the last 10 years, she says, the lyrics in Dominican hip-hop and street music have become increasingly incendiary. The artists glorify violence and rage; they encourage drug use, mock marriage, and objectify women with their songs. “Kids don’t even realize there’s something wrong with it,” Martha says.
- Feminism gone wrong. “The liberation has been enslaving the women,” Martha says of the feminism movement which gained popularity in the D.R. in the 1980s. Now, she says, women still have to take care of everything in the home, but they also go to work, making them compete with men in the workplace. At the universities, 60-80 percent of students are women, she says. While this is helping cure the gender imbalance in higher education and the workplace, men are feeling intimidated, says Martha.
- Machismo. Martha believes many Dominican mothers today perpetuate this cycle of violence by educating their sons in a macho way. “You continue to foster patterns of inequality instead of standing up and changing them,” she says. “It’s not easy.” Martha, married 26 years, is thankful for her husband’s mother who modeled good values for her son and was not just the “shadow of her husband.”
- Poverty. In the D.R., half of all people live on less than $2 per day. Martha believes families in the lower-middle class actually experience more stress over a lack of money than those in more severe poverty. The worst place to be, she says, is on the outskirts of the city — not the countryside. It’s the people who leave the countryside in search of city jobs who end up stuck in abject poverty on the city’s edges — they adopt attitudes of street smarts and toughness; they get swept away by the culture. “They lose their identity,” she says. “You become just another person. People are losing respect for who they are.”
Martha has been with FH for just a little over two months. She is a medical doctor and public-health specialist, highly experienced in developing responses to massive societal concerns like HIV and maternal and child survival.
She dreams of a broad, wholistic approach to solving this issue: a coalition of churches, secular organizations and the government turning their eyes to see how dangerous it can be for women in this country.
“We tend to hide like the ostrich … hide our head in the sand,” she says. “But it’s not going to go away until we do something.”
Immediately, Martha plans to train her staff on how to detect family violence among the people they serve. She wants to expand support groups for female victims of violence while designing campaigns to help prevent the violence altogether.
“I think we have to work with the families, the young girls and young boys to bring biblical values into their lives — the respect that God wants men to have for women and women to have for men,” Martha says. “The only one that heals the family is Christ.”
Take a moment to pray for the D.R. — for families and individuals in stressful or dangerous relationships — and support this movement toward healthy relationships by joining Poverty 180’s gender-based injustice cause.