From the field-Dominican Republic

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Addressing Gender Based Violence

women rights activistsFor 25 years, IAF grantee Núcleo de Apoyo a la Mujer (NAM) has led the fight against domestic violence in the Dominican Republic’s Cibao region by providing legal services and bringing this scourge to the public’s attention.

Among the thousands of women NAM has helped is Mayra (not her real name) who became an orphan at age 2 and a mother at 14. Mayra moved in with a man twice her age and had two more children by the time she was 17. He forced her to work his farm and live in a small shed off the main house, and she endured unimaginable cruelty. Any attempts to escape were met with more violence. One day, a local pastor who had also been a victim of abuse and suspected the horror, found Mayra unconscious from a severe beating and took her to a police station. The women filed a complaint, the abuser went to jail, and the danger earned Mayra admission to one of just two shelters for battered women in the Dominican Republic. But both arrangements were only temporary and the cycle of violence resumed. Eventually, the man was granted custody of all three children, and Mayra, who had no legal representation, was ordered to provide $120 in monthly child support. Unable to pay, she wound up in jail, where NAM found her. It posted her bail and publicly exposed the injustice of Mayra’s situation, forcing the court to reconsider its orders. The custody arrangement is currently under review and the child support payments have been, for now, reduced to $12. Meanwhile, with NAM’s help, Mayra has moved in with a childhood friend.

NAM is using its IAF award to develop two regional networks of organizations dedicated to stopping violence against women and ensuring that existing laws, which NAM helped the Dominican government draft in 1997, are enforced. The grant also allows NAM to increase services in the cities of Santiago and Moca and to expand into rural areas. NAM works with the Dominican Ministry for Women and the District Attorney’s Office to train lawyers, representatives of grassroots organizations and government officials in the rights of victims of domestic violence. The goal is to make miscarriages of justice the like one Mayra lived through a thing of the past.−Dana C. Preston, IAF and NAM Intern.