Gender and SexualityHistory and Politics

The Historical Development of Sexism and Women’s Liberation Movements in the Dominican Republic (Part 1 of 3)

Dominican activist/journalist Amanda Alcantara marches from the predominantly-Dominican communities of the northwest Bronx and Washington Heights, Manhattan to denounce racism against Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian-descent in the Dominican Republic. Credit: Jay Espy

Written by: Jay Espy


Women worldwide have been historically viewed and treated as inferior to men for far too long. This systematic assault on women has taken form as sexism and misogyny, which functions under the oppressive structures of patriarchy that declares war against women in racial, gender, and class specific ways. This has led to the systematic objectification, hypersexualization, and dehumanization of women of diverse identities, particularly those of darker complexion and of a lower economic class. These systems of patriarchy and misogyny have historically been constructed and perpetuated by a capitalist system that serves the richest White men on the planet. This racist and class-oppressive system of male dominance has led to the further demise and genocide of poor, working-class women, and women of color (and therefore their impoverished communities) throughout the world, especially in the Western Hemisphere.

Women of color in the Americas have not escaped the horrors of a European-descended capitalist system in which women have been physically and psychologically controlled by rich, European-descended, heterosexual men. These dimensions of control were initially instituted by the enslavement of indigenous and African people on the island of Ayiti, or Quisqueya, (so-called “Hispaniola”) where Cristobal Colón/ Christopher Columbus (a.k.a. Killumbus) first arrived on his quest to find gold. What he first came across were what he believed to be “uncivilized” and “submissive” people. Killumbus and his gang were startled to find half naked indigenous women, who were then perceived as sexually uninhibited and immoral people [1]. These racist and elitist perceptions have influenced many contemporary assumptions about women in the Caribbean, commonly seen by men as sexually available. These stereotypes have, for example, created an image of the Dominican Republic as a sexual haven for foreign male tourists.

Although it is important to note the horrific atrocities waged against Latin American and Caribbean women for more than five centuries, many dominant mainstream narratives generally position these women as acquiescent and helpless victims of male violence than as resistant activists who affirm their dignity [2]. Consequently, many stories of women-led social movements in Latin America and the Caribbean are overlooked, leading many to believe that women exerted little agency in transforming their lives. On the contrary, many women in Latin America and the Caribbean have been proactive in standing against male violence in many different ways.

   Some women have worked either with or against the system through feminist and women-centered action in order to express and assert their womanhood and most importantly their humanity. Women in the Dominican Republic, for instance, have developed strategies, ideologies, and goals distinct to their political and cultural situation. Even though women in the Dominican Republic, especially those of African descent, have been subjugated by interlocking forces of oppression, Dominican women have often shattered these chains to emphasize their humanity through women-centered discourse and organizing.


The Beginnings of Eurocentric Patriarchy in Ayiti/ Quisqueya


A political cartoon depicting how today’s history textbooks are revised to reflect the perspective of the conquerors with the blood of the conquered. Source unknown.
A political cartoon depicting how today’s history textbooks are revised to reflect the perspective of the conquerors with the blood of the conquered. Source unknown.

After cementing its influence throughout Europe, Eurocentric systems of male violence were imported by European male navigators, like Killumbus, to the Americas as they voyaged westward in search of a “New World” (to colonize). The year 1492 marks the beginning of Eurocentric male terrorism in the Western Hemisphere against indigenous and African women. The island of Ayiti/ Quisqueya was Killumbus’ first destination, setting foot on his opportunity to exploit, dominate, and conquer the land and its people on behalf of the Spanish empire. Women of color were among the first to fall in the line of fire.

As Killumbus and his goons invaded Ayiti/Quisqueya, they were shocked to find “naked” Taíno women who had “no sexual prohibitions” and “did not cover their ‘shameful parts’”. [1] However, the term “naked” and the perception of shame following it are Eurocentric because what Europeans considered sexually disgraceful did not resonate with Taíno society. These assumptions were informed by Eurocentric standards imposed onto all other societies. When Spanish conquistadores/ conquistadors arrived on Ayiti/Quisqueya, Taíno women welcomed them as a gesture of hospitality. Thus, these conquistadores assumed that all women, even those who were married, were sexually accessible. What was initially meant as a motion of kindness later set in motion the institution of Eurocentric male violence in the Americas. Interestingly, the Caribbean island of Ayiti/Quisqueya serves both as the original geographical site of Western conquest, and also as the original political site of patriarchal control against women in the Americas. Ultimately, the effects of enslavement and colonialism have pervaded throughout the Caribbean in racial, class, and gender-oppressive ways ever since.


The Enslavement and Resistance of Black Women in the Caribbean

The inhumane system of enslavement was a holocaust experience for African-descended women, especially in the Caribbean. During slavery, Black women comprised more than one third of enslaved African people in the Caribbean. Since women tended to have longer life spans, they became much more valuable to the plantation system. This heavy burden impacted even pregnant women, who were expected to do hard labor even in her ninth month of pregnancy. Their capacity to procreate life was also exploited by European male slave masters, who used Black women as breeders in order to gain more profit. Black women’s bodies were regarded as sexually exploitable property and thus subject to complete control by slave masters for the purposes of reproduction. This dehumanizing marker left Black women vulnerable to slave masters who used rape and sexual exploitation as “mechanisms for producing a labor force and capitalizing properties” [3]. In other words, enslaved Black women were the most exploited because they were vital assets to the reproduction of new people to enslave, at little to no cost for the slave master. This prospect served the maintenance of the enslavement system and therefore built the wealth that rich white people stole from Black people for nearly three centuries in the form of free labor. [4]. They are still living off that wealth today, 500 years later, as represented by all the “First World developed” nations (or empires), the largest global banks (i.e. J.P. Morgan Chase), and the richest corporations in the world. These enterprises are all are owned by rich white men who built their foundations off the backs of enslaved Black and indigenous people birthed from women raped by the ancestors of these same men.


An enslaved Black woman and man each hold a baby at a slave auction in Virginia. Source: The Illustrated London News (Feb. 16, 1861), vol. 38, p.139.
An enslaved Black woman and man each hold a baby at a slave auction in Virginia.
Source: The Illustrated London News (Feb. 16, 1861), vol. 38, p.139.

During the period of enslavement in the Americas, racism, sexism, and class oppression operated simultaneously because the “center of power was the [rich] white man” who politically and economically subjugated African and indigenous people of all genders [2]. Therefore, gender roles during slavery were often ambiguous since nearly all people of African-descent were forced to work in the fields without pay as early as age four [5]. There were even times when more women worked in the plantation fields than men. These facts demonstrate how patriarchy is also connected to white supremacy and capitalism, representing a three-headed beast that oppresses poor and working-class people of color of all genders and sexual orientations, including heterosexual men. When Killumbus and other European colonizers arrived in the Americas, they didn’t only control indigenous women. Colonizers conquered and virtually destroyed entire indigenous civilizations through women, by exploiting women as gatekeepers and conduits in order to gain access to the larger community and totally dominate it. In other words, once women were controlled, the survival and destiny of their community was endangered. The intention here is not to argue who had it worse, or to reduce women’s oppression to class oppression, but instead to demonstrate how poor and working-class people of color of all genders share a historical experience of colonial and imperial oppression that requires simultaneous liberation for all of us together. A mix of failed and triumphant attempts in this exercise by African people did occur, so often in fact that they led towards the abolition of chattel slavery (except in United States’ prisons).


An artistic depiction of Black women, men, and children during slavery. Source: Herschel Grammar School
An artistic depiction of Black women, men, and children during slavery. Source: Herschel Grammar School

The earliest known slave rebellion to take place by African people in the Americas was against Spain in 1522 on the island of Ayiti/ Quisqueya. Author Eduardo Galeano paints this time in history vividly:

“Africans brought to work the land in place of the Arawaks prefer to die in the fire of revolt. Diego [Killumbus’s son] sees his plantation and fields burning. When the Spaniards finally stop the revolt, they hand the rebels along the road to stop future uprisings.

It doesn’t work.” [6]

The 1522 uprising occurred in the midst of an ongoing guerilla war waged by indigenous people in Quisqueya/ Santo Domingo (pre-D.R.) against Spain between 1519-1533 and led by a Taíno cacique/ chief named Enriquillo (who inspired the naming of a town and lake in the Dominican Republic). The deciding factor for Enriquillo? A Spaniard had abducted and raped his wife, doña Mencía. This further demonstrates how the oppression of women is and must be connected to the liberation of the whole community. There are also reports of African-Indigenous unity in which natives were often joined by cimarrones/maroons, or Africans who had escaped slavery and lived autonomously enough to preserve their African traditions.[7] These same traditions guided a vodou priest named Dutty Boukman and the often forgotten vodou priestess named Cécile Fatiman to preside over the famous ceremony that started the Haitian Revolution on August 14, 1791. Galeano once again poetically captures this moment:

“The old slave woman, intimate of the gods, buries her machete in the throat of a black wild boar. The earth of Haiti drinks the blood. Under the protection of the gods of war and of fire, two hundred blacks sing and dance the oath of freedom. In the prohibited voodoo ceremony aglow with lightning bolts, two hundred slaves decide to turn this land of punishment into a fatherland.” [8]

Cécile Fatiman is artistically depicted in a portrait (left) and as a ritual leader in the famous Bois Caïman ceremony that sparked the Haitian Revolution in 1791 (right). Left image source unknown. Right image source: by Castera Bazile (1923–1966), “Petwo Ceremony Commemorating Bwa Kayiman,” 1950. Oil on Masonite. (58.42 x 48.9 cm) Source: Milwaukee Art Museum.


In other words, it was Black men and women who, with the early help of Indigenous people, together liberated all African people from the chains of French colonial rule and who helped form the first free Black nation in the Americas. This unprecedented achievement in history inspired Black people like Solitude, a maroon woman who organized an army against French colonial rule in the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe during the Haitian Revolution. Her womanhood shined bright until the very end of her life as she was captured while pregnant by the French. She was sentenced to death only after giving birth to her child.

A statue in Guadeloupe of a pregnant La Mulâtresse Solitude, a maroon Black woman who fought French rule in the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, even during her pregnancy. Source unknown.
A statue in Guadeloupe of a pregnant La Mulâtresse Solitude, a maroon Black woman who fought French rule in the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, even during her pregnancy. Source unknown.

Over time, those aforementioned ambiguous gender roles that existed on the plantation became more defined following the abolition of chattel slavery. The further development of capitalism during the industrialization period forced women to eventually compete with men for the same positions, yet got paid only a fraction of what men made. This transition partially influenced the emerging white middle-class feminist movements of the 19th and 20th centuries that saw liberation as a journey exclusive to women. Some Dominican women were influenced by this foreign theory, one which further divided poor and working-class communities of color still oppressed by rich white men. Nevertheless, the interdimensional experience of poor women of color in the Dominican Republic has led some to challenge elitist notions of women’s liberation in order to develop their own theories, discourses, actions, and movements against sexism and patriarchy that are more inclusive and therefore quite distinct from those founded by lighter-skinned bourgeois women.
This subject will continue in this three part series on the historical development of patriarchy, sexism, and women’s liberation movements in the Dominican Republic.


Works Cited

[1] Guitar, Lynne. “Documenting the Myth of Taino Extinction.” Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology. 2002.

[2] Werneck, Jurema. “Of Ialodes and Feminists: Reflections on Black Women’s Political Action in Latin America and the Caribbean.” Journal of Cultural Dynamics, 19.1, 2007: pp. 99-113.

[3] Beckles, Hilary. “Perfect Property: Enslaved Black Women in the Caribbean.” Confronting Power, Theorizing Gender: Interdisciplinary Perspectives in the Caribbean, edited by Eudine Barriteau. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press. 2003.

[4] Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge. 2009.

[5] Reddock, Rhoda E. “Women and Slavery in the Caribbean: A Feminist Perspective.” Latin American Perspectives, 12.1, Latin America’s Colonial History, 1985: pp. 63-80.

[6] Eduardo Galeano, Memories of Fire: Genesis, p. 72-73.

[7] To Make Our World Anew : Volume I: A History of African Americans to 1880.

edited by Robin D. G. Kelley Professor of African-American Studies Columbia University, Earl Lewis Executive Vice President and Provost Emory University.


[8] Eduardo Galeano, “1791: Bois Caiman: The Conspirators of Haiti,” Faces and Masks: Memory of Fire, Volume II, Cedric Belfage, Trans., 1987.


Jay Espy is an Afro-Dominican poet, writer, photographer, educator, and community organizer for the People Power Movement-Movimiento Poder Popular. He is currently educating, agitating, and organizing poor and working-class communities of color towards People Power, Popular Control, and Fundamental Social Change. Jay lives in the Bronx and manages a blog at He may be reached at



Jay Espy
Jay Espy is an Afro-Dominican writer, photographer, and community organizer for the People Power Movement-Movimiento Poder Popular. He currently lives in the Bronx, New York and can be followed on Instagram @thejayespy.

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