A.    The legal framework for the protection of women

a.    Domestic provisions

367. The domestic legal framework of the Dominican Republic includes a series of provisions to protect women in the various areas of social life.

368. The Constitution of the Dominican Republic establishes, at Article 100, the equality of its inhabitants, which implies that there should be no discrimination whatsoever, which includes on the basis of gender. Article 100 states:

The Republic condemns all privilege and any situation that tends to break down the equality of all Dominicans, among whom no differences should matter other than those that result from talent or virtue....

369. Article 8(15) of the Constitution is designed to safeguard the family as the fundamental basis of society, and within the family establishes protection for the maternity of Dominican women, in the following terms:

In order to bolster its moral, religious, and cultural stability, the family will receive the broadest possible protection from the State:

(a) Maternity, whatever the condition or status of the woman, shall enjoy the protection of the government authorities and has the right to official assistance where there is such need....

(d) Married women shall have full civil capacity. The law shall establish the necessary means for protecting the property rights of women no matter under whatever regime they are married.

370. Consequently, the Labor Code of the Dominican Republic, pursuant to this constitutional provision, specifically provides for the protection of pregnant women and punishes discrimination against them in Articles 233, 234, and 235. In addition, Article 47 prohibits sexual harassment of women workers by their employers.206

371. The most recent law to protect women is Law No. 24-97, which was submitted at the initiative of the Office for Women's Promotion, with the support of the United Nations Population Fund and the Asociación Dominicana Pro Bienestar de la Familia. This law was promulgated on January 27, 1997, with broad support from the current Administration.

372. Law No. 24-97 is aimed at protecting the family and putting domestic and family violence, of which women are the main victims, in a social context. The law incorporates major advances on women's issues, but unfortunately it has not been applied, in practice, by Dominican judges. Indeed, as the Commission was informed during its on-site visit, most judges and representatives of the Public Ministry are unaware of its content or simply prefer to ignore it and do not enforce it, which is why its objectives are not being achieved.207 For example, the Commission was told of the case of a woman who went to lodge a complaint that her former husband had beaten her; the National Police refused to receive the complaint.208

373. In the same context of protecting women, the Law on Agrarian Reform was amended in January 1997. This law, dating back to 1962, had not been amended since 1972. It did not directly benefit women with plots of land, but only recognized their status as wives of smallholders. At present, the Law on Agrarian Reform includes women in the distribution of plots, giving them the same rights as men over land adjudicated by the agrarian reform, since under the new law the family is represented by both partners in the couple, whether married or unmarried.209

374. The current Law on Agrarian Reform amends Articles 13, 14, 18, and 20 of the previous law, establishing in Article 13 that state lands should be used so as to benefit the rural working masses and small farmers of both sexes.

375. In its observations to this report, the Government noted that recently the Executive had promulgated the law creating the State Secretariat for Women’s Affairs, which should make it possible to take the concrete steps to achieve gender equity, improve health conditions, curb domestic violence, and eradicate discrimination.210


b.     International Provisions

376. The Dominican Republic is party to several international treaties that promote respect for women's rights and their development in society. These include the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women.211

377. Article 1 of the Convention states: "For the purposes of this Convention, violence against women shall be understood as any act or conduct, based on gender, which causes death or physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, whether in the public or the private sphere."

378. The Dominican Republic is also party to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.212 Article 2 of that instrument provides: "States Parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms, agree to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women...."

In addition, Article 11 provides:

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular: ... (b) The right to the same employment opportunities, including the application of the same criteria for selection in matters of employment; (c) The right to free choice of profession and employment....


B.    Violence against women

379. The Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women provides, at Article 2: "Violence against women shall be understood to include physical, sexual and psychological violence:

(a) that occurs within the family or domestic unit or within any other interpersonal relationship, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence with the woman, including, among others, rape, battery and sexual abuse;

(b) that occurs in the community and is perpetrated by any person, including, among others, rape, sexual abuse, torture, trafficking in persons, forced prostitution, kidnapping and sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as in educational institutions, health facilities or any other place; and

(c) that is perpetrated or condoned by the state or its agents regardless of where it occurs.


a.    Domestic violence

380. Domestic violence and rape have as a common denominator that in most cases the perpetrators have some tie or contractual relationship, and due to the proximity between victim and perpetrator, can easily elude judicial treatment.

381. In the Dominican Republic, 80% of the assailants of women are men who have some family or affective tie with the victim. The ages of the women attacked range from 16 to 30 years; in 56% these are crimes of passion.213

382. According to police information, from 1990 to 1996, there were 704 homicides in the Dominican Republic, 40.35% of which were crimes of passion.214 In the first four months of 1997, there were 26 homicides of women nationwide.215

383. In response to the violence against women in their homes, in January 1997 the Congress adopted Law 24-97, "Against Family Violence." This law amends several articles of the Criminal Code with a view to reducing and eliminating violence within Dominican families.

384. Nonetheless, the mere existence of this law does not entail compliance with the purposes underlying it; its adoption is merely the first step in a much lengthier process. The non-governmental organizations that work on women's issues have said that this law is not being respected, for in most cases of family violence the procedure provided for in the law is not followed.

Some women victims of domestic violence turn to police stations, where in most cases the police refuse to take the declaration. When the police station does receive the complaints and initiates the procedure pursuant to Law 24-97, they bring the cases to the office of the public prosecutor for them to be classified as cases of family violence and referred to the investigative court. Once in those courts, the procedure strays from the purpose of the law for the judges dismiss the complaint or re-label the cases. For example, in the case of physical aggression, they characterize it as a case of blows and injuries which, if healed within 10 days, allows the assailant to be released on bond, jeopardizing the victim, as the assailant is violent to the victim once again.

385. The effective application of this law by the competent authorities required both adequate training and endowing judges, police, and state agents with appropriate resources to achieve its purposes. The Dominican Government must also achieve effective coordination among all the institutions working on family violence cases, among themselves and with civil society organizations, so as to strengthen the effort to eradicate domestic violence by providing greater material and human resources.


b.     Violence associated with prostitution and the trafficking of women

386. The Dominican Republic has a considerable tourism industry given the country's natural scenic beauty; nonetheless, in recent years a "sex tourism" industry has emerged.217 It has taken a heavy toll on society in terms of health and family disintegration.

387. The extreme poverty in which most families live in the Dominican Republic has led women to seek employment opportunities; nonetheless, the problems of unemployment and discrimination that victimize women has forced many to turn to prostitution as a means of subsistence for themselves and their families.

388. Women who work as prostitutes are exposed to particular types of violence. A study by one non-governmental organization identified some of the main problems of violence experienced by women working as prostitutes in the Dominican Republic: physical violence during the sexual act; assault on the street; gang rape; and psychological violence through the constant denigration by family members and acquaintances because of their way of life.218

389. Another dimension of the problem of prostitution in the Dominican Republic is the trafficking of women, who in most cases are victims of deceit. The women are taken to other countries with a promise that they will obtain other types of employment, with better living conditions and good wages. Nonetheless, once outside the country they are easy prey to exploitation; their situation is further aggravated as they find themselves alone in strange surroundings.

390. According to a study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on the trafficking of women for purposes of sexual exploitation, it was found in 1995 and 1996 in several European countries that most of the women identified in such studies came from the Dominican Republic.219 According to a study done in Antigua, in 1992, Dominicans accounted for more than 50% of the women working in brothels. In addition, more than 50% of the prostitutes in the cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Utrecht were Dominican women.220

391. According to the information provided by the Government, the Centro de Investigación Integral created a help line to assist migrant women to help inform them of the social, economic, and cultural causes and consequences of migration abroad to be employed as sexual workers.221


C.     Discrimination against women in politics

392. Article 23 of the American Convention guarantees the right to participate in the public affairs of one's own country and "to have access, under general conditions of equality, to the public service of his country." Articles 12 and 13 of the Constitution of the Dominican Republic provide that Dominican citizens, without distinction as to sex, have the equal right to participate in elections and to be elected.

393. Women's political participation in the Dominican Republic is limited, especially in the high-level posts. At present, the Senate is made up of 30 senators, only two of whom are women. In addition, the Chamber of Deputies is made up of 120 legislators, of whom only 12 are women at this time. According to data published in the Gaceta Judicial, from 1962 to 1994, only 10 women have been senators, as compared to 242 men. There are nine provinces that have never had woman representatives in the Chamber of Deputies. In terms of the prefects and mayors (Sindicatura-Alcaldía), only 15 provinces have had women representatives, i.e. 3.7%, as compared to 96.3% of male prefects; in the case of municipal council members (regidores), in 32 years there have been 441 female municipal council members, as compared to 4,016 men (90.1%).222 Furthermore, despite the commitments made by the Government party to have more women in the cabinet during the 1996-2000 presidential term, the current government has only two women cabinet members (Secretarias de Estado).223

394. Women's organizations have worked to present a bill that includes an amendment to the current electoral law; the proposed changes include a 30% quota or share for women in elective posts. This proposal has not garnered the support that had been anticipated, even though the Dominican state has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.224

395. In its observations to the Draft Report, the Government noted that according to data from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in the Dominican Republic, as regards professional status, Dominican women had come to occupy 44.8% of the administrative and directing posts in the country; and almost 50% of all technical jobs.225 Nonetheless, the observations make no reference to the level or rank of women in the workplace.


D.     Labor situation of women in the free-trade zones

396. The insertion of Dominican women in the labor force has led to an expansion in the economically active population in the Dominican Republic.226 This growth is a consequence of the extreme poverty of a large part of the population and the lack of purchasing power of its inhabitants, which has forced women to work to support their families.

397. Even though the increase in the participation of women in the economically active population has been sustained, in general, women in the Dominican Republic have scant opportunities to get adequate jobs with good salaries. This has led most of them to work in the free-trade zones, or zonas francas.

398. Law 8-90 establishes the normative framework under which the free-trade zones operate, defining them, in Article 2, in the following terms: "a geographic area of the country under the special customs and tax regulations established in the law, in which companies are allowed to set up operations whose output or services are for the external market, by granting the incentives needed to foster their development."

399. In effect, a large part of the growth oriented to the country's exports has been achieved with the inclusion in the labor force of unskilled women, who account for more than 70% of the workers in the free-trade zones.

400. During its on-site visit in June 1997, the Commission met with organizations that work on women's issues, which denounced the inadequate conditions in which the women work in the free-trade zones. It was noted that these places do not have the adequate infrastructure for the type of work being done. Nor do the locales have the space for the number of people working, which results in violations of the industrial hygiene and safety laws.227

401. Human rights groups indicated to the Commission that the women who work in the free-trade zones in the Dominican Republic are constantly subjected to discrimination, as sexist patterns are reproduced in these companies in the selection and hiring of personnel.228 This entails receiving very low wages, in relation to the amount of work women perform daily.229

402. Non-governmental organizations pointed out to the Commission that women who work in the free-trade zones are constantly subjected to the sexual harassment of their bosses and overseers.230 In general, the women workers do not lodge complaints regarding the irregularities to which they are subjected, out of fear of losing their jobs.231

403. In 1991, an initiative was taken to include in the Labor Code the offense of sexual harassment, as a breach of the labor laws; business owners opposed the change, despite the many complaints. Article 47 of the Labor Code was amended one year later, including a section that notes: "It is prohibited for employers ... to take actions against the worker that may be considered sexual harassment, or support, or not intervene if such actions are taken by their representatives."232 Despite this law, this section is not enforced.



404. The Commission was informed of the current policy of the Government aimed at fostering the development of women; the Office for Women's Promotion has been working to strengthen its ties with the other institutions dedicated to working on the women's question, receiving advisory services and support from international organizations. In this context, programs have been developed on education, health, and violence against women, for the purpose of informing women of their rights in society and how to uphold them. Nonetheless, it is necessary for that Office to receive strong support from the Government so that its programs are widely known and implemented, so as to truly contribute to the strengthening and protection of women's rights in the Dominican Republic.

405. The Commission also takes note of the measures adopted to improve the situation of women, especially Law 24/97, against domestic violence, and those that allow women to own property and to benefit from the land distribution under the agrarian reform. Nonetheless, despite these legislative measures, the Commission expresses its concern because in practice women workers who are victims of discrimination in employment, arbitrary dismissals, and unequal pay as between men and women, continue to lack protection.

406. The Commission points to the need for the state to strictly monitor the working conditions and work relations of women employed in the free-trade zones.

407. The Commission urges the Government of the Dominican Republic to adopt measures aimed at protecting women to ensure they are not victims of the violence associated with the prostitution and illegal trafficking of women.

408. The Commission encourages the Government to continue applying its policy aimed at attaining full equality of men and women in the different sectors of social life.


206  Article 233: "Dominican woman may not be dismissed from their employment because of pregnancy. Any dismissal for pregnancy is null and void." Article 234 says that pregnant women cannot be required to perform physical work that might endanger the woman or the baby. Article 235 provides that if the work performed by a pregnant woman is harmful or dangerous to the health of the woman or child, the employer is required to seek another type of work for her to perform. Labor Code of the Dominican Republic, 1992.

207  Comisión Ecuménica de Trabajadores Dominicanas, Movimiento de Mujeres Domínico-Haitianas, Centro de Planificación y Acción Ecuménica, Participación Ciudadana, Coordinadora de ONGs del Area de la Mujer, Identidad, Centro de Servicios Legales para las Mujeres, Centro de Investigación Femenina, Centro de Apoyo Aquelarre, Coordinadora de Mujeres del Cibao, and Núcleo de Apoyo a la Mujer.

208  El Siglo, January 7, 1997.

209  Law on Agrarian Reform. Article 14. 1997. See also, "Conoce tus derechos como parcelera," Office for Women's Promotion.

210  Observations of the Government of the Dominican Republic, September 10, 1999.

211  Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women, OAS. (Convention of Belém do Pará). Ratified by the Dominican Republic on March 7, 1996.

212  Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, United Nations. Ratified by the Dominican Republic in 1979.

213  Statistics provided by the Centro de Investigación para la Acción Femenina (CIPAF), 1994.

214  Information provided by CIPAF, June 1997.

215  Dinnys Luciano Ferdinand, "La violencia contra las mujeres en República Dominicana." 1996, p. 22.

216  Information provided by the Centro de Servicios Legales para la Mujer, during the IACHR's on-site visit in June 1997.

217  Independent report provided to the U.N. Commission on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, prepared by International Women's Rights Action Watch. September 1996, p. 2.

218  "La Violencia contra las Mujeres en República Dominicana." Report by the Centro de Apoyo Aquelarre, 1996, p. 32.

219  "Actividades de la OIM en la República Dominicana, del 16 de agosto al 30 de abril de 1997." Report prepared by the International Organization for Migration, IOM. Dominican Republic, 1997.

220  "La Violencia contra las Mujeres en la República Dominicana," op. cit., p. 32.

221  Observations of the Government of the Dominican Republic, September 10, 1999.

222  Report submitted to the IACHR by the Centro de Investigación para la Acción Femenina (CIPAF). June 1997.

223  Id., CIPAF, p. 22.

224  The Dominican Republic is a state party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which it ratified in 1979.

225  Observations of the Government of the Dominican Republic, September 10, 1999.

226  In 1980, the rate of growth of women in the economically active population (EAP) was 4.2%, as compared to 2.8% for men. Information provided by the Comité de Mujeres Trabajadoras during the on-site visit of the IACHR.

227  Information provided by the Comité de Mujeres Trabajadoras de la zona franca de San Pedro de Macorís. See also Report by International Women's Rights Action Watch.

228  "Trabajo sí, pero con dignidad" campaign, Centro de Investigación para la Acción Femenina, CIPAF/OXFAM, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, 1996.

229  Comité de Mujeres Trabajadoras de la Zona Franca de San Pedro de Macorís.

230  Report by International Women's Rights Action Watch, p. 11.

231  Id., p. 12.

232  Labor Code of the Dominican Republic, 1992.