CULTURE, FAMILY STRUCTURE AND GENDER RULES IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
The Dominican Republic neighbors Haiti on the Hispaniola Island in the Caribbean. It is the second largest Spanish-speaking country among the four largest Caribbean islands with Jamaica, Cuba and Puerto Rico as the other three (, 1999, ). Roman Catholicism, the official religion, and the different religious practices imbedded in this faith, dictate the uniqueness and national identity of the Dominican Republic. Many manifestations of Dominican culture, norms and customs can be derived from religious beliefs. The Catholic Church is also one of the primary ways by which families sustain the close relationships that bind them. Catholic traditions like a child's baptism, funerals and weddings affirm two occurrences - a celebration that brings family members together, and the establishment and acceptance of the family’s new relationships with the godparents of the christened child or in-laws of the newly wed (, 1999, ).
(1989) states that the family is the basic social unit in the Dominican culture that shapes the social identity of the people. It is considered as a safe haven in the midst of political chaos and economic burdens. Dominicans value close ties with family or kin which makes family loyalty an important virtue. Families who have equal resources share what they have and constantly cooperate with one another on household or social matters. In the case of less affluent families, those members who enjoy a higher degree of economic stability attempt to control the demands made by the others. Nevertheless, generosity is revered and members of the family highly appreciate mutual exchange of favors. The Dominican culture sanctions civil weddings, religious weddings and free unions as the three forms of marital union. Since annulment is discouraged by the Roman Catholic Church, couples opt to engage in civil or free unions which make divorce easier. However, religious marriages are marked by a formal engagement and fancy celebrations. Men also receive public antagonism when they fail to fulfill their obligations to the family such as working to provide for their needs and instilling discipline in the household. Mothers are also more affectionate to their children than the fathers.
Similar to many other countries, the Dominican Republic is also plagued by gender inequality. Gender rules are established with higher favor to the male members of the society (, 2007). Sex role differentiation is inculcated since early childhood wherein boys are permitted to run around unclothed while young girls are trained to be more groomed and prim. Little boys are also given more freedom in playing and expressing oneself while girls are carefully watched over or chaperoned by adults. Boys and men are also expected to engage in premarital or extramarital sexual adventures but most of them prefer virgin women for their wives. Thus, parents consistently attempt to protect their daughters in order to secure their chances of having a respectable marriage (, 1989). Families from the upper and middle classes follow a patriarchal family structure wherein the rule is a dominant father-figure in the family. Among the lower-class families, matriarchal structure dominates since the father lives outside the home (, 2007). Also, if the man has fewer economic resources or is absent, the mother is expected to assume the role of being the central family figure (, 1989). Women are also discriminated in employment as they are paid less but still expected to support the household expenses. In the last few years however, women have been given more opportunities for labor force participation and most of them have gained control over the number of children they would have and have achieved higher educational attainment (, 2007).
Dominicans value warmth, openness and hospitality. In rural areas of the country, people warmly invite a stranger for a meal or coffee. In public, Dominicans are not hesitant to start friendly conversations with any person and they expect others to be willing to converse with them as well (, 2007). People do handshakes as a friendly gesture. Dominican men and women casually greet, embrace or kiss each other as manifestations of affection for friends and colleagues. Politeness is also an integral element of Dominican culture and social relations. People are expected to express a general greeting such as “Buenos Dias” or “Good day” when they enter a room or start a conversation. Social greetings in the country is characterized by saying “Si Dios quiere” (If God wishes) which reflects the people’s belief that personal power is derived from a person’s place within the family, the larger community, and the grand design of the Divine (, 2007).
Finally, Dominican pay more reverence to family and friends rather than universal human rights and social ethics. These people obtain social or material gains not by complying with strict rules but through people they know. They rely heavily on social savvy, consensus and trust. One of the most popular sayings in the country is “Despues de la excusa, nadie se queda mal” which means “Everything can be fulfilled with the help of other people.” The core of Dominican living is harmonious relationship with people rather than set of laws or rules of conduct (, 2007).
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