Voters in the Dominican Republic may know Faride Raful best as the face of the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano’s (PRD) daily official television program, “PRD TV,” which she has produced and hosted since 2003. But the 30-year-old lawyer from Santo Domingo is pursuing another and potentially more far-reaching goal: encouraging Dominican youth to play a more prominent role in the politics of her country.
She leads by example. Raful, vice president of the Juventud Revolucionaria Dominicana (JRD)—the youth wing of the PRD—and a candidate for congress in the May 2010 elections, convened a series of town hall meetings between 2006 and 2008 to encourage university students and young professionals to develop strategies and concrete policies for the PRD in areas ranging from education to health. The success of these groups persuaded her to open them to high school students. “We are always lamenting the fact that young people are not more involved and that we are not producing more socially-conscious professionals, but we cannot change that unless we start [getting supporters involved] at an early age,” she says.
On her TV program, she regularly invites young congressional representatives to discuss their legislation with constituents. “This is not only about getting young people to vote; it’s also about getting them to understand the process and to feel like they can and should shape politics,” she says.
Raful had her first glimpse of the world of policymaking in 1999, when she became a legal consultant to the executive committee responsible for drafting national health care reform legislation. Only 19 at the time, Raful admits that the task was harder than it first appeared. “Prior to the [legislation], we were dealing with a health code developed under Rafael Trujillo,” she says, referring to the dictator who was assassinated in 1961. “I was one of the youngest people to be involved in this, and it was eye-opening to see how long and complicated the process is,” she says.
Although she is one of the PRD’s leading activists, Raful has been unafraid to challenge her country’s political establishment. In January 2010, the Partido de la Liberación Dominicana and the PRD asked the central elections board to suspend enforcement of a law requiring 33 percent of all parties’ candidate lists for the lower house and city council elections to be filled by women. The reason: the alleged difficulty in identifying qualified female candidates to fill the lists. But Raful joined female candidates from the three major political parties in a successful counter-appeal to the board, which voted this March to enforce the law.
Raful’s work has begun to receive recognition from her peers. In January, she received the Youth Merit Award for political and professional trajectory from the Parlamento Juvenil de la República Dominicana, an organization that fosters new leadership in different sectors. “It’s unusual to see someone so young have the recognition she’s achieved,” says Ruddy de los Santos, founder and president of the organization. “We highlighted her because of her impact on one of the major political parties of the country, [especially] given the added obstacles that women in this country unfortunately face.”
Now she hopes to transform that recognition into political influence. Last November, Raful became the youngest person to win her party’s nomination as a congressional candidate for the May 2010 elections. She is currently campaigning to represent District One in Santo Domingo, a 313,000-voter seat that has traditionally been held by men and is home to the biggest commercial interests of the country. “It may be an uphill battle, but I’m confident that this can set the tone for future elections [and give] young women a more promising role in the electoral system,” she says.