The Caribbean’s largest sovereign economy, the Dominican Republic is home to a largely mixed population descended from African slaves and Spanish colonists as well as some vestiges of the region’s indigenous Taino people. The country struggles to reconcile extreme social inequality, corruption, and widespread poverty with its relatively successful economic transition from agriculture to services and tourism, the latter comprising one fifth of the Dominican GDP.
Emerging from decades of dictatorial rule, the Dominican Republic has made significant gains in developing competent social institutions but shortfalls are readily apparent. While the number of Dominicans living in severe poverty has sharply decreased, relative poverty is extremely common. One third of Dominicans live below the national poverty line and 21% of Dominicans live near the threshold of multidimensional poverty (UNDP). Unlike many other developing nations, most poor Dominicans live in urban areas although rural poverty and isolation, especially in remote campos and bateyes, remain considerable challenges. A minority of poor Dominicans complete high school and levels of academic achievement are low relative to economically comparable countries. Those on the margins of society suffer from a lack of consistent access to clean water, shelter, medical care, education, sanitation, public safety, and electricity. The Dominican Republic has a high rate of violence against women and is experiencing a femicide epidemic. Most of these crimes are never reported and the group at greatest risk is women aged 15-24. Further, one in four Dominican women is or has been a teen mother, one of the highest rates in Latin America, which limits opportunities for women and girls and traps them in cycles of intergenerational poverty. In addition, a long history of protracted ethno-national tension between ethnic Haitians (including those born in the Dominican Republic) and ethnic Dominicans has led to widespread anti-Haitianism that has facilitated the marginalization of people of Haitian descent, forcing them to the extremes of Dominican society as they struggle with grinding poverty, state-sanctioned displacement, summary deportation, and denial of their most basic rights.