... Women ...
by Infocostarica Staff

Costa Rican women, as in the case of Costa Rican men, seem to be at a crossroad between traditional roles and modern ones. Traditionally the country is ruled by machismo, a system in which the woman is considered the weaker gender and is limited to certain roles and behaviors. Under this system the woman can be only one of two things: a prostitute or a saint. This drastic separation or limitation of a woman justifies how a husband can marry a "saintly" and pure woman and sleep around with a prostitute or a "bad woman". However, judging by the large numbers of "good" women that go to motels with partners, one can't really say that this dichotomy or separation applies to current reality. Tico women are becoming more "real" and human individuals, who don't have to choose anymore between being a whore or the Virgin Mary.

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Ever since the 1980's there have been numerous studies conducted on the issues of gender and women in Costa Rica and Latin America in general. These studies consider themes such as the educational and work situation of women, the transformation of gender roles throughout the years, and the domestic and sexual conditions of women. Probably the most important event that was responsible for the modification of the condition of women, was their insertion into the work force. The first step towards their economic independence occurred during the late nineteenth century, when the Liberal government considered their education to be essential for the improvement of the country. The government encouraged women to study Education, Nursing and Secretarial careers. However, it wasn't until the first decades of this century, when women were allowed more expression and power in political spheres, which resulted in the founding of several associations led by women workers and activists. It wasn't until 1948, however, that women were given the right to vote.

At the present time, only fifty one years after they were allowed to vote, two women hold the first and second Vice-Presidency of the nation. Furthermore, a woman, Margarita Penon, already ran for the presidency. These are surprising facts when one considers that a country that boasts equality between men and women, such as the United States, has never had women aspiring to or holding such high political offices. Apart from these political gains, women in Costa Rica are extremely educated, especially when compared to the female population in other countries. Educational reforms which guarantee free and obligatory education, have enabled most of the population (93%) to be literate, and since there are both public and private universities, women and men of all classes have been able to receive higher level schooling. Thanks to this high educational level, women in Costa Rica can be professionals in any career, although tensions still exist in those jobs that have been traditionally for men.

Culturally speaking, women have changed, due to an increased influence from other cultures and means of communication. Values, including those having to do with sex, marriage, family and machismo, have also changed drastically. However, most women still feel a significant connection to their traditional roles and values. For example, even though women engage in pre-marital sex, they prefer to hide this matter for fear of being labeled as a "prostitute". Also, most women and men remain in the household of their parents until they marry, a fact which illustrates the importance of family, even in private issues such as sex and marriage. On one hand, women are independent because of their work and economic situation, but on the other hand most keep being dependent on their family and on the values accepted by society.

Machismo can't be misinterpreted or oversimplified as a system that is promoted by men. Machismo is actually passed on to a large extent by the women themselves. If you're a woman you're probably thinking: "Yeah, right! You're only saying that because you're a man." Well, sorry to disappoint you, but I'm a woman and a Costa Rican one, too. I've seen women promote machismo by passing it on to their daughters and sons, and by acting a certain way with their partner. I've even done it myself in other minute but nevertheless significant ways. Most women in Costa Rica enjoy being treated differently by men, by not having to pay anything on a date, or by being treated like a "princess" by men. These of course, are only some of the "romantic" aspects of machismo, but there are some others that can get pretty ugly and undesirable, even for machista women. Any kind of violence, including domestic, sexual and psychological violence can result from or be justified by the machismo system.

Professional women in Costa Rica are going through the same dilemmas as women in developed countries. Apart from being mothers and wives, they have taken on other responsibilities that derive from their jobs. Furthermore, some working women haven't delegated house chores on their husbands, as women in other countries do, so their work load is more intense. Live-in maids are still common in most middle and upper class homes, but younger generations of couples can't afford to pay this service, so that the chores still fall on the woman.

Influences from other cultures as well as women's further insertion into the work force (due in part to the rise in the cost of living), are transforming women's roles and responsibilities. Although these have suffered changes throughout time, the rate of transformation is much faster now than it used to be before. It's actually so fast that women and men can't understand or assimilate it completely. For the time being, working women in Costa Rica will continue juggling the mother, lover, wife and professional roles that make up her current identity.