Women and Girls in Costa Rica Suffer From Disproportionate Inequality and Poverty

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Women in Costa Rica are better educated, but have fewer employment opportunities. This, and the concentration of poverty among women and girls, are some of the recent findings of the 2017 State of World Population report published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

The report focuses on reproductive health and rights in times of inequality.

“In Costa Rica between 2010 and 2016 the inequality index has increased, and we find that inequality is accelerating compared to other countries in Latin America. There has been accelerated inequality affecting some regions more than others, such as the Brunca, Huétar Norte and Chorotega regions,” said Paula Antezana, assistant representative of the Fund in Costa Rica

These regions, not coincidentally, received the most destruction from Tropical Storm Nate, damages which could have largely been avoided if houses, roads and schools were not poorly built and located in vulnerable areas, according to a statement by Leonardo Merino, director of the Costa Rican think-tank Estado de la Nación (State of the Nation).

Check out the fact that the government’s recent infrastructure projects in areas hit by hurricane Otto last November and which were also hit by heavy rains in September and October, withstood damages from Nate, which razed hundreds of homes, dozens of bridges and water systems in many other areas.

One of the most powerful forms of inequality is gender, which according to the UNFPA report is manifested in income disparity, and in access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Both are fundamental aspects that do not receive sufficient attention, according to the report, and their implication in the lives of women and society in general are profound.

“It is unacceptable that 500 girls under the age of 15 in Costa Rica become pregnant every year. We must guarantee access to sexual and reproductive health, that children and adolescents receive a human sexual education and understanding of all aspects of life,” continued Antezana.


Family planning in developing countries is typically unaccessible among women in the poorest 20 percent of households. This means that, lacking access to contraceptive methods, poor women, particularly those with lower levels of education and living in rural areas, are more exposed to unwanted fertility, a finding which also applies to Costa Rica, said Antezana.

Pregnancies that are unwanted or too-frequent or occur in adolescents, carry health risks and have negative economic repercussions throughout women’s lives including limiting their access to education, delaying and limiting their incorporation into the paid workforce, and reducing their income, thus condemning poor women to a cycle of poverty and marginalization.


“There has never been a lot of sex education in the region, but now, the few there are generate more controversy and polarization than ever, with churches heavily influencing public opinion and people’s views on sexual education,” said UNFPA director for Latin America, Esteban Caballero, in an interview with EFE, the Spanish News Agency, on occasion of the release of the report.

The UN report found that 30 percent of Latin Americans between the ages of 15 and 49 do not have access to modern contraceptive methods.

According to Caballero, ultra conservative sectors, including those in Costa Rica who have actively championed doing away with women’s rights, are promoting a view that “confuses sex education with the so-called gender ideology,” and view school sex-ed as an “imposition of globalization and of a liberal international agenda.”

“One of the characteristics of the region is the difficulty of accepting that adolescents have sexuality,” added Caballero.

The UN expert said Uruguay was leading the region in providing an example of simple solutions to increasing women and adolescents’ access to sexual and reproductive health information and services that are key to increasing their economic wellbeing and incorporation into the formal workforce.


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