Committing to better futures for young Costa Rican women

In the Bribri worldview of Costa Rica, when a young woman menstruates for the first time, she is considered ready to leave her home to start a new family and assume the role of motherhood.

Although this indigenous cultural notion persists, it does not mean that all indigenous women follow this model. In fact, many women who can overcome educational, economic and geographic barriers may leave their communities to create a different life altogether.

To promote Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically number 5 — to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, UNICEF, in partnership with Nosotras: Women Connecting and the Vice-presidency of the Republic, recently conducted empowerment workshops for 85 girls and young women in seven urban and rural locations.

“This is a space that seeks to combat gender gaps, connecting established women leaders with a large and diverse number of girls, adolescents and women, through coaching and mentoring,” says Ana Helena Chacón, Vice President of Costa Rica.

A group of Costa Rica girls stand smiling as two of them hug each other.
© UNICEF/2018/Costa RicaThe UNICEF-supported empowerment workshops allowed these girls to meet other young women who, like them, had expectations for their future.

The empowerment workshop’s mission is to urge girls to think about what they want to do in the future and what kind of life they want to build.

“The mission of UNICEF is to strengthen the capacities and leadership of girls and adolescents through empowerment, as a mechanism to advance gender equality, the fulfillment of their rights and their inclusion as full citizens, so that they can become the protagonists of their lives and agents of change,” emphasized Gordon Jonathan Lewis, Representative of UNICEF Costa Rica.

Costa Rican girls and adolescents dream of achieving their goals, of succeeding, of demonstrating they can do whatever they want to.

This is what many of the participants said in the empowerment workshops. They are fighting for a world without sexism, where they can help other people; a world with gender equality.

According to Marysela Zamora, director of Nosotras, the idea of the workshops is to help girls see themselves as capable women who can build a life according to their dreams and aspirations; to fulfill themselves as individuals and give something back to their communities.

“We need to leave San José and approach communities that have historically been discriminated against,” acknowledged Zamora. “In those rural spaces, if you are a woman, then you suffer double discrimination,” she added.

Of course, it is not just about leading a workshop. In fact, in each of the workshops the girls create their own manifesto while the coordinating team plays an accompanying role.

A group of young Costa Rica women sit around a table, with two of them in the foreground holding hands across the table.
© UNICEF/2018/Costa RicaGirls who participated in the workshops learned about the capacity to build a life in accordance with their dreams and aspirations.

It is important to respect the way a younger woman understands the world — according to her experiences, needs and desires. In the development of this worldview, not only does the generation gap matter, so do societal norms. For example, one of the workshops involved two girls with functional diversity: one with autism and another with paralysis. This experience allowed them to meet other young women who, like them, had expectations for their future and, as they expressed, “for the first time, we were part of a group that was not exclusively of people with some type of disability.”

Although children and adolescents need guidance for their safety, finances and the use of technology; this does not make them dependent on someone of legal age. On the contrary, young people can be autonomous decision-makers.

One of the main challenges in this type of project is to adopt methodologies that allow all people to actively participate. According to Isabel Rojas, social manager of the workshops, the extra step is necessary to promote greater inclusion.

For this work, UNICEF Costa Rica, in coordination with the Vice-presidency of the Republic, Fábrica de Historias, and other allies, promoted a series of workshops with girls and adolescents, with emphasis on excluded populations, as well as with the organization of the Encuentro de Nosotras: Women Connecting.

Video: See what the girls who participated in the workshops have to say.


Andrei Arias is Communication and Partnership Assistant at UNICEF Costa Rica.

Co-writer: Manuel Mojica, journalism student at the University of Costa Rica.


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