Young Women Speaking the Economy
Ticas and the Global Economic Crisis
New research suggests that Costa Rican women have been more affected by the global economic crisis than men. Unemployment, discrimination, and underreporting of work are all challenges facing Costa Rican women in this recovery, says Professor Maria Florez-Estrada Pimentel, a professor and researcher at the University of Costa Rica and Technical Coordinator of the Agenda Económica de las Mujeres UNIFEM Program. In the following interview, Pimentel explains these challenges and discusses why she is nevertheless optimistic about the economic future of Costa Rican women.
International Museum of Women: To what extent has the recent global economic crisis affected Costa Rican women?
Maria Florez-Estrada Pimentel: The economic crisis has impacted women more than men in Costa Rica. This can be clearly supported by the fact that, after the crisis, women's unemployment in Costa Rica rose to almost 10% (from 6.8% in 2008), while that of men rose to 6.6% (from 6.2% in 2008). For Costa Rican women, this crisis was a crisis inside the permanent crisis they face due to gender inequalities: there is a consistent income gap for women, who earn around 19% less than men due to discrimination and poverty is more prevalent in those households where women are the main income earners.
Costa Rican women's segmentation in the labor force shows that they concentrate in sales, as domestic workers in private homes, and in industry. Part time jobs and informal jobs, where women have no social security, and where their rights are not always respected, are more frequent in these sectors.
IMOW: Do you think women working in a particular sector suffered more than other areas?
MFEP: Unemployment especially affected women who worked in tourism and sales commerce due to the fall in foreign demand, as well as those women employed domestic workers in private homes, due to the increase in unemployment of women who were then able to stay home to do domestic work and no longer needed outside help. Women are the first to be fired during high unemployment times, due to discrimination in favor of the "main" income earner, which traditionally is a male role.
IMOW:What is the current situation like for women in rural areas? Has the recent crisis affected them worse than men?
MFEP: The situation of women in rural areas is worse than in the city in all aspects: wage gaps are larger, the total workload of paid and unpaid work is higher, and their educational levels are lower. Also, statistics underreport much of the work of rural women, because while they cultivate livestock around their homes to feed and support their families in times of unemployment, this is not considered "work." Moreover, a recent study in the South zone of South Costa Rica found that most of the land and patrimony in rural areas belongs to men, either directly or through cooperatives, which have very machista regulations.
IMOW: What kind of effort is the Costa Rican government making to assist women during this period of economic recovery? Are there any institutions or organizations working towards gender equity in the workplace?
MFEP: The Government doesn't have a labor policy, nor do they have a strong commitment against gender discrimination. As far as foreign investment is concerned, many of those investors don't consider discrimination; they only look at how to increase competitiveness in economic terms, and do not really care for women as workers with rights of their own, only as vehicles to guarantee the reproduction and qualification of the labor force (as mothers, for example). Discrimination persists, even though Costa Rica has a National Women's Institute, and there are many women's organizations whose work has helped create a National Policy for Gender Equality.
IMOW: How do you think Costa Rica, and especially Costa Rican women, will come out of the crisis? Is this an opportunity for them to grow, or just another setback in equity?
MFEP: As a result of my own research, I think there are several reasons to be optimistic. Costa Rican women have reached the highest levels of education in history and they are participating in the labor market in greater numbers. This allows them to have an income of their own and gets them out of their homes, working with other women. So, more women are finding independence, and at the same time the country's active women's organizations continue to fight for equity. So there are many forces working together for change, and that is a reason to hope.