Civil Society, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

COSTA RICA: Ready for a Woman President in 2010?

Daniel Zueras

SAN JOSÉ, Oct 22 2008 (IPS) - The announcement that former Costa Rican Vice President Laura Chinchilla will seek election to the presidency in 2010 indicates that the country “has matured and is ready” to have a woman as head of state, according to some analysts.

Chinchilla, who has the support of President Óscar Arias, stepped down as vice president and justice minister on Oct. 8 to compete in the governing National Liberation Party’s (PLN) primary elections. By law, she had to give up public office by January 2009 in order to be eligible to become a presidential nominee.

Political observers say that her likely opponents within the PLN are San José Mayor Johnny Araya, and former security minister Fernando Berrocal, who has also resigned.

But Arias has already said that he would prefer to hand over his presidential sash to a woman.

“The women’s movement is very critical of the PLN’s political and economic programme,” so it will not support Chinchilla “just because she is a woman; we have to examine where her commitments lie,” said Tita Torres, head of the Gender and Democracy programme of the non-governmental organisation Alforja, which is part of the international Social Watch network.

In contrast, Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) lawmaker Ana Helena Chacón said Chinchilla’s announcement was “wonderful,” because “she has handled difficult jobs and has an impressive track record.”


It is unlikely that other political parties with a chance of winning the presidential elections in 2010, such as the PUSC and the Citizens’ Action Party (PAC), will field women candidates.

“Epsy Campbell had prospects in the PAC, but they seem to have sidelined her,” said Chacón. “And the PUSC is dominated by an ex-president who does not allow other people to operate,” she added, referring to Rafael Ángel Calderón (1990-1994), who is awaiting trial on corruption charges, but intends to return to the political arena with renewed strength.

The head of the National Women’s Institute (INAMU), Jeannette Carrillo, said the situation today differs from that of a decade ago, when polls indicated that it was impossible for a woman to become president. Now, “the country has matured, and is ready,” she said.

In 1996 Costa Rica adopted a quota law making it obligatory for political parties to include at least 40 percent of women candidates on their electoral lists. As a result, 38 percent of seats in parliament are now occupied by women lawmakers.

In Latin America, Costa Rica is in second place in terms of the proportion of women in parliament, behind Argentina, where 40 percent of the members of the lower house of Congress, and 39 percent of senators, are women, according to the worldwide Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

In legislatures in the Americas as a whole, the average is 21.4 percent.

Before Costa Rica adopted the quota law, only 12 percent of the members of parliament were women.

However, in other areas of government, the proportion of women officials has fallen compared with the percentages achieved during the administration of President Abel Pacheco (2002-2006).

During his term, 35 percent of ministers and 48 percent of deputy ministers were women, compared to the current 28 and 37 percent, respectively. And out of the 19 autonomous state institutions, three are presently headed by women, compared to five during the Pacheco administration.

Carrillo told IPS that women have greater access to decision-making posts in institutions involved in the social areas, “but not in those related to infrastructure or the economy.”

In private companies the pattern is similar: decision-making positions are mainly held by men, and only 26 percent are in the hands of women, although women make up more than 50 percent of the professional, scientific and intellectual labour force.

Women are also usually paid less than men, even when they are doing equivalent jobs. In some cases the gap remains very wide.

In contrast, the presence of women in the judicial branch has increased. Women make up 27 percent of the total number of titular judges, and 40 percent of substitute judges.

Furthermore, one of the three members of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal is a woman, as are two of the four alternates.

 
Republish | | Print |