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Costa Rica


Costa Rica rates 4th out of 17 Latin American countries with the lowest female labour participation (4). More women are unemployed than men, with 10% of women being unemployed compared to 6.6.% of men in 2009 (2). 80% of working women work in the service sector (2), 13% of women who work are household maids who earn 36% of the average income for women in Costa Rica (3). If all productive women who are able to work were working it would reduce poverty in the country by 9 percentage points, compared to only 3 percentage points for men (4). Most of the Costa Rican workforce is made up by immigrants, with only 14% of domestic workers being Costa Rican (3). 37% of domestic workers are Nicaraguan (3). Female labour participation was much lower than men in 2017, reaching only 45% of women compared to 75% of men (4). Women complete 75% of domestic work (4). Costa Rican women spend 23.5% of their time on unpaid domestic work, compared to 8.2% for men (11). Family obligations is the most used phrase by unemployed women when explaining why they don’t work, with 30% of the one million unemployed stating so (4). 46.1% of women are eligible for a pension and are receiving it (11). Sadly, 29.1% of women don’t have stable access to food (11).

Violence against women

Violence against women is high, with 35.9% of women experiencing physical and sexual violence in their lifetime (5). 7.8% of women have faced physical and/or sexual violence in the past 12 months alone (5). Only 2% of girls are married before the age of 15, however 21.2% of girls are married before they reach 18 (11). Costa Rica has registered 304 femicides since 2008, with 15 alone between January and August in 2018 (6). Furthermore, there have been 365 murders as a result of domestic violence since 2007 (5). Courts received over 286,000 requests for protective measures from 2012 to 2017, with 80% of these being from women (6). This can’t possibly be helped by the 46,000 reports of sex crimes agasinst women between 2010 and 2016 (6).

Number of People Experiencing Domestic Abuse Each Year:

2016: 25% domestic violence patients were seen at Caja hospitals with women accounting for 52% of all cases (13). Of these, most victims were adolescents or adults between the age of 20-39. Of the male patients, most were children or adolescents under 19. The most common forms of violence among all adolescents, girls and boys, were sexual abuse and neglect.

Geographically, the highest rates of domestic violence were seen in rural areas. The Puntarenas canton of Quepos topped the list with 101 domestic violence cases per 10,000 inhabitants. Turrubares in San José province was second with 98 cases per 10,000 inhabitants, followed by Los Chiles in Alajuela and the Cartago cantons of Jiménez and El Guarco (14).

2011 - 2012: According to the Costa Rican Department of Police Intelligence, during the first 3 months of 2012 alone, law enforcement received an average of 222 reports of domestic violence per day. This amounted to a total of 19,975 domestic violence cases; 5,195 cases more than was reported in the first 3 months of 2011 (15).

No research on male victims or other gender identities.

Cost of Domestic Abuse to the Economy Each Year:

No research.

Estimated % Change due to COVID-19:

No research.

Current Law and Policy

The government of Costa Rica pledges to reduce violence against women as a national priority and is a signatory of the 1994 Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women. Costa Rica passed a Domestic Violence Law in 1996 (16). Costa Rica has also formed a National Plan to Treat and Prevent Intra-Family Violence coordinated by the National Centre for the Development of Women and the Family. 1997 of the National System for the Care and Prevention of Domestic Violence. However, it was found in 2017 that these plans lacked capacity, budget and the structure to coordinate movement and improve quality. In 2018 Costa Rica declared a national state of emergency in response to increasing domestic violence rates.

Political representation of women

Costa Rica is 9th in the world out of 193 countries for gender representation (8). In 2011, Laura Miranda was the first female president, winning her position by more than 20 percentage points up from the runner up (1). 45.6% of seats in the national government are made up by women, and they make up 45.5% of local government seats (11). In the 2006 election, women's representation in the Legislative Assembly increased to 38.5% and 50% at the municipal level (9). There has been an increase in women in the police force, with a rise from 3% to 17% from 2015 to 2017 (1). Women make up 46% of public sector leadership positions, however it is only 23% in private sector leadership positions (9). Additionally, women make up only 18% of company presidents and 31% of general management (9). 41% of managerial positions are held by women (11).


Costa Rica was ranked at number 36 for the best healthcare systems in the world according to a 2000 study (10). The life expectancy for women is 82 (10). The national health system has 30 hospitals and 250 clinics in the country, and each year more than 40,000 Americans travel to Costa Rica to seek treatment (10). There are 27 deaths per 100,000 live births, and 40.9% of women aged between 15 and 19 have children before they reach adulthood (11). Air quality is high, with only 5 people per 100,000 people dying from poor air quality (11). 81% of people have access to safe drinking water (11).


97.9% of women can read and write, and only 1.2% of girls are not in school (11). Girls enrollment level at primary school is 96.6%, and secondary school is 84.5%. Girls enrollment at tertiary college is at 60.9%. The number of girls dropping out of school is decreasing- in 2011, 10,000 girls dropped out, compared to 6000 in 2016. Only 28% of scientific researchers are women.

Frontline Organisations:

  • Sula Batsu

  • Mujeres en tecnologia en Accion



  1. The Tico Times, 13 April 2016.

  2. US Embassy in Costa Rica, “Assistance to Victims of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault”, (

  3. UN Women, “Global Database on Violence Against Women – Domestic Violence Law No. 7586”, (

Further Reading

[1] See AFP and The Tico Times, “Costa Rica Pledges to Reduce Violence Against Women”, (, 15 August 2018).

[2] TeleSur, “Gender Violence Forces Costa Rica to Declare State of Emergency”, (, 3 May 2018).

[3] Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, “Concluding Comments: Costa Rica”, (2003), Report Supplement No. 38 (A/58/38).

[4] Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, “CEDAW Examines the Report of Costa Rica”, (, 7 July 2017).

[5] UNDP, “From Commitment to Action: Policies to End Violence Against Women in Latin America and the Caribbean”, (2017), Regional Analysis Document.



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