Costa Rica

Costa Rica is ranked 2nd out of 86 in the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index. The country was ranked 5th out of 102 in the 2009 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

The 2011 Human Development Index (HDI) score for the country is 0.744, placing it in 69th place (out of 187 countries). The Gender Inequality Index score is 0.361. Costa Rica’s World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index rating for 2011 is 0.7266, placing it in 25th place (out of a total of 135 countries).

Discriminatory Family Code: 

The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 years for both men and women. However, with parental consent, both men and women can marry at the age of 15.[1] Nevertheless early marriage rates have been falling steadily over the last twenty years; where 20 percent of girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed in 1986, that number had fallen to 10.8 percent in 2007.[2]

There is no evidence to suggest that polygamy is practised in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica was one of the first countries in the world to pass legislation, in 1973, granting parental authority to both spouses.[3] This law also provides for equality in the case of divorce.  In 1995, Costa Rica passed an act governing common law marriages and providing for equality between men and women.[4] Despite this legislative framework, and the absence of any law that grants men status as head of the family, traditional arrangements persist.[5] For example, custom dictates that women take responsibility for educating children and domestic responsibilities, even though this task is not specifically imposed by law.[6] In the vast majority of divorce cases, custody of the children is awarded to the mother; the 2010 CEDAW report notes that in many cases, divorced or separated fathers fail to pay child maintenance or do not pay enough for the family to live adequately.[7] Divorced women who wish to remarry are obliged to wait at least 300 days after the dissolution of their previous marriage. Failure to abide by this rule is punishable by a fine.[8] It is unclear whether Costa Rican women are able to pass citizenship onto their children.

There are no apparent restrictions on women’s inheritance rights; they can act as both executors and administrators of wills.[9] It is unclear whether or not traditional patterns of inheritance favour men over women.

[1] CEDAW (2001), p. 105. [2] The first figure is cited in United Nations (UN) (2004), p. 82; UN (2008) [3] Articles 143 and 151 of the Family Code in CEDAW (2001), p. 47. [4] Act No. 7532 of 8 August 1995 amending Article 242-246 of the Family Code in CEDAW (2001), pp. 20, 107. [5] CEDAW (2001), p. 46. [6] CEDAW (2001), p. 47. [7] CEDAW (2010), p.197 [8] Article 16 of the Family Code; CEDAW (2001), p. 104. [9] Article 541 of the Civil Code; CEDAW (2001), p. 104.

Restricted Physical Integrity: 

The law stipulates that rape, including spousal rape, should be punished by 10 to 18 years in prison, although according to the US Department of State’s 2009 human rights report, the Independent National Institute for Women (INAMU) reports that spousal rape is very difficult to prove in Costa Rica.[10] The law was effectively enforced, according to the State Department.[11]

In an effort to reduce violence against women, in 1996 the government passed a law specifically addressing domestic violence.[12] This law provides protection for victims and includes provisions for keeping the perpetrators of violence at a distance; it also includes criminal penalties of up to 100 days imprisonment for aggravated threats.[13] Legal protection for women against violence was further strengthened by the 2007 Criminalization of Violence Against Women Act, which includes acts of violence which were not previously covered by the Domestic Violence Act or by the Penal Code.[14] These include:  restriction of freedom of movement, emotional violence, abusive sexual conduct, sexual exploitation of a woman, aggravated forms of sexual violence, defrauding a woman of community property, misappropriation of earnings from family economic activities and economic exploitation of a woman.[15]

The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and in educational institutions, with a variety of administrative and criminal penalties, depending on the nature of the offence.[16] In its Concluding Observations on Cost Rica, the CEDAW Committee noted its concern at the large number of sexual harassment cases that are dismissed, or not pursued because the victim decides not to go ahead with pressing charges.[17]

According to official figures (reported by the US Department of State), 373 cases of rape or attempted rape were tried in 2009, resulting in 184 convictions.  However, under-reporting of rape and other sexual crimes is a persistent problem with victims or their families reluctant to press charges.[18]

The government continues to consider domestic violence as a serious and growing problem, reflected in the instigation of a national response and prevention system in 2008.[19] Shelters and a hotline are also provided by a national NGO.[20] However, the US State Department notes that several NGOs report that the police are not yet applying the full range of legislative measures.[21] In addition, the 2010 report to the CEDAW committee notes that in a significant number of cases, prosecutions are dropped because women victims fail to turn up to court hearings, usually because they have been intimidated or threatened or fear reprisals, indicating a fail on the part of the police and other agencies to protect women who have made complaints of domestic violence.[22] The Concluding Observations of the CEDAW Committee noted that 52,103 cases of domestic violence were brought before the courts in 2009, while the National Institute for Women (INAMU) recorded the deaths of 39 women and girls as a result of domestic violence.[23]  The Committee expressed concern that only three shelters for victims of domestic violence and their children were in operation.[24]

There is no evidence to suggest that female genital mutilation is practised in Costa Rica.

Abortion is legal in cases where the woman’s mental or physical health is in danger, although according the Concluding Observations of the CEDAW Committee, lack of clear medical guidelines outlining when and how abortion can be conducted means that in practice, women are sometimes denied this right.[25] 

The government considers sexual and reproductive health a fundamental right for all Costa Ricans.[26] Women’s access to contraception in Costa Rica is guaranteed by the General Health Act, and the Ministry of Health operates several programs to increase outreach for reproductive health services, including access to contraception.[27] As of 1999, 80 percent of Costa Rican women either married or in union reported using contraception as a form of family planning. Nearly 71 percent of these women reported using modern methods of contraception, such as sterilization, birth control pills, and condoms.[28]

[10] US Department of State (2011) [11] US Department of State (2011) [12] Law No. 7586, the Domestic Violence Act in CEDAW (2003), p. 26. [13] US Department of State (2011) [14] the Criminalization of Violence against Women Act (No. 8589/2007) and the amendment to it (Act No. 8929/2011) in CEDAW (2011), p.2; see also CEDAW (2010), p.59 [15] CEDAW (2010), p.59 [16] US Department of State (2011) [17]CEDAW (2011), p.7 [18] US Department of State (2011) [19] CEDAW (2010), p.67; CEDAW (2011), p.4 [20] US Department of State (2011) [21] US Department of State (2010) [22] CEDAW (2010), p.191 [23] CEDAW (2011), p.4; US Department of State (2011) [24] CEDAW (2011), p.4; US Department of State (2011) [25] UN (2011); CEDAW (2011), p.7 [26] Executive Decree 2913-S in CEDAW (2003), p. 111. [27] CEDAW (2001), pp. 84-86; US Department of State (2010) [28] UN (2007) 

Son Bias: 

Gender-disaggregated data regarding vaccination rates, under-five mortality, and malnutrition were unavailable. 

Data regarding gender and child labour practices were unavailable.

According to UNICEF, enrolment and attendance rates at primary and secondary level are higher for girls than for boys in Costa Rica:  at secondary level, the rates for net enrolment are 92% of girls and 87% of boys, while attendance rates are 65% and 59% respectively.[29] This would not indicate bias towards sons in regard to access to education. The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 is 1.01.[30] 

There is no evidence to suggest that Costa Rica is a country of concern in relation to missing women.

[29] UNICEF (n.d.) [30] Central Intelligence Agency (2012)

Restricted Resources and Entitlements: 

Costa Rican women have rights to property ownership and the law does not discriminate against women in regard to access to land. Statistics show that between 1962 and 1988 only about 10 percent of land allocated by the Institute for Agricultural Development was granted to women.[31] Between 1998 and 2001, nearly half all titled land was registered in the name of the couple; the other half was split almost evenly between men and women.[32] Nevertheless, land and property management decisions are still made primarily by men even where women’s names are on the titles.[33]

Legislation guarantees that Costa Rican women have access to bank loans. In practice, it is difficult for women to obtain loans because they typically hold few assets in their own names or lack the means to provide financial guarantees.[34] Access to loans is even more limited in rural areas. According to the Costa Rican National Bank, the number of loans granted to women for agriculture, fishing or farming is still very low in relation to the total number of loans accorded. However, the bank’s statistics show that the percentage of loans granted to women for small- and medium-sized enterprises increased slightly between 1999 and 2000.[35] In 2002 Costa Rica passed the Small Business and Microenterprise Strengthening Act, which created a special fund meant for loans to women and which recognize that for women, “home and business is a single entity.”[36]

[31] CEDAW (2001), p. 100. [32] CEDAW (2003), p. 147. [33] JICA (2005), pp. 25-26. [34] CEDAW (2001), p. 101; CEDAW (2003), p. 143; JICA (2005), p. 24. [35] CEDAW (2003), pp. 143-144. [36] CEDAW (2003), p. 144.

Restricted Civil Liberties: 

The Constitution guarantees freedom of movement and access to public space. However, social norms dictates that men often have greater say than women in the choice of where they will live as a couple.[37]

Freedom of speech, assembly and association are generally respected in Costa Rica.[38]  There is an active NGO sector, which includes the influential National Institute for Women (INAMU).[39] INAMU works particularly in issues relating to violence against women, providing services to victims as well as advocating for better legal and practical protection for victims; INAMU also monitors women’s political participation, and pushes for greater representation.[40]

Women and men appear to have the same right to vote and stand for election, although as the 2010 report to the CEDAW committee notes, women wishing to stand for election continue to face considerable hurdles, including resistance from political parties to fielding female candidates.[41]  The Supreme Electoral Tribunal of Costa Rica requires that women comprise 40 percent of candidates for elective office and must be accordingly placed on ballots by party slate.[42] That percentage will rise to 50 percent before the next round of national elections in 2014. In the elections of February 2010, Costa Ricans elected Vice-President Laura Chinchilla to the Presidency.[43] Following the February 2010 elections, women hold 22 of the 57 seats in Costa Rica’s unicameral Legislative Assembly, including nine legislative committee chairs.[44]

Costa Rican women are entitled to a total of four months paid maternity leave at 100 percent of wages, with an additional three months available in case of medical necessity. Benefit payments are split evenly between a national social security system and the woman’s employer, unless she fails to meet the social security system’s threshold of contributions (workers must contribute for six months in the year preceding pregnancy). In that case, employers pay two-thirds of her benefits. A pregnant or nursing mother cannot be fired except for cause arising from serious neglect of her employment responsibilities.[45] The large numbers of women working in domestic service or the informal economy have limited or no access to these benefits.[46]

[37] CEDAW (2001), p. 104. [38] Freedom House (2010) [39] Freedom House (2010); US Department of State (2011) [40] US Department of State (2011); CEDAW (2010), p.92 [41] CEDAW (2010), pp.92-93 [42] US Department of State (2010) [43] BBC (n.d.) [44] Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) (2009); US Department of State (2010) [45] International Labour Organization (ILO) (2009) [46] See CEDAW (2011), p.7; Freedom House (2010)


Since becoming independent from Spain in 1821, Costa Rica has developed into one of the most wealthy and politically stable countries in the Caribbean.[47]  The country has had no standing army since 1949, and has the most developed welfare state in the region, according to the BBC.[48]  Laura Chinchilla, the country’s first female president, took office in May 2010. The country is now dealing with rising levels of crime, as well as economic fluctuation.[49]  Traditionally dependent on agricultural exports and tourism, Costa Rica has diversified its economy into computer technology.[50]  Costa Rica is classed as an upper-middle income country by the World Bank.[51]

The Constitution of Costa Rica provides the same rights, freedoms and opportunities for all individuals and prohibits any form of discrimination.[52] Anti-discriminatory legislation and women’s increased access to education have improved their socio-economic standing since the early 1990s, but social discrimination remains evident, particularly in regard to access to land and to credit.[53] In addition, only a third of the economically active population is female, with most women working in the informal sector or as domestic workers, where they earn less than men and have limited access to labour rights and protection.[54]  Domestic violence is still a major problem and seems to have increased in recent years.[55]

Costa Rica ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1986, and the Optional Protocol in 2001.[56]  The country ratified the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (‘Convention of Belém do Pará’) in 1995.[57]

[47] BBC (n.d.); CIA (2011) [48] BBC (n.d.); Freedom House (2010) [49] Freedom House (2010); BBC (n.d.) [50] CIA (2011); BBC (n.d.) [51] World Bank (n.d.) [52] Title IV of the Constitution of Costa Rica, adopted 1949. [53] Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (2001), pp. 16, 18, 143; Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) (2006), p. 24. [54] Freedom House (2010); CEDAW (2011), pp.6-7 [55] CEDAW (2011), p.4 [56] UNTC (2011) [57] Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (n.d.)


BBC (n.d.) ‘Costa Rica country profile’, BBC News, (accessed 24 November 2011)

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (2011) The World Factbook:  Costa Rica, online edition, Washington, D.C.:  CIA, (accessed 24 November 2011)

Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Factbook: Sex Ratio, available at (accessed 21 March 2012)

CEDAW (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) (2001), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Costa Rica, Combined Initial, Second and Third Periodic Reports of States Parties, CEDAW/C/CRI/1-3, CEDAW, New York, NY.

CEDAW (2003), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Costa Rica, Fourth Periodic Reports of States Parties, CEDAW/C/CRI/4, CEDAW: New York, NY.

CEDAW (2010) Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women Combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of States parties Costa Rica, CEDAW/C/CRI/5-6, CEDAW, New York

CEDAW (2011) Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Costa Rica, CEDAW/C/CRI/CO/5-6, CEDAW, New York

Freedom House (2010) ‘Freedom in the World country reports:  Costa Rica’, (accessed 24 November 2011)

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) (n.d.) Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (‘Convention of Belém do Pará’) – status of ratification, (accessed 23 November 2011)

International Labour Organization (ILO) (2009), Database of Conditions of Work and Employment Laws, International Labour Organization, Geneva, Switzerland (accessed 25 January 2010)

Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) (2009), Women in Parliament: All Countries on National Parliaments, IPU, Geneva,

IPU (2010), PARLINE Database, IPU, available at (accessed 23 March 2010)

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) (2006), Costa Rica: Country Gender Profile, JICA, Tokyo.

United Nations (UN) (2004), World Fertility Report 2003, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York, NY.

UN (2007), World Contraceptive Use – 2007, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York, NY.

UN (2008), World Marriage Data 2008, UN Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Fertility and Family Planning Section: New York, NY.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) (n.d.) ‘Costa Rica – statistics’, (accessed 24 November 2011)

UNDP (2011) Human Development Report 2011,  (accessed 15 November 2011)

United Nations Development Programme (2011) Human Development Report 2011, available at (accessed 29 February 2012)

United Nations Treaty Collection (UNTC) (2010):  Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, countries ratified. 

-                CEDAW: (accessed 22 November 2011)

-                Optional Protocol: (accessed 22 November)

US Department of State (2010), 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Costa Rica, US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Washington, DC.

US Department of State (2011), 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Costa Rica, US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Washington, DC, (accessed 24 November 2011)

World Bank (n.d.) ‘Data:  Costa Rica’, Washington, D.C.:  World Bank, (accessed 24 November 2011)

World Economic Forum (2010) ‘The Global Gender Gap Index 2010 rankings’,

World Economic Forum (2011) The Global Gender Gap Report 2011, available at (accessed 2 March 2012)


Discrim. Fam. Code Rank 2012: 
Discrim. Fam. Code Value 2012: 
Legal Age of Marriage: 
Early Marriage: 
Parental Authority: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Rank 2012: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Value 2012: 
Violence Against Women (laws): 
Female Genital Mutilation: 
Reproductive Integrity: 
Prevalance Of Domestic Violence: 
Son Bias Rank 2012: 
Son Bias Value 2012: 
Missing Women: 
Fertility Preferences: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Rank 2012: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Value 2012: 
Access To Land: 
Access To Property Other Than Land: 
Access To Bank Loans And Credit: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Rank 2012: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Value 2012: 
Access To Public Space: 
Political Participation: 
Political Quotas: