Strengthening Communities through Women’s Groups in Costa Rica

Women’s groups in Costa Rica are kind of a big deal.

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In rural and urban communities throughout the country, women work together in groups on long-term projects to provide their families with additional income and also have work to do outside of their primary roles as ama de casa.

Projects differ from community to community but generally tend to be textile, food/cooking, or agricultural based.

Here are some examples of women’s group’s projects:

  • Chocolate production and sales (where cacao grows)
  • Sewing and selling tablecloths, decorations, and work uniforms (urban-based group)
  • Coffee production and sales (coffee regions)
  • Making and selling artisanal goods and jewelry (tourist regions)
  • Managing bee farms and creating honey-based bath & body products (rural/semi-urban region)

Basically, the goal is to create a sustainable, small business that is operated by the ladies.

Forming a women’s group is simple but officially establishing the group as an “asociación” and obtaining a license (cédula jurídica) is a tedious process that can oftentimes be scary for women who have minimal education and financial experience. The first part of the process involves nominating a President, VP, Fiscal, Treasurer and Secretary. This group is called the “junta.” Once the junta is formed, the group can become legally recognized by signing a bunch of documents and paying a lawyer’s fee.

Ta-daaaaa now you have a women’s group.

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My friend Jasmine and the women’s group she works with. They specialize in textiles.

Establishing legal recognition allows groups to operate similar to a business and receive funding and support through scholarships and government and private organizations, which is why this step is so important.

So let’s talk about the women’s group in my community: La asociación de Mujeres Productoras de Fila Naranjo.

Fifteen years ago, two women in my community (my host mom and my counterpart) joined forces to start the first ever women’s group in Fila Naranjo.

They started small by selling lunches, tamales, sweet peppers, coffee, and livestock in hopes of generating a little bit of extra income to offset the drop in the the price of coffee.

Coffee life is hard, yo.

Over the past ten years, the group continued their produce sales and sold raffle tickets as their primary income generating activities and eventually, gained traction and welcomed more members. Today the group has 16 active members!

That’s a lot of ladies.

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Women from La asociación de Mujeres Productoras de Fila Naranjo

While their initiatives allowed them to make and save small amounts of money, the group continued searching for a more sustainable, long-term project. When a piece of land went up for sale in the community in 2010 the women’s group decided to purchase it and create a rural tourism site.

Today, the site includes a dining and kitchen area (with a karaoke set up fyi), two greenhouses, a water slide, a soccer field, scenic hiking paths, and additional attractions.

You can see pictures and read more about the rural tourism site here.

The development of this rural tourism site has created job opportunity for the women’s group and the local community to generate income outside of their annual coffee bean sales.

While women’s groups might not seem like a big deal at first, they play a crucial role in community and economic development, especially in rural areas, where they:

  • Educate and upskill women
  • Provide job opportunity for all community members
  • Strengthen and diversify the economy in rural areas
  • Prevent urban drift (younger generations moving to the city) through job creation
  • Change the perception of women in rural areas and increase gender equality

Working with the women’s group in Fila Naranjo has showed me the impact of these groups firsthand. These ladies have not only developed a successful and sustainable project, but they have created jobs for local community members and combated the machismo (masculine/male chauvinism) culture, showing that women are just as capable as men and can, indeed, succeed in running a business.

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