The Permanent Committee on Women’s Affairs at the National Assembly in Costa Rica recently approved two motions that take a strong look at how women are perceived and treated with regard to political participation and their image in the media.

On July 30th, the 64th anniversary of the women’s right to suffrage was celebrated with a motion to investigate why political parties in Costa Rica are not incorporating enough women in their ballots for the 2014 elections. This is not just a matter of equality in general terms; it is actually promulgated by the Electoral Code of Costa Rica. According to Irina Grajales Navarrete, a journalist assigned to legislative matters, the Committee approved the motion unanimously.

The motion calls for the matter to be widely investigated starting in August, which should include summoning magistrates from the Superior Tribunal of Elections to testify at the National Assembly about the low participation by women in the political parties -at least when it comes to leadership positions in the ballots.

The height of female political participation in Costa Rica was seen during the last presidential election, when President Laura Chinchilla became the first woman elected to the highest leadership role in Costa Rica. Since then, many women have also become legislators and public officials around the country, but that momentum seems to have subsided since. At least one political party has paid attention to this matter and is now rushing to find women to put on their Vice Presidential ballots.

Respecting the Image of a Woman in the Media

A legislative proposal being considered by the Committee would impose penalties for individuals and business entities in Costa Rica that use female images in gratuitous and self-serving manners. Essentially, the proposal seeks to reform three articles of an existing law that regulates how a woman’s body is used in advertising and marketing campaigns. The specific action to be penalized would be the use of female figures to promote products or services that have nothing to do with a woman’s body.

This initiative is being led by legislator Pilar Porras of the National Liberation Party (PLN in Spanish), a long-standing political powerhouse in Costa Rica. On an official press release, legislator Porras explained that the proposal seeks dignity for women by empowering the government to act in cases when their body images are exploited.

A previous article in the Costa Rica Star compared the image of women in national media with the situation in Italy, where media analysts believe that many years of influence by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi created significant objectification of females in that European nation. Berlusconi was eventually given a vote of no confidence, which was influenced by powerful bond traders, but not before his involvement in the Bunga-Bunga scandal gained international notoriety.

On that article, an observation was made on how the sexist media era in Italy was coming to an end, but it is just getting started in Costa Rica. That article specifically mentioned television shows such as A Todo Dar in the past, as well as Intrusos and the wildly popular Combate on Repretel. Imported telenovelas (soap operas) from Colombia and Mexico are becoming favorites in Costa Rica, and they are known to feature risque scenes of curvy Latin American actresses wearing skimpy attire. It is important to note, however, that male bodies are equally on display in Combate.

What the PLN proposal aims to avoid is Costa Rica’s descent into a “bimbo era” as it happened in Italy during the Berlusconi era.