Sunday 16 May 2021

After 200 years, two women manage to preside over Congress in the same period

In the history of Costa Rica, there have been, so far, only six women in the supreme powers of the country

QCOSTARICA – It took 200 years, but it was achieved, two women to preside over Congress in the same legislative period (2018-2022).

Silvia Hernández (left) and Carolina Hildago (right) are two women elected to the presidency of Congress in the same legislative period

On Saturday, May 1, Silvia Hernández, legislator for the Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN), was elected legislative president for the period 2021-2022.

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In the first year of this Congress, from 2018 to 2019, legislators Carolina Hidalgo, of the Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC), also served as president.

Hernández is the fourth woman in Costa Rica’s history to hold the position and Hildaldo the third. In the 2000-2001 period, Rina Contreras of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana (PUSC) was the second woman to be elected president of Congress, following the steps of Rosemary Karpinski Dodero, who from 1986 to 1987 (35 years ago), held the post, a time when many in Costa Rica considered it contrary to sacred principles for a woman to preside over the Assembly.

When Carolina Hidalgo took office, the country had spent 18 years since last a woman presided over the Legislative Assembly.

In fact, in 200 years, only four women have held this position. Now, the interval was only two years between a woman in the presidency of the first power of the Republic.

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The election of two women in the same legislative period is a reflection of the fight for gender equality that is gaining more ground every day in the country.

This time, not only did a woman win the legislative presidency again, but the two candidates for the position were also women. Silvia Hernández’s opponent was PUSC legislator María Vita Monge.

Rosemarie Karpinski was the first woman president of the Legislative Assembly between 1986 and 1987. Photo: La Nacion archives

For this election in 2021, no one was scandalized as it happened 35 years ago because, according to Rosemary Karpinski, who told La Nación in 2018, on the morning of Thursday, May 1, 1986, she received a call in which the caller claimed that they had planted a bomb in the legislature in protest at the election of a woman as the leader of Congress.

“The person on the phone told me that it was against sacred principles for a woman to take that position (that of the president of the Legislative Assembly) and, in the face of the bomb threat, there were only two alternatives: ask that the session be adjourned and call the security of Congress, or continue. That’s when it occurred to me that it was a false alarm and that they were putting me to the test to see if this woman (she is referring to her), who aspired to reach that position, was up to the job,” the former legislator recalled.

Women’s right to vote in Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, women were granted the right to vote and were allowed to run for popularly elected positions 72 years ago, with the promulgation of the Political Constitution of 1949.

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The casting of the first female vote in Costa Rica was in a 1950 plebiscite in La Tigra and La Fortuna.

The five of the six women of supreme powers in Costa Rica’s 200 year history: From left to right: Laura Chinchilla (served as president of Costa Rica from 2010 to 2014), Zarela Villanueva (served as President of the Supreme Court of Justice of Costa Rica from May 2013 to May 2017, as presidents of the Legislative Assembly: Rina Contreras (2000-2001), Carolina Hidalgo (2018-2019) and Rose Marie Karpinsky (1986-1987). Missing in the photo is the newly elected (May 1, 2021) Silvia Hernández.

‘A historical milestone’

The former president of Congress, Rina Contreras, expressed her happiness for the events that occurred this Saturday, which she classified as historical. She is confident that these changes will encourage more women to continue aspiring to these positions.

“It seems to me a historic milestone after we had to wait 15 years for the second (president) and 18 years for the third; in this legislature, there has already been an awareness and consensus to give women the opportunity to preside over parliament again.

“Doña Silvia has shown prudence, negotiation, knowledge, and I am sure that she will do very well in this difficult year where there are already political games and where there are such important bills to solve for the country,” said Contreras.

“I see it as important in two aspects: one, in which women decide to propose their names and to fight for it; and another, in which male legislator also recognize the place for women, this is a historical fact, “she added.

Six women have presided over the supreme powers

With the election of Deputy Hernández as head of the Legislature, in total, the sum of women who have led the supreme powers in the country’s history reaches six.

In the case of the Executive Branch, former President Laura Chinchilla (2010 – 2014), is so far the only president in the country.

In 2013, Zarela Villanueva was elected, for a period of five years, as head of the Judiciary, is the first woman to take the reins of Costa Rican justice.

The current Legislative Assembly has the largest participation of women legislators in history, with a total of 26 women distributed in the different political benches.

Janet Carrillo, former president of the National Institute for Women (Inamu) and a human rights defender, assures that this advance must go hand in hand with the historical memory of the struggle that has been carried out for decades and that today is bearing fruit.

“The women who have reached the Legislative Assembly have played an important role in the modification; It was they, these women, who presented bills to modify the Electoral Code in different historical moments.

“In other words, with their strategies, they have contributed to the basis of women’s rights and the opportunity today has Dona Silvia to direct the destiny of the Legislative Assembly, there are many women who for many decades have fought for the right of political participation,” said Carrillo.

In addition, the former leader of Inamu (2007-2009) also stressed the costs that women who are involved in politics often have, such as childcare, which, in the absence of co-responsibility or shared care, generates various difficulties.


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