Tag Archives: Costa Rica

Carolina’s Story by Simon Walters

Place a piece of paper on your head.  On the paper, without looking, draw a picture of a girl.  Start with the head, the hair, then the features on the face, eyes, nose, ears and mouth, then the torso, the arms and hands, the legs and feet, and finally the genitals.   Do not look at the picture until you have reached the end of this piece. 


Carolina is 15 years old, and from one of the poorest neighbourhood’s in Nicaragua’s capital, Managua.  She has to look after her two younger brothers, both of which come from different fathers.  She herself has a one-year-old son.  When she was 13 years old she was raped by her stepfather and uncle, after the two of them had come from a late-night drinking session.

The dysfunctional nature of her family meant going to college to get an education was never an option.  Since she was 9 years old she was forced out onto the dangerous streets of Managua, to sell cigarettes and chewing gum at one of the many party and bar zones in the city.

One night, another gruelling night of selling cigarettes to the drunks at 2am, a man, a foreigner, came and spoke to her.  He was drunk, and smelt heavily of beer and smoke, but he wanted to spend the night with her.   He said he would give her $20 if she agreed.  Carolina disagreed, the man was revolting.  When she did so, the man smacked her, around the face.  It was in full view of everybody, but nobody really seemed to take notice.   She eventually agreed, and went with the man to one of Managua’s many motels.  The man forced himself onto her, breathing heavily as he penetrated her.  The pain for Carolina didn’t seem to last too long, somehow her body went numb, she fell into a form of daze, no longer really aware of what was happening around her.

Two nights later the same man spotted Carolina at her usual spot by the bars.  As he spoke to her in his broken Spanish, Carolina took in little of what was being said, focusing only a few words, Costa Rica, new life, good employment.    Defences had been broken.  The following day the man went with Carolina to her home.  Her stepfather hurriedly signed the permission slip for this man to take her to Costa Rica, only too happy to get the unhappy girl that he had raped out of his home.  Carolina’s mother seemed far less sure about the decision, and very suspicious about the employment.  A few slaps to the face from Carolina’s stepfather however quickly made her change her mind.

In a remarkable short space of time all documents were signed, and Carolina found herself on the bus to Costa Rica.  She had never left Nicaragua before, and was nervous, but excited about what awaited her.  Nine hours went by, the journey was quite slow as for some reason they had been held up at the border, but they finally arrived at San Jose.  It was about 8pm.   The man had told her he would take her to her new home.  This new home was on a dirty but busy street. They entered through the side door, it was locked behind her.   She stepped on a used condom.  She saw dozens of girls, all of them in mini-skirts and high heels.  None of them looked any older than her.  None of them looked her in the eyes.  Things were feeling very strange.  Two men approached her.  One of them grabbed her by the hands, the other she saw lowering his pants.  She went numb again.

15 months later and Carolina is now back in Nicaragua.  In total she worked at 6 different bars in San Jose, where she was abused, beaten up, raped and exploited sexually for commercial purposes on a nightly basis.  She is now being cared for at the Casa Alianza protection centers in Nicaragua.

Her story is devastatingly common.  Girls coming from impoverished backgrounds in extremely macho cultures, themselves victims of violence and abuse, finding themselves forced into sexual abuse and exploitation with little or no chance of escape.  They are broken down physically and psychology.

Carolina’s story is not real.  There is no Carolina, but after having spent nearly three years living in Central America, in which I have spent over half that time working for Casa Alianza, an NGO working to protect children in extraordinary risk, her story is all too real.

The reality is great, and there are steps which must be taken by us all to prevent children, women and girls facing such extraordinarily difficult situations:

  1. We must provide training to families to care properly for their children, especially female children
  2. We must provide awareness about domestic violence, and the support for women who are the victims such crimes
  3. We must tackle macho cultures which enable and accept violence and other crimes against women and girls
  4. We must provide the care and support for the women and girls who have been victims of crimes such as this, providing the psychological and physical care needed
  5. We must never tolerate any form of violence against women and girls.

And now, let’s go back to your drawing.  I am sure the image you have constructed is not a beautiful piece of art.  I am sure, in fact, that it is a very mutilated image.   And so why did I ask you to do this?  Because this mutilated image shows the destruction done, both on the inside and the outside, to the girls and women who are the victims of abuse, violence, sexual exploitation and human trafficking.    

We must unite to provide the training and awareness to prevent violence against women.

Simon was born in the UK, although he has been fortunate to spend large parts of his life in different countries, working as an English teacher, radio presenter, trainer of debating and public speaking, and coordinator of Model United Nations events.

He holds a First Class MA in History from the University of Edinburgh, and a MA in International Law and Human Rights from the United Nations University for Peace.

He is currently based in Managua, Nicaragua, where he has spent the past year and a half working for the NGO Casa Alianza Nicaragua.  Casa Alianza works to protect, support and rehabilitate children and teens in situations of extraordinary risk.  This includes boys and girls living on the streets, many with addiction problems to harmful substances, victims of abandonment, intra-family violence, child labor exploitation, sexual abuse and exploitation, and human trafficking.

He currently works for the organization as a specialist member of staff, working to organize sustainable and healthy activities for all the kids being cared for by Casa Alianza, as well as working as an international development consultant to the various Casa Alianza sites in Latin America. You can read more about his experiences on his blog

Day 15- The Clothesline Project

Today starts a week of discussion surrounding organizations and actions that aim to combat violence against women. Gender-based violence takes many forms including emotional, psychological, financial, verbal, physical, and sexual abuse.

Women all around the world are at risk for violence.

Violence is often inflicted on women by men they are close to such as fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles, or boyfriends, but lesbians and transgendered people around the world are at risk of assault and sexual violence everyday, just because they exist. And while violence within LGBTQAI relationships is often overlooked and covered up, lesbians are not exempt from domestic violence.

Another vulnerable group of adult women are elderly women, both in retirement homes and out. Elder abuse can take many forms, from neglect to homelessness and widows in many countries are even more vulnerable. This week we will not tackle child abuse as a separate topic but look at the various ways in which girl children are specifically targeted for abuse and victimized by incest.

The Clothesline Project: I had witnessed the power of the Clothesline Project as an undergraduate student at San Diego State University. The personal messages written on old shirts at first are overwhelming and bring a sense of sadness and dismay, then you see the messages of hope and triumph written by women who have learned to overcome their own personal tragedies.

The first (and to-date only) Clothesline Project I have personally taken part in was last year at the University for Peace. All of the photos in this post are from that event. I cannot explain how empowering it was to share my own stories of abuse and support other women in their own healing processes.

Many groups that arrange Clothesline Projects do not allow men to write shirts but when asked by a classmate’s father if he could create a shirt to honor his sister who had been murdered by her boyfriend in front of her eight-year-old son, there was no way I could exclude men from our project.

Men and boys are also deeply affected by violence against women, and this project is a good cathartic opportunity for them to realize they have a community of people with whom they can share their stories and show their support to others who have faced similar challenges.

If you are interested in creating a Clothesline Project in your neighborhood to send a message of support to victims of violence, and defiance to perpetrators, see the original creator’s website.

For our project, we first raised money to buy shirts from a second-hand store. Because our student community was very international and would only be in Costa Rica for a year, most of us could not afford to part with the few articles of clothing we had brought with us.

At the store I purchased roughly 70 shirts of various solid colors. We used black permanent markers to share our stories and so some materials are better than others.

The color scheme of CP is broken down this way: Grey for verbal abuse, yellow and orange for physical violence, red and pink for rape and sexual assault, blue and green for child abuse, purple for violence against the LGBTQAI community, and white for murder.

From there we set up a quiet table, put pieces of cardboard in between the fronts and backs of the shirts so the markers wouldn’t bleed through, and started sharing our stories. We wrote the year on the hems of the shirts to keep track of them. We encouraged everyone to write in their native languages (our students came from 60 countries) and then we taped a typed translation onto the front of the shirts.

Because we were in a Spanish-speaking country, Spanish speakers were encouraged to write in Spanish on the front and English on the back. The idea was to eventually display the whole collection, with everything translated into Spanish, for the people of the town nearest our campus. While our class was never able to arrange this, we left the shirts our class made with the Gender & Peacebuilding department in hopes that this year’s class will add their stories, and continue our work.

The shirts were displayed for a week around the covered outdoor cafeteria area so that people could not ignore our message. The first day, during lunch, the display was accompanied by a soundtrack to make sure people were aware of how pervasive violence against women is. I created a soundtrack of a low-flying jet, a car alarm, and an air raid siren, which sounded every 13 seconds, every 2 minutes, and every 15 minutes, respectively. The jet symbolizes how often a woman is subjected to physical violence, the car alarm shows how often a woman is raped, and the siren alerts people to how often a woman is murdered in the US.

The event is emotional so if you are taking this on, be prepared for tears, confusion, and some very uncomfortable moments as people who think they don’t know anyone who has been victimized come to realize that no one’s safety is guaranteed.

Any event that raises awareness and gets people talking about such a taboo subject is a worthwhile nonviolent action. Together, we can overcome violence against women. 

Day 12- Women’s Activism in Central America and the Caribbean

Central America and the island nations adjacent to it in the Caribbean Sea are often an unknown or forgotten part of the world. The biodiversity and fragile, supple ecosystems of these countries are under attack but so too are the people of this region. The high rates of violence in Central America and the damaging effects of climate change in the Caribbean mean that everyone here is on high alert. Two organizations that operate around the world to help women, but are particularly active in Central America are Vital Voices, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association and MADRE. Though I will attempt to find as much as possible in English, a number of the links today may be in Spanish, if they are, it will be clear.

Guatemala: The murder rate in Guatemala is 49 of every 100,000 people. Frighteningly, it is not the highest in the region. But the rate of violence against women in this Central American country was enough to prompt a United States federal court to rule that immigration officials should reconsider the asylum request of a woman because she would suffer violence and possibly death if she returned to Guatemala. But some Guatemalan women are using activism within the US to demand a review of America’s policies. Norma Cruz, founder of Fundacion Sobrevivientes, “staged a hunger strike in front of the US Supreme Court to protest the illegal adoption of stolen children from Guatemala….”

Belize: A relatively new country, Belize’s social stratification is a complex web of ethnicity and race. Gender based violence is also problem in Belize, one of the many countries last year to participate in the UN’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. The other major problem for Belize is destruction of its ecosystem: Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world but the delicacy of this ecosystem means that any changes in the global temperature or sea levels can be disastrous.

El Salvador: In a country plagued by civil war, internal terrorism and political violence, it may be hard to imagine that life for women is more dangerous after the peace accords were signed, but it’s true for El Salvador- the country with the highest murder rate in the world in 2009. In a country where women’s average salary is 28% lower than men’s, rates of murder and rape of women rose after the war. Salvadoreños also deal with US intervention, especially when it comes to mining, on a regular basis. Go here to send support to activists from Cispes El Salvador who have received death threats because of their vocal objections to US intervention there. Unsurprisingly, LGBTQAI rights in El Salvador are also under attack, but Entre Amigos (in English) is not afraid to stand up for what’s right.

Honduras: Lower than El Salvador but higher than Guatemala, Honduras’s murder rate is 67/100,000 inhabitants. The 2009 coup that expelled the former-President has left women in political limbo, but they are still in the streets demanding their human rights. Activists in El Frente are frequently targeted for their participation in anti-Lobo (the new President) demonstrations. If you are interesting in participating in a training session for the health and safety of activists fighting for the rights of sweatshop workers in Honduras, go here.

Nicaragua: The feminist movement in Nicaragua has the same generational aches and growing pains as the women’s movement in the US but some young Nica women are actively working to make the label “feminist” a positive one. Women’s rights activists in Nicaragua have been persecuted by the Catholic Church but support letters from Amnesty International followers gave them the strength to continue their fight. This page concisely explains women’s grim reality in Nicaragua. This blog highlights the work of one of my colleagues who is volunteering his time to help the street children of Nicaragua.

Costa Rica: Many unique international organizations working for women’s rights operate out of Costa Rica, including the Feminist International Radio Endeavour (FIRE), and the UN-mandated University for Peace which offers a MA in Gender & Peacebuilding. Also in CR the Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres and the Centro de Investigacion en Estudios de la Mujer Universidad de Costa Rica are working academically to shape and improve women’s realities.

Panama: Panama’s first lady, on International Women’s Day, called for a nonviolent revolution to bring about gender equality in the country. Gender based violence and poverty are two major concerns for Panamanian women, in addition to “unequal access to education, and lack of political activism.” But many women in Panama do take to the streets in a different form of activism.

The Bahamas: Spousal rape and the ability to transfer citizenship to their children are two of the most contentious issues Bahamian women are fighting against and for, respectively. Part of the frustration of feminists in the Bahamas comes from women simply following men’s lead in politics. Rest assured though that if and when Bahamian women stand up for their rights, they will not be denied.

Cuba: The Revista Mujeres highlights the work and inequalities women face in Cuba today. One of the most vocal groups in Cuba Las Damas de Blanco visibly protest the government’s detention of their sons and husbands for their own political protests.

Jamaica: Homophobia is Jamaica has garnered the ire of LGBTQAI activists in the US but activists in Jamaica have their own hands full battling “corrective rape” of lesbians and violence against women in general. Racism is also still prevalent in Jamaica, but activists are speaking out against that too.

Haiti: Poor Haiti. Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, diseases, and violence have marked Haiti’s recent history, with women suffering the most for it. Haiti lost three of its most influential women’s rights activists to the 2010 earthquake. The women who made rape a crime in Haiti, only in 2005, would have been heartbroken to hear the tragic tales of sexual violence in the makeshift camps that were constructed after the earthquake. Those women left behind continue to fight against violence, and rape (including testifying at the UN Court of Human Rights) and to have their voices heard. This year’s V-Day campaign also alerts the world to the plight of women in Haiti.

Puerto Rico: Although this island is not an independent nation, and is in fact, under the authority of the US, Puerto Rican women face unique challenges. This Master’s thesis by Matthew Perez of Ohio University explores the intersectionality of oppression that Puerto Ricans face. Activists in Puerto Rico two years ago seized the capital in a peaceful protest to decry the laws there that they say promote female submission to men and violence against women.

St. Lucia: The St. Lucia Crisis Center has participated for years in activities to bring about an end to violence against women, including AIDS awareness workshops. One of St. Lucia’s most vocal women’s rights activists, Flavia Cherry, spoke out about discrimination she has faced from the Minister of Gender Relations because of her political association.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines: As in the US, many, if not most rapes in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a tiny island nation in the Caribbean Sea, are not reported. But when a female police officer accuses the Prime Minister of rape and the charges are dropped without investigation, it is too disheartening. This article is a good recent historical summary of the obstacles women face in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Trinidad and Tobago: The environment is one area that has been difficult for female activists in Trinidad and Tobago to break into, but Yvonne Ashby has managed to make her voice heard. Gender and feminism in the black power movement are explored in this essay, and at least one activist in this country has been harassed by the police for her vocal objections to the treatment of children and women. Trinidad and Tobago’s female Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, has promised that this year the country will establish a national Commission on the Status of Women, hopefully this will help address the concerns of the women and activists of Trinidad and Tobago.

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