Sunday, August 31, 2008

Trouble in Paradise: Domestic Violence in Costa Rica

Globally, as women mobilize to fight gender-based violence they garner support and protection even in extremely hostile and difficult circumstances to overcome violence. Sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual harassment and stalking are only a few of the forms of gender-based violence that women are subjected to around the world. Some gender-based violence reflects patriarchal notions that view women as male’s property, less valued and therefore inferior to males. Other causes of gender based violence point to global capitalism’s commodification of the bodies and labor of women and children. Worldwide, flourishing markets in adult entertainment and pornography exploit women and children’s bodies, thus appropriating them for the pleasure of mostly male clientele. Additionally, culturally specific forms of violence victimize women and include some of the following: female circumcision in Africa and the Middle East; honor killings most frequently in India, Bangladesh, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Iraq and Iran; trokosi in Ghana, dowry deaths in India and rape in the United States, England and South Africa.
Globally, women and their male allies have been working to name these acts of violence against women as criminal acts, punishable by law. In some instances they have accomplished the difficult task of elevating gender-based violence from an “individual” problem to a “social problem,” thus bringing it out of the purview of the private sector into the public arena. These 1997 statistics speak to both the successes and the tenuous progress in overcoming this social problem:
• Legal protection against violence against women has occurred in only ¼ of all counties in the world
• Only 44 countries world wide have laws against violence toward women
• Only 27 countries have laws against sexual harassment
• Only 17 countries have marital rape laws

Gender-based violence restricts women’s contributions and their abilities to live full and productive lives, thus negatively impacting their familial, societal and economic development. Additionally, gender-based violence often leads to the disintegration of families, medical problems, inability to fulfill employment obligations and even loss of life. For the purpose of this paper gender based violence is defined as follows:
any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life. Violence against women shall be understood to encompass but not be limited to: physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family and in the community, including battering, sexual abuse of female children, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence, violence related to exploitation, sexual harassment and intimidation at work in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women, forced prostitution, and violence perpetrated or condoned by the State.

Domestic Violence in Costa Rica
In Costa Rica, domestic violence, prostitution and sex trafficking constitute the most egregious human rights violations against women.
The Costa Rican government identified domestic violence against women and children as a serious societal problem. The National Institute for Women (INAMU), an autonomous institution created in 1998, and dedicated to gender equality, received 63,990 calls on its domestic abuse hot line from January through October. During this same period, INAMU counseled 4,097 female victims of abuse in its San Jose office (the capital of Costa Rica) and accepted 194 women in INAMU-run shelters. INAMU maintained 41 offices in municipalities around the country and had trained personnel working in 32 of the country’s 81 cantons. The Office of the Special Prosecutor for Domestic Violence and Sexual Crimes prosecuted 448 cases related to domestic violence during the year, compared with 456 cases in 2001. INAMU reported that 24 women were killed in incidents of domestic violence during the year, compared with 11 in 2001.

Public Policy Legislation in Costa Rica
The 1996 Law Against Domestic Violence established precautionary measures to help victims of domestic violence. The Legislative Assembly enacted a Bill to Qualify Violence Against Women as a Crime, which classified certain acts of domestic violence as crimes and mandated their prosecution whether or not the victim pursued charges against the perpetrator. The authorities incorporated training on handling domestic violence cases into the basic training course for new police personnel. The domestic violence law now requires public hospitals to report cases of domestic violence against women. It also denies the perpetrator possession of the family home in favor of the victim. Television coverage of this issue increased in news reporting, public service announcements, and feature programs. Reports of violence against women increased, possibly reflecting a greater willingness of victims to report abuses rather than an actual increase in instances of violence against women.

As an African American female, I am interested in the affects of domestic violence and what if any services are available to women in Limon, a town where the largest population of AfroCaribbeans reside, in addition to the nearby town of Puerto Viejo. In 1996 the black population of the province of Limon was 62,094. The total population of Costa Rica is 3,202,440. Males comprise 1,604,305 and females, 1,598,135. While no accurate statistics are available on the black population, statistics from 1984 estimated them at 58,666 or 1.9% of the total population.

How this Issue Informs My Ministry
Much of my life and now my ministry have been informed by my advocacy to eliminate violence against women and children. I was personally motivated to understand family violence, an issue that affected my own family, as it does so many others. Thus, I use my personal and professional experiences in my ministry of interfaith social justice to challenge the pervasive silence that continues to exist around societal violence.

Afro Costa Ricans
As an African American womanist theologian, I seek to understand the plight of oppressed peoples and how to minister to them using an integrated approach combining my pastoral, social justice and prophetic voice.
My research in Costa Rica indicates that Limon is the home to the majority of the country’s 100,000 Afro Costa Ricans that are located on the Caribbean Coast. These English speaking descendants of 19th century Black Jamaican immigrant workers came voluntarily to Limon to work on the construction of the railroad. This was in contrast to their descendents that were brought to Jamaica as slaves primarily from Ghana during the 19th century. While Afro Costa Ricans enjoy full rights of citizenship, including the protection of laws against racial discrimination, as racial minorities they are often underserved and under represented in all spheres of society. Oppressed peoples lives are often invisible to the majority and certainly to mainstream researchers. Using postcolonial feminist theory I ask not only who is missing in the research but I assume that certain power dynamics exist that impact the lives of historically marginalized peoples. Evidence of such inequities are confirmed in the person of the previous President of Costa Rica, Miguel Angel Rodriguez. Rodriquez publicly apologized at the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa held August 31-September 7, 201 for past injustices committed against AfroCosta Ricans (as well as to the 64,000 indigenous peoples and the 8,000 Chinese in Costa Rica). Some critics assert these injustices continue today.
My preliminary research findings indicate that there is little mention in the literature about domestic violence among Afro-Caribbean women in Costa Rica. However, a review of Afro-Caribbeans reveals a vicious cycle with limited access to goods, services, and opportunities. Low education and labor market discrimination have resulted in high unemployment and further marginalization. One can draw conclusions from research findings on child abuse such as that conducted with 50 children in Limon and 50 in San Jose:
The majority of the young people come from poor homes characterized by family violence. Their rights have been violated since their earliest childhood, especially
those relating to parental protection and care, protection against all forms of abuse
and protection against the use of drugs and illegal substances. In addition, the lack
of government interventions exacerbates the problem.

The limited criminal justice capacity in Costa Rica makes it even more unlikely that
instances of domestic violence will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Many judges retain traditional notions of family patriarchy and therefore are unwilling to intervene in domestic violence cases. A a result, only 20% of requests made for protection nationally are resolved in favor of the applicant. Many of the women murdered in the past have had protective orders.
AfroCaribbean women’s oppression in Costa Rica is not merely limited to stereotypes
and discrimination but they also represent the poorest of the poor. Thus, the feminization of poverty is particularly evident among AfroCaribbean women in Limon. We can intuit that these same women suffer from the violence reflected in the larger society that is so prominent in poor segments of the population whether we have research to substantiate it or not. Extrapolating from information is sometimes a beginning. Of four countries recently surveyed, Australia, Mozambique, Costa Rica and Switzerland, Costa Rica had the highest lifetime levels of overall domestic violence and the highest levels of sexual violence. More than 90% of the women reported being raped by their husbands.
Epsy Campbell Barr, founder and director of Afro-Costa Rican Women Organization founded in 1995 contends that since the time of the trans-Atlanta slave trade, Afro descendants in the Americas have been subjected to various forms of exclusion and racism. Women of African descent have also faced sexism that has prevented them from accessing the technical and political tools necessary to develop personally and as effective leaders of their communities.
This research allowed me to identify some of the barriers to safety such as poverty, social marginalization, deterioration of public facilities and to tap the voices of women like Barr that are working with women to shift the tide of violence and discrimination.

During our visit to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica my daughter, Kaleema contacted a local attorney that has been doing some human rights work. See below the pictures I took when I accompanied Kaleema to Angie's office.

Local Attorney, Angie

Kaleema meeting with Angie to talk about what is going on in the area and her involvement.

L-R Angie and Kaleema

L-R Qiyamah and Angie

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Visions from Costa Rica

Come with me to the land of the Incas in Costa Rica as we take a pictoral journey to one of the most beautiful places on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, Puerto Viejo. Puerto Viejo is a small tourist town five hours outside of San Jose, the capital with a population of about 2,000 . It is known for its beaches and surfing. Unlike other areas it is not developed and doesn't have golf courses or a lot of condo's etc. (yet). It is still undiscovered. The trip from San Jose is spectacular. The drive takes you through the mountains, then through banana and pineapple farms and then the Coast where you see the beautiful beaches and the waves rushing to meet you.
Blessed Be! Rev. Qiyamah

Kathryn and I decided that we would take a full day and go on a field trip to a nearby town that she was told had the best seafood in all of CR. While the person exaggerated the food was good but fairly typical of the good food we had grown accustomed to. Little did we know that Kaleema would make a feast that night that put Maxie's, the name of the restaurant to shame.

So we rented bikes and rode over an hour after having walked to the bike rental. That day we ended up swimming, having lunch and riding back to return the bikes. But things didn't end there. We went to a Butterfly Garden. You will see some of the pictures we took.

This is the bike that I rode to Manzanillo. Part of the trip was through a State Park. It was a glorious ride. I had not ridden a bike in years. It felt good. Fortunately, I had been exercising almost everyday in CR and so I was in decent shape.

Kathryn stopping to take one of our rest breaks.

Qiyamah stopping to take a rest break.

Melanie enjoying the coolness of the water at the local waterfall.

Kathryn looking like Eve in the Garden of Eden. lol

L-R Kaleema and Qiyamah posing at the waterfall

L-R Kathyn in her swimsuit and Melanie enjoying waterfall

Kaleema at the beach in her itty bitty bikini!

We visited a local water fall. While there is a much larger one outside San Jose, the capital which is almost five hours away, this local waterfall suited us just fine. We had it all to ourselves for over an hour and so Kathryn went skinny dipping. As you can see from the later pictures the rest of us were content to merely dip our toes in the cool waters. lol

Here I am cooling my heels.

Kathryn Liss and I posing at the waterfall.

L-R Kaleema H. Nur and her friend Melanie.

Both Kaleema and I invited friends to join us in CR. Her friend Melanie accepted the invitation as did my friend, Kathryn. Both Kaleema and Melanie had just taken the bar right before coming to Costa Rica so it was a treat to themselves. Kaleema related a story about one of her Jamaican friends whose grandmother sat outside the building where her grand daughter was taking the bar and prayed the entire time. What a powerful image that evoked when she recounted the story to me.We also had a prayer circle going for Kaleema. She told me that she and another friend she roomed with built an altar in the course of the two days that they sat for the Bar.

Keep an eye on this leaf. It will be used very strategically in a later scene!

Melanie cooling her heels

This is one of the insects that they had on display at the Butterfly Garden that Kathryn and I visited. It is non poisonous and was not alive. It was a good three inches in diameter. We constantly were reclaiming the house we stayed in from his spider relatives and their intricate webs. I found few in the house but they were everyplace outdoors, in the trees, right outside our kitchen window weaving their webs. One sat in his web above the refrigerator for over two weeks with no discernable movement. I finally touched it to see if it was in fact alive. It was! I drew a truce and my compromise was to place it outdoors! I didn't think our guests would appreciate having a spider spinning over the refrigerator.

If you look very carefully you can see two brown butterflys, one in the right hand corner and the other is in the left corner. These were two of the butterflys that survived at the Butterfly Garden.

Hibiscus trees and bushes grow wild in Costa Rica. A local woman made a concoction of hibiscus leaves and black root and told me to put it on my hair as a conditioner. I folowed her instructions and blended the mix. But I forgot to strain it and I was picking leaves out of my hair for days! lol My daughter enjoyed telling the story to her friends when we went to town.

The Bird of Paradise grows wild in CR as shown here!

I visited a butterfly garden with a friend, Kathryn Liss and we saw many beautiful butterflys. Unfortunately, this was the season that they naturally die off so we saw a lot of dying butterflys and witnessed part of their cycle of life and death. We had to climb a long and steep gravel road to get to the garden. It was a little disappointing to see almost as many dead or fluttering butterflys close to death as those that were alive and flying around. They are enclosed in a huge net canopy where there is a path to walk around and see them in a "natural" habitat.

We were not prepared for the breathtaking view in the back of the building at the Garden. Evidently a staff person lives there. Can you imagine waking up to this every morning.

Here are more of the beautiful hibuscus bushes that are everywhere.

The lush vegetation present in Costa Rica is incredible. I overheard a mother informing her child that, "there are species of plants in CR that do not exist anywhere else in the world!" I can believe it. Plants like Bird of Paradise that we pay a fortune for at the florists in the USA simply grow wild in CR. I picked some right out of our garden for a floral arrangement to welcome our two guests.

Just behind these trees is the beach and the ocean!

Kaleema taking a walk to town. Most smart people rode bikes!

Qiyamah taking a walk to town.

A picture perfect scene of the ocean and some driftwood.

This is a view of the house and garden - Casa Cacoa that we stayed in in Cocles. It was several miles from the town of Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. We walked whenever we went into town and if it was after dark when we returned we rode a taxi home for safety. The walk along the mostly gravel road was very dusty. So we got smart and walked along the beach and then when the beach ran out we walked the path in the woods. That route was cooler and gave us a view of the ocean along the way. The walk into town was an hour but we didn't mind because the path was so interesting and enchanting.

La Cocina de la Senorita Kaleema - The kitchen of Kaleema. Kaleema prepared all the meals and treated us to some exquisit food delights. She was also very bossy about her kitchen and I made a sign that read, La Cocina de la Senorita Kaleema.

This is a view of the porch. Notice how the porch and interior of the house flow into each other when the shutters are open. It was a wonderful feeling to bring the outdoors inside and the indoors outside.

I wasn't the only one having a working vacation. This is a picture of Kaleema standing at her "post" where she stationed herself to work on her laptop. She also has the coolest collection of downloaded music that included Sweet Honey in the Rock, Ben Harper, Cassandra Wilson, lots of reggae etc.

Kaleema actually had an interview via skyp while in Costa Rica. We called it her guerilla interview because of the way and where it took place. She arranged with the local internet cafe to borrow their earphoness because the interview was earlier than they opened. So imagine her sitting outside the cafe on the lawn at 8:30am getting ready to connect with an interview committee for an important two year fellowship. She has just completed the bar and so she was being very strategic about her first position post graduation and wanted to make a good impression. Before she connected with the interview committee a dog comes charging at her all bandaged up and sits down beside her and starts howling. A rooster had already been crowing and alerting everyone in hearing distance that it was time to get up. Fortunately, the rooster stopped crowing, the dog stopped howling and my daughter was invited to join the staff at the University of Austin's School of Law's Human Rights Program. The positioin fits her like a glove. We are all so excited for her!

This is my work space and the inspiring view that provided my inspiration for writing. Unfortunately, one has to pay for internet by the minute at internet cafes so I did no blogging while in Costa Rica. During my previous visit I had access to internet and was able to blog almost on a daily basis. It really makes a big difference.

This was one of the last pictures I took on my way home.My daughter, Kaleema and the caretaker and housebuilder, Leo assisted me in my departure back to Chicago. We lived down a gravel road that defied rolling suitcases and hence the need for the assistance. At night it was pitch black and we would walk down the road to our house with the help of flashlights.

This is the beautiful house that we stayed in. It had floor to ceiling shutters that opened up the entire downstairs which we took full advantage of even though we paid dearly for it at night with mosquitoes. Most places have mosquito nets but somehow only one out of the three bedrooms had a net.

This is the view from the kitchen window. There was not a window that did not have a spectacular view.

Opps! This is me caught in the act of taking a siesta!

In retrospect it is much too difficult to try to capture the array of feelings and emotions that my nearly month long visit to Costa Rica elicited for me. My trip was not about a typical tourist experience, although I did some touristy things. More importantly, it is about stepping away from my life as I know it in the USA and creating an experience with family and friends that invites me into a different encounter with myself and others that pushes me out of my comfort zone and invites me to witness to some degree or another what the world is like for others. I also did some basic research on domestic violence in Costa Rica. So while some things are different, other things are very similar and familiar to me.

At First Glance
I first traveled to Costa Rica in January, 2008 while my daughter,Kaleema, was doing an internship at the Inter American Human Rights Court. My friend, Stephanie Berry joined us in Puerto Viejo where we stayed at Tierra del Suano, a resort center in Playa Chiquita. This time we rented a house for an entire month.

It was a working vacation for me. I rested, read, sat in the sun, lazed in the hammock and did some touristy things. Other times I worked to put together a Handbook for a Program that I will be involved with called, Community Partnership Program. Having the advantage of a beautiful environment with the leisure time to be creative was very inspiring and led to very productive work for me.

While pictures are a poor substitute for sharing my experience, it is the most efficient way to even try to share my experience. So in closing, I leave you with the following wisdom:

*Costa Rica is a beautiful country. If you are into nature you will want to create the opportunity see it for yourself. San Jose, the capital, is like most urban cities. It is the country side with its lush tropical rain forests that is breath taking. Seeing the effects of globalism and the politics of American capitalism reminds me of our overwhelming influence on others and the need to be mindful of the fact that we share the planet with others.
*If you are of African descent you will be reminded of the diasporic nature of African peoples as you see blacks presence in Caribbean countries like Costa Rica
*Seeing Americans that had relocated to Costa Rica gave me some models and reminded me that I want to seek a simpler and less expensive lifestyle in my senior retirement years and that want to be planning and identifying a place now.
*Everytime I place myself in different settings I am forced to tap different parts of me that might otherwise possibly lay dormant.
*Spending time with my daughter and friends always allows me the opportunity to practice grace and gratitude as I work to be in integrity with them and learn more about engaging on deeper and deeper levels.

Question: When was the last time you stepped away from your everyday life and had time to think about your presence in the world and what that means for you and others?
Blessed Be! Rev. Qiyamah