Tearing down macho culture together in Costa Rica

Three men in yellow shirts hold up towels that state "catcalling on the street is considered violence against women."
Caption: More than 400 construction workers in Costa Rica now have the tools and resources to help fight sexual harassment against women.
Photo: UNOPS Costa Rica

“We live in a macho culture that we must change and it is up to us to do so. An inappropriate look, unwanted behaviour and words are part of the problem. No woman deserves to feel harassed. We must educate our children to stop sexual harassment against women”. Jonathan Mejía, Limón, Costa Rica.  

As a 42-year-old man, who has worked for almost three decades in local construction, Jonathan acknowledges that it wasn't strange that women walking passed a construction job site were victims of all kinds of personal attacks - insults, hisses, catcalling – and other forms of harassment.  

A man in a yellow shirt and a yellow construction hat looks at the camera while another man leans on a jug of water in the background.

Caption: Jonathan has been working in masonry and construction for more than 26 years. A native of San José, the capital, now lives on the country's Caribbean coast. He considers himself one more ally "to change the macho culture of the country."

Photo: Carla Soto / UNOPS Costa Rica

Levelling up the construction field 

In recent weeks, Jonathan and 72 other workers participated in workshops aiming to end street and sexual harassment that make this kind of gender-based violence culturally unacceptable in Costa Rica.  The training session focused on preventing sexual harassment changed Jonathan’s perspective on life. Jonathan realized that his daughters and wife had been victims of street harassment. They have felt unsafe and attacked by men both in the street and their workplaces.  

“Nowadays, I have the tools to engage in changing attitudes and ending sexual harassment towards women now and for good. I realized that it is a crime and that it causes real harm,” said Jonathan Mejía.  

As a seasoned construction worker, Jonathan has become a leader among his co-workers in the journey to promote the cultural change required to end sexual harassment. Jonathan and his coworkers are now willing to step in and help others get on the right path to ending sexual harassment and advancing the fight against gender bias at the workplace (and other spaces). 

Several men sit at desks near a man in a black shirt and construction vest who looks off to a speaker.

Caption: Role-play, dramatic performances and collective reflections were techniques used to train construction workers against sexual harassment.

Photo: Frecia Camacho/UNOPS Costa Rica

Given the different types of violence against women (VAW), which have been embedded into sexist dynamics and helped construct violent masculinity as a cultural norm, accelerating action was required. UNOPS prioritized the creation of safe learning spaces to deconstruct these types of patterns.

Putting an end to industry-gender bias 

Through different types of group dynamics and the development of safe spaces for reflection — this group of workers began to identify violent behaviours against women at the workplace that until then seemed culturally acceptable.  

More than 400 workers in the infrastructure development field in Costa Rica are learning new masculinity models and are committed to joining the Zero Tolerance Against Street Harassment campaign promoted by UNOPS. The first cohort works at the Turbina company, a contractor for the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), which oversees the Sanitary Sewerage project related to treatment and disposal of wastewater in Puerto Viejo de Limón.  

The Justice and Gender Foundation gave the masculinity and harassment prevention training in partnership with UNOPS and the Costa Rican Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers (AyA) of Costa Rica as a supporting entity.  

An areal view of a roundabout at night.

Caption: In the last five years, UNOPS in Costa Rica has completed eight priority infrastructure works. The roundabout of Garantías Sociales (Social Guarantees, in English) is one of the most emblematic.

Photo: Photo Presidency/ Costa Rica

As part of its commitment to eradicate violence against women and ensure gender equality, UNOPS is currently executing a portfolio of $200 million in Costa Rica guaranteeing that at least 10% of the staff are women. For new projects, this figure increases to 40%.    

In Costa Rica, the infrastructure sector, especially those construction companies with contracts managed by UNOPS, should incorporate awareness actions promoting the concept of positive masculinity and put a stop to sexual harassment and sexual assaults.  

Dismantling inequalities together  

 “We are also working with our teams and our contractors to foster change by raising awareness and knowledge among male staff members”, explained Alejandro Rossi, UNOPS Representative in Costa Rica.  

In addition to training workshops and maintaining a policy of gender, diversity and inclusion, UNOPS and its partners have advanced other measures, such as implementing prevention protocols and designated systems for filing complaints. 

In 2020, Costa Rica approved Law 9877 Against Street Sexual Harassment, which seeks to guarantee people’s right to safety in public and private spaces and during commutes on public transportation. According to UN Women, in Costa Rica, 83.3% of legal frameworks that promote, enforce and monitor gender equality, focusing on violence against women, are already in place.  

Since the beginning of 2020, the United Nations in Costa Rica, through its agencies: UN Women, International Labour Organization (ILO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), under the institutional leadership of the Minister of Human Development and the Joint Institute for Social Assistance (Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social, IMAS, in Spanish), are advancing a joint programme to break the cycle of poverty at the local level by strengthening the National Social Protection Strategy (Bridge to Development, Puente al Desarrollo, en español) and including gender perspective and an environmental points of view in their approach. 

The UN is working hand in hand on different fronts and focusing on substantively impacting all areas of women's lives. In the quest to put an end to the different types of violence against women, including sexual violence, street harassment and political violence, the UN is fostering economic autonomy, political participation, access to sexual and reproductive health services (including the prevention of pregnancy among girls and young women) and so on.

These initiatives include producing and disseminating information, reinforcing decision-making protocols and policy-making processes, developing nationwide campaigns, boosting women's empowerment through community leadership and entrepreneurial management skills, and bolstering institutional channels for filing complaints and offering proper care in VAW cases.

Produced by UN Costa Rica. Written by Danilo Mora Díaz, Communications Officer at UN Costa Rica, and Sandra Ramírez, Communications Officer at UNOPS Costa Rica. Editing and translation by Carolina Lorenzo, Development Coordination Office. To learn more, visit: https://costarica.un.org/

Агентства ООН, вовлеченные в эту инициативу
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
International Labor Organization
UN Women
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Office for Project Services

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