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Costa Rica Elects First Woman President

February 8, 2010

Following the landslide victory of Costa Rica's first female president, many women throughout the Central American country are ecstatic. Wrapped in a National Liberation Party flag, Costa Rican Laura Urena exclaimed at the victory celebration, "I couldn't be happier...It will give new opportunities to women all over the country." While her gender may make her a symbol of progressive values in Costa Rica, Chinchilla is a social conservative who opposes abortion and gay marriage. Still, women in Costa Rica have expressed a sense of deep empowerment as one of their own ascends to the nation's highest office. "I voted for Laura Chinchilla because she has promised to fight for women," said Heizel Arias, a 24-year-old single mother who voted at a prison where she is serving an eight-year drug smuggling sentence. "She was the only one who visited us and told us her plans and I believe in her." Last year saw a rallying cry from environmentalists and humanitarians alike, urging world leaders to consider the situation of women in currently underdeveloped countries. The empowerment of the second sex, they said, is critical to universal human rights, economic equality, and environmental responsibility. In a special issue of The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn wrote: " a large slice of the world, girls are uneducated and women marginalized, and it’s not an accident that those same countries are disproportionately mired in poverty and riven by fundamentalism and chaos." As we work to amplify women's voices in the media and beyond, today we look to Central America – a region commonly described as underdeveloped – as it elects its third female president. (Nicaragua elected Violeta Chamorro in 1990; nine years later Panama elected Mireya Moscoso.) Let's hope, along with humanitarians and environmentalists, that U.S. voters will increase their understanding of the power female leaders can provide. Chinchilla's views on abortion mirror those her country has long held; in 2003, the nation was under fire after refusing an abortion to a 9-year-old rape victim. We sincerely hope this powerful woman's views evolve, as she represents a continued change in the influence and opportunity of women worldwide.