Credits Sea witches | Flor Rivera is the manager of Coope Brujas del Mar in Costa Rica, and is supported by the United Nations Joint Program
Published on March 10, 2021

The power of women lies in their strength and determination: the story of Flor Rivera

For the rural mother of Puntarenas, Costa Rica, the pandemic put a giant stone in the way to fulfill her dream of being an entrepreneur with her Cooperativa Brujas del Mar, and to gain not only her economic independence but also to provide her with a basic livelihood. to his children. But in her case, the virus was just one more obstacle in a difficult life, being a woman and having grown up in poverty.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the UN and its agencies warned time and again about the threat that the economic consequences of COVID-19 posed for women and children, how closing schools would harm them psychologically, and how the lack of Working for women who already suffered from vulnerabilities would push them further into poverty, hunger and despair.

Flor Rivera, a rural woman in the province of Puntarenas in Costa Rica, does not need reports, speeches, and much less statistics to know that the warnings were a reality, because she has lived it all.

The pandemic put a giant stone in the way for Flor to fulfill her dream of being an entrepreneur, and to gain not only her financial independence but also to provide a basic sustenance for her children. But in her case, the virus is just one more obstacle in a difficult life, being a woman and having grown up in poverty.

Originally from the Nicaraguan countryside and a mother of three, Flor worked from a very young age to support her family, and as it still happens to millions of other rural women in the world , she was unable to complete her studies.

“I reached the fourth year of school and I did not continue studying due to financial shortcomings. My father had left my mother and she had stayed with eight daughters and what he sent her was only for food, and I did not continue studying, ”he says.


Unsplash / Elle Hughes Peeling shrimp in an artisanal way was an activity carried out exclusively by women in Puntarenas, Costa Rica.
Unsplash / Elle Hughes | Peeling shrimp in an artisanal way was an activity carried out exclusively by women in Puntarenas, Costa Rica.

The “shrimp farms” of Costa Rica

Flor migrated to Costa Rica more than two decades ago following her father. His trade was for many years peeling and skinning shrimp for any fish market in Puntarenas that needed his services. Not an easy job, in addition to poor pay, in which he had to suffer discrimination and labor exploitation.

"Shrimp brings an acid that releases it as you work, so if you are beheading, the head brings like a little saw and there are women who break all their fingers, they are raw as if they had been cut with a Gillet ”.

But the burning in her hands was not what hurt the most about being a “shrimp”, says Flor.

“A very difficult life, in the midst of mistreatment many times in the fishmongers. They mistreat women, and the work you do. If one falls or falls ill, there is no way to go to a clinic, there is nothing of the kind. It was a very difficult life, but at the same time it was the means that one used to bring food home, and to raise their children ”.

The mother assures that to work they called her a day before, and she had to arrive very early, otherwise someone else would take her position away in the middle of lawsuits. At that time, she would get up before dawn to leave the cooked food for her children, and to organize who would take care of them and receive them from school while she went to work.

 “Many times you wanted to come early because you had to pick up your children from school, but the owner of the fish shop told you: if you go, don't come to work tomorrow. "They don't come out until it's over 8 or 9 o'clock at night, you leave me that shrimp because I need it," they said, and it was obligatory, because if not, you knew they would punish her for a week or several days and they wouldn't call you. Out of necessity, one decided to stay, many times thinking that their children were alone and that late at night was coming and that one still could not leave, these are very difficult situations ”.

According to data from the United Nations Development Program , women spend on average three hours more than men doing unpaid care work and domestic work around the world. But in the case of Flor it is not about hours, but about her entire life. She has been left alone , while the father of her children works outside of Puntarenas.

“He has never been home, he always went to work long in San Jose, Liberia, anywhere in the country where there was work and I always stayed alone. What he earned by being a construction worker was barely enough to pay for electricity and water and some food. So I have always been alone, and I am still alone ”.

And it is that the distribution of care responsibilities is extremely unbalanced , and falls mainly on households and in an unpaid way, on women. According to UN Women , despite its importance, this work continues to be invisible , underestimated and neglected in the design of economic and social policies in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Many times I left my eldest daughter with my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, who coming from school, the person who took care of the baby, used to spend it for her to take care of her the rest of the afternoon so that I would not pay for the whole day of care. , because I was not going to earn enough to pay the person who would take care of my baby and that I would stay to survive ”.


Unsplash / Mauricio Leon Puntarenas, Costa Rica, has been one of the provinces most affected by COVID-19, depending on tourism.
Unsplash / Mauricio Leon | Puntarenas, Costa Rica, has been one of the provinces most affected by COVID-19, depending on tourism.


The disproportionate participation of women in the informal economy means that they enjoy fewer legal protections in terms of dismissal , paid sick leave and other labor rights in the event of job loss.

Flor experienced it firsthand when the licenses of the shrimp boats in Puntarenas expired and were not renewed by the authorities as part of a State project to prohibit the so-called “trawling” , which, as its name indicates, consists mainly of the employment of a weighted net that sweeps the bottom of the sea, capturing everything in its path. The technique, according to experts, has serious consequences on marine ecosystems, including reefs, and is not sustainable.

When the licenses ran out, the Costa Rican Fisheries and Aquaculture Institute (INCOPESCA) suggested to the now unemployed shrimp peelers that they organize as associations to be represented and fight for their rights.

“Support was being given to the fishermen who were no longer going to do their work, to the sailors, to the cooks of the boats, both in the IMAS (Mixed Institute of Social Assistance), as well as other institutions that provided them with food and things. , and nobody turned to look at the peelers because we simply did not exist for them ”.

It was then that the Sport Fishing Federation of Costa Rica, FECOP, approached these women and proposed that they become artisans of fishing lures.

"Since I heard about this project, I said I want to participate because it was an illusion of a source of work."

Almost a year went by, in which Flor survived cleaning houses and working when they told her of "peeled" shrimp from the lagoon, or harvested. At the end of 2018, they finally reunited the interested parties, six women from different shrimp farming associations, and told them that American experts would go to teach them the art of making lures.

With just a week of course, Flor and her companions found a small space inside an ice factory to work, and began to make the lures with materials that had been left to them.

“Decoys that in the end we did not know if it was good or bad because the training was so little that we could not learn everything necessary. FECOP then tells us that there are people who want to collaborate with us and buy 300 lures from us. Painting them was the most difficult because we did not know how, we were women who peeled shrimp, we had never taken an airbrush , we had never taken a compressor, a spray gun, we had never used resin. And we began to see how we did to make those lures look good. "

The Federation advised them to formalize legally in order to continue receiving support, and it was then that they decided to create the cooperative Brujas del Mar , and invited more fellow shrimp peelers.

“When you go to the beach, if you go and sit and let the breeze touch you, you feel a peace and tranquility and you feel that those waves come and go and many times they take away what you don't want to have. The sea is something so beautiful that we called ourselves sea witches, because mermaids are supposed to be sea witches and mermaids had something magical, and the sea has something magical for all of us ”.

After several months of trial and error, the women were ready to sell their first products and were invited to a sport fishing fair in late 2019.

"We went to sell, we sold, not many, but we sold about four, and we left others in concession in a store."

What they were most excited about, however, was the purchase of the 300 lures they had worked so hard to make.

“When we were going to do the interview with the person who had asked us for the 300 decoys and start selling, the pandemic came, the whole dream fell apart… very difficult moments. When we thought we were going to start seeing some money to support our families. During that manufacturing we took turns so that some of us went to work one day and others another and earn something, because we couldn't dedicate ourselves full time, we still can't do it, ”says Flor, sobbing with the imminent memory of that disappointment.


Sea witches
Sea witches

The hit of the pandemic

Globally, 193 million women live on less than $ 1.90 a day , a rate that is expected to increase dramatically after the COVID-19 pandemic. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) estimated that in 2021, for every 100 men between the ages of 25 and 34 living in extreme poverty there will be 118 women, a difference that is expected to increase even more by 2030. In Overall, the pandemic will drag 96 million people into extreme poverty this year, of which 47 million will be women and girls.

According to the agency, while the COVID-19 crisis has affected everyone, women and girls face specific risks due to the existence of inequalities, social norms and imbalances of power deeply ingrained in societies.

Puntarenas, located on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, has so far been one of the provinces most affected by the pandemic, especially at an economic level, due to its high dependence on tourism.

When the crisis began, Flor and her companions from Brujas del Mar thought of “leaving everything”, but in the end they were encouraged to continue.

“We decided in the midst of this pandemic to carry out the procedures for the legalization of the cooperative. We started in March and these months passed until we reached August when we were legally constituted as a cooperative, and Coope Brujas del Mar was officially born  . Since then we have continued there, always with the illusion of manufacturing and selling, of making that dream come true, which has been what sustains us for this group of women, with the faith and hope of being able one day to obtain a decent salary , a benefit for the sustenance of our family ”.

According to UN Women, women are prevalent in many of the industries hardest hit by COVID-19, such as foodservice, retail and entertainment. For example, 40% of all female employees (510 million women worldwide) work in the most affected sectors , compared to 36.6% of men. In addition, 72% of the domestic workers were left without work.

For countless women in informal work in countries with economies of all sizes, in addition to losing income, COVID-19 dramatically increased the burden of unpaid care and domestic work.

“When the pandemic came, they closed the few fish markets that brought shrimp from the lagoon to peel or head. For more than three or four months there was not a single movement of going to win something so for me it was very difficult. I started to make milk rice cakes, the companions started selling some things or doing raffles, we always met, even once a month or every fifteen to see what came out, to mobilize to see what we could do ”.

Her young son was one of the more than 156 million children in America and Latin and the Caribbean who were left out of school in 2020.

“My 8-year-old son, by not going to school, by not going out, alone and locked up, reached a moment of stress. He was watching TV, he couldn't play games, he couldn't do anything and I didn't know how to help him. It was so much stress that his hair fell out, a hole was made in the middle of his forehead and I took him to the clinic and they told me I had to take him to a psychologist. I had no money to pay for a psychologist. They also told me to buy him an oil and I didn't have what to do with it, there was simply to cover the basic needs ”.

Flor says that while all this was happening, the force was found leaning between her companions.

"If one of them sold milk rice, they bought from the other, if the other sold some number, they looked for a way to help them, and that is how we survived last year, it was too difficult a situation."

The Joint United Nations Program

According to data from UN Women, even though governments have responded to the economic effects of COVID-19 by introducing fiscal and monetary stimuli, the response has largely ignored the needs of women. Only one in eight countries has taken measures to protect them from the socio-economic effects of the virus.

Fortunately, Flor received aid from the State to survive in the most difficult moment, and later the Ministry of Labor granted two more months of subsidy to her and eight of her companions. Although three of them were left out of aid due to bureaucratic issues, the rest, to support each other, decided to donate on their behalf so that all received equally.

“Then December arrived, which was when they told us that there was a United Nations program, the Joint Program that was starting to support people who had projects or work ideas, and they arrived at the best time, or at the worst time than we already felt we were drowning, and then we participated ”.

The Witches of the Sea applied to the seed capital and the support of the Joint Program of which are part of the International Organization of Labor , the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations , UN Women and the United Nations Development Program . The latter, UNDP, is the one who is accompanying them directly on the ground.

"They liked the project and they supported us and to this day we have won that scholarship and it is with what we are working and with what we are seeing today that the dream of more than two years ago is being realized ."


Sea witches The United Nations Joint Program supports Flor Rivera and her cooperative Brujas del Mar.
Sea witches | The United Nations Joint Program supports Flor Rivera and her cooperative Brujas del Mar.


“We focus on innovative and different ventures focused on the empowerment and business strengthening of women in Puntarenas, and thanks to the support of various institutions in the area, we reached Las Brujas. It is the only place where you can say to a witch and you feel flattered, "says María José Meza, the UNDP specialist who directs the accompaniment.

The Program not only gives them a seed fund to support them, but also gives them the tools to create their own work plan, and trains them to meet the business requirements of the State, as well as teaches them to negotiate.

The first thing that was done was to give them a decent work area , so that they could have a safe and comfortable place to work and where their children could also accompany them.

"Now we are buying materials and marketing advice for the product that is accompanied by a person in the administrative-financial part and another person in the marketing part so that they can begin to expand the product and its sale nationwide," adds Meza .

The goal, says the specialist, is to sell lures, and they have already set a production target of more than 500 for this year.

"Something very good is that they have already been called within the same community for a fishing tournament that is going to be held in April, they have already been called and they are going to start selling," explains the expert who accompanies them in person every two weeks at Puntarenas to listen to your doubts and support them.

“The support that the Joint Program has given us has been very great, too great, both in training and personally, and for my colleagues and for me it has been a blessing from God to have been able to enter and gain that help that they have given us. You learn a lot because if they tell you they have to go and negotiate something, how to do it, how to search, what is the best option and all those things are support that they have given us to get to know and learn ”, says Flor.

According to UNDP, it would be possible to lift more than 100 million women and girls out of poverty if governments implemented a comprehensive strategy aimed at improving access to education and family planning, a fair and equitable salary, and scaling up. of social transfers.

Thus, investment aimed at reducing gender inequality is not only a smart and affordable device, but it is also an urgent decision that governments can take to reverse the effects of the pandemic on poverty reduction.


Sea witches
Sea witches

Towards the future

Today, Flor is the manager of Coope Brujas del Mar. She says she is “a manager who doesn't know much”, but it is clear that her wisdom, determination and perseverance have created opportunities for her to move forward with her business.

In these two years, the mother learned a craft trade that she knew nothing about before, and with great efforts she managed to keep together a group of women who now have great hope for the future.

“In these two years that have been so difficult we have learned a lot, today we know many things that when we started we did not know what the lures were, what the whole design was, how they work, how they are made, what weights they have, so I have a lot of faith, I have a great illusion ”.

According to the World Bank, only one in 3 companies is owned by women , although female participation in entrepreneurship is positively correlated with the income level of the countries. In addition, women entrepreneurs generally lack the capital to start, operate, or expand their businesses, the agency explains.

And there is still much work to be done to empower women and promote their entrepreneurial skills. But Flor Rivera, one of the faces behind so many headlines about women in 2020, is confident in a better future for herself and her family.

His dreams are nothing more than to have a life and a decent job, and his motivation and faith will overcome even a pandemic.

"On Sunday we came to go to the beach to test the lures to see how they swam, if they swam well or not, and when we came back there were some open cabins where there was a pool and my son told me:" Mommy, how beautiful it is there " . I tell him: "one day I'm going to bring them to spend a full day in that place," and he says to me, Really mom? Someday I'm going to bring them ”.


Originally published on UN News