Butterfly Association helps women spread their own wings

By Emily O’Connor

 COSTA DE PÁJAROS, Costa Rica — The Association of Butterflies on the Pacific coast combines the environmentalist culture with the growing independence of women.

Esther Ledezma Chalapría is the current president of the association that began in 1999 with the purpose of helping women in the community. It now hosts a butterfly farm, lodging, cafeteria, sells crafts from recycled material and gives tours of the gulf.

The association began with the help of National University in Costa Rica and May Brenes Marín, a retired anthropologist at the university.

“Thanks to May Brenes, we learned how valuable we are,” Ledezma said.

The women received training for tourism at their butterfly farm, self-esteem and violence against women.

The training taught women’s economic rights, their right to go out and do more than stay in the house, to make decisions and to have their own opinions. Similar initiatives like the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation are working to end the machismo, or masculine, culture in Costa Rica.

Men in the community were not supportive of the association in the beginning, Ledezma said. They struggled with the machismo culture and men not valuing women.

“My own children were saying, ‘What are you doing, meeting with all those lazy women?’” Ledezma said.

Over time the entire community gathered support for the initiative and learned that women are a part of the progress in the community. Today, Ledezma’s husband is the boat captain for the gulf tours.

Ledezma said she hopes the association can be a model for other women.

“My dream is for the women in the group to progress as an example for all the other women and to reach out to them so more women can get jobs.”

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