How the European Union has been a lever for equal opportunities in Portugal

Good afternoon.

First of all, I would like to thank the feministisk forum for the invitation to attend this Conference, organised in the context of the Danish Presidency of the EU.

I’m here today in my capacity as co-ordinator of the Portuguese Network of Young People for Equality (PNYPE), which is an informal coalition of youth associations, political youth organisations, women’s rights NGO's, associations developing activities targeted at young people and non-organised youth, created in the context of the Portuguese Presidency of the EU, after an European wide project aiming at mobilising young people for equality promoted by the European Women’s Lobby.

My intervention here today is two folded:

1 – Implications stemming from the integration of Portugal in the EU in the development and implementation of equal opportunities policies at the institutional/national level;

2 - Implications stemming from the integration in the EU in the undertaking of actions on equal opportunities by civil society actors at national level, such as the PNYPE.


Implications stemming from the integration of Portugal in the EU in the development and implementation of equal opportunities policies at the institutional/national level


Concerning women’s present status, Portugal is not a very particular case among EU Member States as differences among them are related mainly with the intensity of discrimination phenomenon rather then with the phenomenon characteristics in itself.

Since 1975, the Portuguese Constitution emphasises fundamental rights, and includes, as most European countries constitutional law do, a non-discrimination clause that forbids gender-based discrimination (art. 13), Later, after a constitutional reform undertaken in 1997, three new important provisions were added:
- First, to promote equal opportunities between women and men has become a state fundamental task (art. 9);
- Second, work organisation must take into account the workers right to re-conciliate professional and family life;
- Third, the law must promote gender-balanced access to political participation and to political decision making levels (art. 109).

And since Portugal accession to EU full membership in January 1986, all the equal opportunities provisions included in Community directives have been transposed to our internal law system although this interface is very restricted because most of the issues foreseen in the Directives were already part of the Portuguese Law System.

So, as in other Member States we do have an advanced legal framework. We also have institutional mechanisms in place for more than 25 years. Furthermore nowadays equal opportunities promotion is permanently re-affirmed by decision makers as a main political target, but we still have problems concerning law reinforcement, and concerning human and budget resources to an effective implementation of the mainstreaming.

Then how has the European Union been a lever for equal opportunities in Portugal?

I will only focus some latest developments in this area.
As you may know, Portugal undertook the responsibility of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the 1st. semester of 2000.

By that time, the Portuguese Government had established two main priorities of political intervention at national level (since 1999): to promote equal opportunities between women and men and the develop of the information society in the line of the orientations of the European Council of Helsinki which targeted those priorities for 2000 to increase European economic competitiveness.

Regarding equal opportunities, and a few months before the EU Portuguese Presidency, the Prime Minister decided to include a Minister for Equality in his newly appointed governmental team.

It was the first time in our history that such a high level mechanism was created and it made some expectations grew among NGO as far as mainstreaming effective implementation was concerned, later to find out that its specific purpose was to put forward a Minister during the Portuguese Presidency mainly because the Government had the task to co-ordinate the European Union delegation during the last six months of the UN process commonly known as Beijing + 5.

In fact, a few months after the end of the Portuguese Presidency, this mechanism was abolished, but during this short period of then months, gender equality issues benefit of an improved visibility at national level. So having to undertake the responsibility of the EU Presidency had some positive results in this area.

Afterwards this field area was under the Minister of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, but it was soon followed by a Secretariat of State for Equality, which had the opportunity to undertake some important initiatives concerning mainstreaming implementation. Nowadays and as a consequence of last March legislative elections results, this area, among others, is under the Minister of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers again.

Other positive implications stemming from the integration of Portugal in the EU in the development and implementation of equal opportunities policies at the institutional/national level are those deriving from the European Employment Strategy and the European Social Inclusion Process and its related national commitments, such as the National Action Plan on Employment and the Action Plan Against Poverty and Exclusion which, having to respond to European guidelines, include gender issues.

As a conclusion, some of the latest developments in gender equality policies in Portugal are in fact related with initiatives undertaken in the framework of the EU.

Nevertheless, all the international commitments lack afterwards a continuous implementation in Portugal in terms of activities, because no sufficient national resources are allocated. This is due to the fact that the Portuguese society has not yet reach an agreement as far as the principles of equal opportunities is concerned, the ways of intervention, neither the resources to mobilise.

Therefore no sufficient resources are allocated for the field of equal opportunities and the national mechanisms for equality, the Commission for Equality and Women’s Rights and the Commission for Equality in Labour and Employment, as it happened with the Cabinet of the Minister for Equality, lack the human and financial resources to undertake their activities, despite the very good job this two mechanisms have done through the years.

But here again, comes the EU has a level for equal opportunities in Portugal, through the applications of Structural Funds in Portugal, and most specifically the European Social Fund, which is the main financial instrument that allows the European Union to fulfil the strategic objectives of its employment policy, and that includes in its mission the promotion of gender equality. As a consequence, the logistical support of Third Community Support Framework includes a specific working group on equal opportunities transversal to all programs and interventions within this Framework, aiming to develop guidelines on gender mainstreaming and specific information in this area for the different operational interventions, apart from information and training on equal opportunities targeted to main actors of the different interventions and the public in general.

This globalised world of international relations, and therefore also of the globalisation of equal opportunities policies which obliges States to respond to international commitments are a lever for the improvement of equal opportunities in Portugal in two ways: in terms of reference documents, which we, the society in general, can ask for accountancy afterwards, and in terms of specific funding for the implementation of actions, at least in Portugal.

Implications stemming from the integration in the EU in the undertaking of actions on equal opportunities by civil society actors at national level, such as the PNYPE.

Some facts on gender issues in Portugal:

Despite women representing more than 45% of labour market force, they earn in average 77% of men’s salary and represent the majority of unemployed people and the worst paid workers in the labour market; they continue to cumulate professional activity and traditional roles in the family sphere because in spite of constitutional and some other legal provisions reconciliation of work and family life is not present in most Portuguese families; the participation of women in decision making is still very low (only about 20% of the Parliamentarian are women); information for young people on sexual and reproductive rights is still insufficient; violence against women is still a problem.

Why does this happen? The main problem concerning gender equality in Portugal is the very traditional mentality regarding gender roles; this is a transversal situation in our society.

Population in general feel uncomfortable when talking about equal opportunities among women and men, their first though being: it already exists, what’s the purpose to talk about it? Men frequently say that women already have more power, when confronted with data they say it is a question of time, etc. But the fact is that women represent a fundamental economic resource for the improvement of society, one whose potential is still not being fully explored.

Also population in general is not aware of international commitments of Portugal regarding gender equality, neither of the national policies in this area. Information does not reach the population very easily. People frequently don’t know their rights.

How to target this situation?

The present international relations system, where states have a lower influence because of globalisation, where other actors have a growing influence such as international institutions and national civil society actors, has lowered the presence of the state in the regulatory system and also its influence. The third society sector is growing in importance because we have gone from a situation where States used to give funding for projects carried out by civil society to a situation where, because of budget restraints, States fund projects from civil society when there is a crossing of interests, benefiting from NGO’s specialised human resources. This is happening widely and also in Portugal, and here I would like to give you a concrete example that happened during the Portuguese Presidency of the EU and which relates to the Portuguese Network of Young People for Equality.

As I mentioned to you earlier, during the Portuguese Presidency, a minister for Equality was created that, nevertheless, following the general tradition in Portugal in the gender area lacked the financial resources to undertake their actions. Therefore a strategy of dialogue and partnerships with the civil society was foreseen.

By that time the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) had a project aiming at mobilising young people for Equality which I was co-ordinating in Portugal and that already had several actions, seminars in Portugal with young people coming from youth associations and non organised youth, to discuss a draft of a Guide of Young Women for Equality in Europe. In these seminars we were trying to raise gender awareness and gather the contributions of young people for tackling the problems that still exist. Similar activities were being undertaken in all the EU countries by other national co-ordinators.

This project was presented to the Minister for Equality which supported it, namely through the inclusion of a Seminar on Young People for Equality in Europe, which took place during the last days of the Portuguese Presidency, with the presence of the main policy actors in the gender and youth field in Portugal, all the European Co-ordinators and representants of the EWL.

This activity was fundamental for the integration of gender in the youth agenda in Portugal. It was the first time that those issues were tackled by youth associations and associations working towards young people in such a profound way. It was a moment where gender issues were talked by young people free of the stereotypes associated with the idea of the feminism, which still subsist in Portugal. It served therefore for the renewing of the movement for women’s rights from an inclusion perspective, as something that regards women and men.

During this Seminar the Portuguese Network of Young People for Equality was created, as an informal platform composed of the associations that had previously attended the debate and that felt the need to continue working towards gender equality in Portugal.

Another example is the "Banks of Time", another initiative of the NGO the GRAIL, that was launched during the Portuguese Presidency and that still subsists. Basically it consists on a system of exchange of time, where people having free time provide their services to others, which in exchange also have to provide services, like baby sitting, car washing whatever. Services that allow us to better reconciliate our working and family life.

Being closer to population in general, NGO’s can in this way enhance gender equality, by providing information, by doing grass-roots work, by providing services that people feel important. By this way we enhance gender equality.


I would like to finalise my intervention with this main idea: young people in Portugal, who have grown with the EU have already incorporated a new mentality which is linked to European Citizenship, something very different from the older generation. This European citizenship incorporates issues such as mobility (knowing and learning from others), participation in EU projects and most important the adherence to the European development model and all the values it incorporates, namely economic and social progress strengthening each other, gender equality is one of these values.

There is still a long path to go in Portugal towards gender equality, but for sure we know that the integration in pushing us forward in this area.