Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
534th and 535th Meetings (AM and PM)
COMMITTEE EXPERTS PRAISE PORTUGAL’S EFFORTS TO PROMOTE EQUALITY OF WOMEN
Country Is Urged to Further Raise Public Awareness
Of Discrimination and Fight Traditional Stereotyping
Stereotyping of women in public and private life in Portugal, the creation of equitable terms of employment, and measures to combat gender-based violence were among the issues discussed as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women considered the reports of Portugal today.
In two meetings held this morning and this afternoon, the Committee considered Portugal’s fourth and fifth periodic reports, which have been submitted in compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The Convention, which became operational in 1981, requires States parties to eliminate discrimination against women in the enjoyment of all civil, political, economic and cultural rights and sets an agenda for national action to end such discrimination. Portugal ratified the Convention in 1980 with no reservations. Previous reports were submitted to the Committee in 1986 and 1991.
Introducing her country's report, the Secretary of State for Equality, Maria do Ceu da Cunha Rego, said that outmoded visions of social relations between men and women often led to violence against women, segregation in the labour market and under-representation of women in the decision-making process. The promotion of de facto equality was a primary goal of her Government. De facto equality presupposed individual autonomy, strengthened citizenship and the balanced participation of men and women in public and family life. Gender equality would be accomplished when the private sphere was opened to men and the public sphere to women. To that end, Portugal had enacted a programme of paid paternity leave.
The Committee’s Chairperson, Charlotte Abaka of Ghana, commended the Government of Portugal for providing the Committee with extensive information on its implementation of the Convention. She also welcomed the submission of instruments for the ratification of the amendment to article 20.1 of the Convention and Portugal’s decision to approve the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention.
Most of the Committee's 23 experts, who -- acting in their personal capacities -- monitor compliance with the Convention, expressed their appreciation for the many policies and mechanisms in place for the advancement of women in Portugal.
One expert applauded Portugal, a young democracy, for having accomplished so much in such a short period of time. Good cooperation had been established with Portuguese civil society and numerous laws had been promoted to foster cultural change. While much remained to be done, it was obvious that the political will to change existed in large measure, especially among women.
Regarding the issue of violence, the experts noted a discrepancy between the high incidence of violence against women and the relatively low rate of prosecution of the perpetrators of those crimes. Crimes against women required specific remedies, not general abstractions, another speaker said.
An expert, noting that the principle of equality had been integrated into all aspects of Portugal’s public life, said the issue of equality had clearly become one of the nation’s priorities. Portugal's efforts to understand the causes of violence should become an example to other countries.
Numerous other questions were raised in the debate today, including the participation of women in political life; the wage gap in the labour market; prostitution; migrant women; rural women; poverty; access to health care; the role of the media; and the integration of the Convention into Portugal's domestic legislation.
Portugal was also represented by the President of the Commission for Equality and the Rights of Women, Ana Maria Braga da Cruz; the President of the Commission for Equality at Work, Maria Josefina Leitão; the Director of the International Relations Department of the Ministry of Labour, Maria Madalena Pinheiro; Teresa Rosmaninho of the Ministry of the Interior; Beatriz Calado of the Ministry of Health; and Maria Emilia Leite of the Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 21 January, to begin its consideration of the combined initial, second and third periodic reports of Trinidad and Tobago.
This morning, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was expected to take up its consideration of the fourth and fifth periodic reports of Portugal, submitted in compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
The fourth and fifth periodic reports (documents CEDAW/C/PRT/4 and CEDAW/C/PRT/5) outline developments in the implementation of the Convention in Portugal throughout the 1990s. Portugal ratified the Convention in 1980 with no reservations. It submitted its initial report to the Committee in 1996, followed by the second and third reports in 1991.
According to the fourth periodic report, while Portugal's Constitution does not explicitly state the principle of gender equality, it forbids all forms of gender-based discrimination. In 1997, however, significant changes to the Constitution were introduced, including an addition to article 9, which obliges the State to promote change -- not simply ensure the right to change. Article
26 of the Constitution was also amended to provide for the right to legal protection against any form of discrimination. Article 109 of the Constitution, on political participation, was amended to include the "direct and active participation" of "men and women" rather than "citizens".
The report says that in 1991, the Commission for Equality and for the Rights of Women, the national mechanism for equality, was created. One objective of the Commission is to ensure that women enjoy the same opportunities, rights and dignity as men. In 1996, the Office of the High Commissioner for Equality and Family was established and given several tasks, including proposing compensating policies to eliminate discrimination, the promotion of the family and counselling on the situation of children. The Regional Consulting Commission for the Defence of the Rights of Women and the National Employment Plan, which include instruments for the promotion of equal employment opportunities for women, was also created. Policy measures include a 1997 resolution of the Council of Ministers approving a Global Plan for Equal Opportunities to introduce "equality mainstreaming".
The report says that in 1997, women were given the option of voluntary military service. Women's access to superior military academies, as well as to all branches of the armed forces, has slowly increased. In 1991, women were given the right to apply for military service in the Air Force and in 1992, women were allowed to apply for service in the Portuguese Navy.
Regarding violence against women, the report states that legislation was passed in 1991 to guarantee protection for women victims of violence. The objective of the law is to reinforce the mechanisms of due legal protection to all women victims of violence. The law calls for the establishment of a prevention and support system for women, the creation of a special section in police departments for direct assistance to victims and an incentive regime for the creation of women's associations for the protection of women victims of violence. The protection system established by law is applied in cases of sexual crimes, the mistreatment of a spouse and bodily offences. In 1998, the Public Security Police and the National Republican Guard began to register complaints and charges of domestic violence. The Commission trained officers in the Public Security Police and the National Republican Guard on handling cases of violence.
On the issue of public life and political participation, the report says that although progress has been made in the last two decades, much remains to be done. In the 1995 elections, the participation of women in the Portuguese Parliament reached some 12.2 per cent. Female participation in Government has usually been under 10 per cent. At the mayorality level, in 1993, only five women were elected. In 1997, 12 women were elected. The question of women in decision-making and public life has been drawing attention from the national mechanisms for equality.
Regarding women’s access to education, the report says the situation of girls and women has improved in recent years. Women have achieved high levels of scholastic success. In 1994-1995, while young women were dominant in educational sciences, humanities, medical sciences and natural sciences, the percentage of women in engineering, mathematics and computer science was lower. In 1995, women represented some 56.6 per cent of enrolled students and around 62.9 per cent of those graduating in university courses.
On the issue of employment, the report says that several laws were adopted to reinforce the right to equal opportunity for both men and women. As a result of those laws, several measures to support women beginning or returning to professional activity were adopted, including training programmes. Changes to the Constitution defined the promotion of equality between men and women as a fundamental task of the State. Legal protection against all forms of discrimination is now included in rights, liberties and personal guarantees. Several incentives have also been established, including a 20 per cent supplementary financial incentive to hire women in professions in which they are outnumbered and a 20 per cent bonus for public support programmes in local employment initiatives and the creation of self-employment.
Since the period covered by the fourth report, the fifth periodic report explains that the post of the High Commissioner for Equality and Women’s Rights was abolished. The Commission for Equality and Women’s Rights was placed under the guidance of the Minister for Equality. In 2000, however, the post of Minister for Equality was abolished and the post of Minister of the Presidency was created. Also in 2000, the National Commission of the Family was integrated in the Ministry of Work and Solidarity.
Among additional policy measures taken since the fourth report, in 1998 the Council of Ministers approved the National Employment Plan, which includes new instruments for promoting the equality of women and men in employment and vocational training. In 1999, the Council of Ministers approved a Plan of Global Policy that includes the issue of violence in the family in the general framework of human rights. A new National Plan for Equal Opportunities is currently being prepared.
Regarding the issue of violence against women, the report states that in 1998, the Penal Code was revised to make violence against women a public offence. Investigation is mandatory when police receive complaints of violence. The revision also criminalized sexual harassment in the workplace. In 1998, the Ministry of Internal Administration directed the Urban and Rural Police Forces to register domestic violence complaints, which formed the basis for a national indicator on domestic violence. Some 3.3 per cent of all crimes registered in Portugal are cases of domestic violence. In 1999, Portugal's Council of Ministers approved a National Plan to Fight Domestic Violence. Incest is not considered a crime under Portuguese law. A number of non-governmental organizations support women victims of violence.
On the issue of employment, the report says that in 1999 the law on the protection of maternity and paternity was revised to include new rights for fathers, including full paid paternity leave. New legislation on labour sanctions also entered into force in 1999, imposing more severe sanctions for gender discrimination.
In light of an increase in immigration and the female population, the fifth periodic report includes information on actions for migrant and minority women. According to the Constitution, immigrants have the same rights as Portuguese citizens. Among the mechanisms to deal with immigration flows in the 1990s, the Office of the High Commissioner for Immigration and Ethnic Minorities was created to function as a link between central and local public administration departments, immigrants’ associations and non-governmental organizations to promote social integration and fight racism.
According to the report, prostitution is an illegal activity in Portugal. Portuguese law only punishes the exploitation of prostitution by others. With the revisions of the Penal Code in 1995, 1998 and 2000, there has been a general extension of sentences applicable to crimes related to sexual exploitation and violence. Any person, for example, who promotes prostitution, is punishable by imprisonment from six months to five years. Minors are afforded special protection under the law, however.
Following the 1995 Beijing Conference, the Government approved a Global Plan for Equal Opportunities in 1997. The Plan, which contains seven major areas and a total of 51 measures, is currently being implemented. The areas covered in the Plan include mainstreaming the principle of equal opportunities for men and women in all economic, social and cultural policies, the prevention of violence and guarantee of proper protection to female victims of violence, and the promotion of equal opportunities in employment, health and education.
Regarding women's participation in political life, the report says that the participation of women in the 1999 elections was some 17.4 per cent. Until 1974, women were forbidden to have a career as magistrates. While the majority of public prosecutors are now women, there are, however, no women superior judges and only 12 women serve as court of appeal judges.
Introduction of Portugal Reports
Introducing Portugal’s fourth and fifth periodic reports, MARIA DO CEU DA CUNHA REGO, Secretary of State for Equality, said inequalities between men and women could not be eliminated by dealing with them as a neutral variable. Inequality was the product of cultural, religious and ideological systems. Respect for democracy required the presence of laws that would not be translated into unequal status for men and women. The promotion of de facto equality was of prime concern to her Government and implied the need, for both women and men, to live independent lives. De facto equality presupposed individual autonomy, strengthened citizenship and the balanced participation of men and women in paid and unpaid labour and public and private life. Employment opportunities and career development must be equally shared with men.
She said that an outmoded vision of social relations between men and women often led to violence against women, segregation in the labour market and under-representation of women in the decision-making process. Portugal shared the views of the Committee on the structural obstacles to de facto equality between men and women. The Government had sought to establish the necessary conditions for men and women to enjoy all their rights and duties. Portugal had submitted two draft laws to eliminate stereotypes, including a law to promote the participation of women in public life, called the “law of parity”. The other law was aimed at promoting the participation of men in private life, including the right to paternity leave without social pressures. The political situation in Portugal had changed, however, with the resignation of the Prime Minister. Elections would be held next March and proposals for new laws would not be adopted by the current legislature.
Initiatives to eliminate discrimination against women stressed the importance of training, she said. Training courses were being conducted, for example, for lawyers, labour inspectors and the public in general. In May 2001, the Parliament had adopted two laws. The first had to do with women’s participation in the labour market, and the other called for the annual presentation of reports to Parliament. The second National Plan for Equality had been in the final stage of preparation when the Prime Minister presented his resignation. The proposed plan had benefited from contributions from all sectors of society. The structure of the Plan was adopted by Parliament and had four pillars, each incorporating certain guidelines. They included the balanced participation of women in decision-making in professional and family life and perfection of the legal system to promote equality. The Plan followed a dual approach for strengthening networks for mainstreaming.
During discussions on Portugal’s 2002 budget, the Deputy Prime Minister had committed himself to allocating special moneys for women and men, thereby introducing the concept of gender budgeting. She could not envisage what would take place after the March elections. The Parliament, however, had endorsed the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention. The Permanent Mission of Portugal had also submitted instruments for ratification of the amendment to article 20.1 of the Convention.
Following the fourth United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing, Portugal’s Constitution was strengthened in 1997 to promote equality between men and women. Revisions were made to give all people the right to legal protection against discrimination, the right to labour organization and the right to reconcile professional and family life. Direct participation of men and women was a condition for consolidating the democratic system, and non-discrimination based on gender was necessary for access to political posts. In May 1999, the National Plan against Domestic Violence was established. Another law was established in 1999 to give fathers total paid paternity leave following the birth of the child. Women were also allowed two hours a day during the entire nursing period. Another law lengthened the duration of paid maternity leave.
Portugal’s membership in the European Union had also led to gains in the rights of women, she said. Two European conferences were held on women, including violence against women and reconciling personal and professional life. Within the European context, annual action plans for employment contributed to strengthening policies of equality between men and women in Portugal. In 1999, a post of Minister for Equality was established, whose functions were then assumed by the Minister of the Presidency. In July 2001, the post of Secretary of State for Equality was placed under the auspices of the Deputy Prime Minister. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had also contributed a great deal in implementing equality between men and women. The number of NGOs greatly increased, as had subsidies allocated to them by the State.
The main objectives of the Government included awareness-raising to eliminate stereotypes, strengthening of the role of men in family life, strengthening measures to reconcile personal and family life, and strengthening policies to eliminate violence against women. Related initiatives included the establishment of a public network of centres for female victims of violence, compensation for women victims of domestic violence and training for police sensitivity in dealing with cases of such violence.
Comments by Experts
Committee Chairperson CHARLOTTE ABAKA (Ghana) thanked the delegation for its presentation of the report and congratulated the Government of Portugal for its extensive responses to the issues raised by the Pre-Session Working Group of the Committee. She also welcomed the ratification of the amendment to article 20.1 of the Convention on the Committee’s meetings and Portugal’s decision to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. She hoped the actual ratification would take place in the near future.
Speakers in the ensuing debate congratulated the country for the many policies and mechanisms put in place for the advancement of women. However, some gaps still remained, and were a source of concern.
For instance, even though the country’s Constitution guaranteed equal rights of men and women, the question remained how the Convention was incorporated into national legislation. How did the Constitution guarantee the implementation of relevant provisions on gender equality? How were the policies enforced? Questions were also asked about mechanisms for enforcing the law.
It was clear that serious efforts had been made by Portugal for the advancement of women, an expert said. The efforts to overcome negative stereotypes and raise awareness of the main issues were of special importance. Training should be provided to the population, and NGOs had a role to play in that regard. However, the Government should make greater efforts as well.
Regarding violence against women, it was said that according to the statistics presented to the Committee, there was a high incidence of such violence in Portugal. However, only 205 men had been prosecuted for violence against women in 1999, and even fewer had been convicted. An expert said that she found such a discrepancy very disturbing and asked for an explanation in that respect. Another speaker said that more efforts were required from the Government to combat the crime of incest.
A speaker asked if there were specific laws on such issues as prostitution and harassment of women in the workplace. Crimes against women required specific remedies. Abused women needed proper protection under the law. Also of interest to the speakers was the practice of gender mainstreaming. A speaker asked if it was properly understood in the country.
Questions were also asked about basic female salary figures and the wages gap. As for gender discrimination cases brought to court, an expert asked about their nature and wanted to know how they were processed. What was being done to provide assistance to older women and to the rural population?
Answers to the experts’ questions were provided by the Secretary of State for Equality and other members of Portugal’s delegation, which included the Permanent Representative of Portugal to the United Nations, Francisco Seixas da Costa; the President of the Commission for Equality and the Rights of Women, Ana Maria Braga da Cruz; the President of the Commission for Equality at Work, Maria Josefina Leitão; the Director of the International Relations Department of the Ministry of Labour, Maria Madalena Pinheiro; Teresa Rosmaninho of the Ministry of the Interior; Beatriz Calado of the Ministry of Health; and Maria Emilia Leite of the Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries.
Ms. DA CUNHA REGO said that her Government believed in mainstreaming, the education system and training. Targeted action was needed to make people aware of gender equality issues. However, stereotypes were long entrenched in society values, and it was not easy to change them. Her Government had started several programmes to change attitudes, not only emphasizing the issues, but also making men aware of what they were losing as a result of discrimination. Strategic targets had been set for the media. As more needed to be done, the Government would continue its efforts to train journalists.
Regarding salaries, she said that no complaints regarding discrimination against women had been brought before the country’s courts in that connection. Since 1987, trade unions were in a position to address the courts on matters relating to discrimination in employment, training, or work, but still, no complaints had been put forward. People were encouraged to resort to the courts, and an investigation into the causes of such a situation was conducted. Complaints had been filed on maternity-related matters, however.
A representative of the Commission for Equality at Work said that the Commission dealt with all discrimination in the employment sphere. It handed down opinions concerning labour-related matters. As had already been pointed out, complaints regarding the firing of pregnant women or nursing mothers were most common. Without the Commission’s consent, the employer had no right to lay off or fire a pregnant woman, a new mother, or a nursing woman. Protection of maternity was mandatory in the country. In 2001, the Commission analyzed some 23,000 job offers to determine if they were discriminatory or not. Besides dealing with complaints and providing written opinions, it also provided assistance by telephone and by fax.
She added that all of the above concerned only the private sector. Many women occupied positions of power in the public sector.
Another country representative responded to a question regarding salaries, saying that the statistics on the matter had recently been analysed. In gross terms, women’s salaries amounted to some 60 per cent of the salaries of men. A recent report on employment showed that the gap was greater in the private sector, and efforts were being made to reduce it. Women’s average employment rates were increasing more rapidly than those for men, and parity could be achieved soon.
Ms. DA CUNHA REGO said that all the women’s rights under the Convention had been incorporated into the country’s national legislation. Recently, a new fundamental law had been promulgated, stating that everyone had a right to legal protection against any form of discrimination. Important changes had been instituted, obliging the State to promote change, instead of simply proclaiming the right to change. Once equality and non-discrimination had been decreed by the Constitution, the country had to emphasize that area. All individuals must be aware of the importance of bringing complaints regarding the quality of life.
Turning to mainstreaming, she said that there was a close relationship between all the members of the Portuguese Cabinet, and such a situation was most beneficial for mainstreaming efforts. Each Minister had appointed a counsellor for equality. She felt that Portugal had established the conditions for making mainstreaming really effective. Gender budgeting was also being considered.
She went on to say that 26 November had been established as a day dedicated to combating violence against women, at a ceremony in which many Ministers had taken part. A protocol had been signed establishing 10 additional centres for the victims of such violence.
Another country representative said that violence against women involved questions of human rights. The Government was working with NGOs on issues such as training, awareness raising and projects to establish centres for female victims of violence. Portugal was also working within the framework of European Union projects. Combating family violence was one of the priorities of Portugal’s health strategy. Major efforts had been made in the legal system, including a law to protect female victims of violence, the establishment of a network of centres, a law obliging the State to pay compensation to women victims of violence and revision to the penal code.
But the law was not everything, she continued. Opportunities for the law to be applied must also be created. In that respect, the Government was sponsoring publications for female victims of violence and seminars and studies on violence. Other initiatives included university courses on violence, publicity campaigns, awareness-raising seminars, media reports on violence, support services and telephone hotlines. The Government financially supported NGOs that worked with female victims of violence. The Commission on Equality trained staff for the centres and provided legal advice.
On the crime rate, she said it was one thing to look at the number of complaints and another to look at the actual number of closed cases. Some cases included in the statistics were still being investigated. In 2000, a large number of men –- some 155 -- were prosecuted in cases settled before the courts. Others were being investigated or were still before the courts. The disparity in the numbers was apparent, not real, and related to the different schedules of the courts.
According to the penal code, incest was considered a crime against children, sometimes with aggravated penalties, she explained. It was dealt with within the context of sexual determination with an aggravated penalty. All citizens could complain of mistreatment. The police were duty-bound to receive complaints. The Commission on Equality had done much work on trafficking and forced prostitution. Several projects were training women victims of trafficking. A bill had been put forward on transborder trafficking between Spain and Portugal. Trafficking was dealt with in the criminal code, and was considered to be an aggravated crime when minors were involved. Related projects were under way in the North and in Lisbon, but there were no specific figures on trafficking.
Another country representative discussed police matters. She said that the police provided frontline services to victims of domestic violence. It was difficult to gather statistics from police forces. Domestic violence was often disguised in the statistics. It had not been easy to introduce statistics on weapon authorization, for example. Domestic violence was a serious crime that sometimes led to murder and was most often a crime committed by men against women. Violence against older women was emerging as a problem.
On support services, she said that a pilot project for police offices had been established to deal with victims of violence. Comfortable small rooms at police stations had been created to respect the privacy of victims. New police recruits had been trained in victim support and domestic violence services. The number of women in police forces was increasing and she expected more women to join the police force.
Regarding poverty among rural women, Ms. DA CUNHA REGO said the Government had undertaken new measures to guarantee minimum wage levels for people who were suffering economically. Women comprised the majority of beneficiaries.
Another country representative said that rural women constituted a high percentage of farm workers. Since 1995, much work had been done to provide them with training. Organized by civil society, development bodies were cooperating with the Government in providing assistance to the rural population. The country pursued the goals of equal participation, and women’s projects were given priority.
Comments by Experts
An expert welcomed the commitment of Portugal to pursuing gender equality. The Convention was a very powerful instrument in that respect. Were the country’s decision-makers aware of its provisions? As the Convention was directly applicable to Portugal’s domestic law, the members of the legal profession needed to be able to quote its articles.
It was also pointed out that it was not enough to just adopt a plan –- it was important to assess its effectiveness. The country’s next report needed to refer to specific measures undertaken to overcome such problems as violence against women, trafficking in women and prostitution.
The formal framework for achieving gender equality was in place in Portugal, a speaker said. The country had active NGOs, and competent women were present in the Government. The national machinery presented a contradictory picture, however. She wanted to know about the political atmosphere in the country and the leadership’s commitment to the advancement of women. Were gender issues high on the agenda there? What was the position of male decision-makers on the issue of women’s human rights? Were the laws already in place being implemented “with full force”?
The same speaker said there was a contradiction in the area of education and literacy, which still remained a problem. The document stated that up to 68 per
cent of the illiterate population were women. At the same time, a high percentage of university students were also female. What was being done to balance the situation?
An expert noted that because of greater awareness of the problem of domestic violence thanks to a recently-undertaken programme, in 2000 five times more domestic violence cases had been recorded in the country. It was also important to deal with possible cases of pedophilia and child pornography. The report did not contain any data on alcoholism and drug dependency among women and youth.
One expert was impressed by the work done in Portugal to promote awareness campaigns for public opinion, especially regarding shared responsibility within the family. On the issue of poverty, one fifth of the population was below the poverty line. Portugal’s next report should contain information on the situation of women living in extreme poverty. She was impressed that the National Plan of Action had devoted a chapter to measures to eradicate poverty, including participation in employment and access to resources and services. It would be helpful for the Committee to be kept abreast of developments in that field.
Another speaker said she was particularly interested in Portugal and often visited there. Portugal was a young democracy and was in the process of fully integrating itself into the European Union. In a short time Portugal had achieved a great deal, particularly in the field of equality issues. Numerous national institutions had been established to promote cultural change. On a democratic basis, good cooperation had been established with civil society. Laws had been promoted to foster cultural change -- a difficult task in all countries. In Portugal, while that goal had not yet been achieved, the political will for change existed, especially among women. Women seemed to understand that only with the cooperation of all institutions, government and civil society organizations could progress be made. Nevertheless, in a patriarchal society like Portugal, much remained to be done. That was reflected in the educational field. Poverty and illiteracy rates remained high.
Turning to the issue of migration, she said that immigrants were not well integrated in Portuguese society. Also, many Portuguese refugee women lived outside the country. How did Portugal’s machinery look after the interests of women who found themselves alone in foreign countries? What attention was given to them?
Regarding the growing problem of prostitution, she said some countries in Europe had adopted laws to legalize prostitution. Others were discussing remedies and the human rights implications of prostitution. Had there been discussion in Portugal among the different institutions and programmes regarding prostitution? On the issue of prostitution on the borders with Spain, did the Government have any agreements with Spain on the issue?
On the subject of the media, she said she had been struck by the commercial exploitation of women on television. What was being done to present a positive image of Portuguese women in the media?
Another contradiction was political participation, she continued. Regarding March elections, she asked what had been done to overcome the reluctance of women to vote for women. Had the different political parties discussed women’s participation in the upcoming elections?
Ms. DA CUNHA REGO, responding to a previous question about knowledge of the Convention in Portugal, said that since accession to the Convention, information about its provisions had been disseminated in successive waves. The latest campaign had been large in scope. The Commission for Equality and Equal Rights for Women had a Web site which contained a wealth of information on the Convention. That Web site was well visited. In universities, curricula did not contain gender studies. Law professors were enthusiastic about gender mainstreaming. The objective was to include paternity and maternity in the labour law. Women constituted half of the labour force.
As to the preparation of the report, she said it had not been discussed with NGOs at the beginning. Once it was completed, however, it had been distributed to all NGOs for their comments and observations. At the end of the year, a meeting with NGOs was held to ask for their views and contributions. NGOs were very much interested in women’s issues. Their comments were integrated to the fullest extent possible.
Regarding the political climate, she said the parties in the upcoming elections had not yet said what the major points of the campaign would be. However, the press had published notices of the two main parties. Both had mentioned an increase in the number of women on electoral lists. Women were often not educated for public life. A competitive nature was not always seen as proper for women. Most recently, a colloquium had been held on the political leadership of women. In a recent study, the Portuguese electorate had reacted well to women. Every month, on 8 January, a colloquium was held somewhere in Portugal on different women’s issues.
She went on to address the problems of education and illiteracy. It was true that democracy in Portugal was very young. Access to education for girls used to be very limited. Traditionally, girls stayed at home to help their mothers around the house. Little by little, the Government was taking measures to rectify the situation. Among the recent steps were programmes directed at taking stock of women’s skills; the adjustment of school curricula; and computer training courses.
Turning to poverty, she said that her Government had a plan for inclusion of women. The national employment plan was the pillar of efforts in the fight against poverty, and improvement of salaries was among the priorities. As for problems of alcoholism and drug abuse, she said that such problems of dependency were much more pronounced among men.
A representative of the Ministry of Health added that according to a recent European Union study, nine per cent of women over the age of 15 had stated that they drank more than once a week. Eight per cent of women smoked –- that was the lowest rate in Europe. As for teenage pregnancies, their number was falling. Fertility rates had gone down from 26 to 21 per 1,000. All methods of contraception were accessible to the population, free of charge. Health care programmes included education in responsible behaviour and safe sex.
Ms. DA CUNHA REGO then addressed financial aspects of women’s programmes, saying that a joint inter-departmental approach was essential for their success. Recently, there had been a modest increase in resources allocated to gender equality issues. That had happened at a time when all Government Ministries had experienced significant cutbacks. With mainstreaming of the budget, it would become much clearer how the State was investing in women’s issues: currently, for example, educational programmes were funded under the budget of the Ministry of Education, and health issues by the Health Ministry.
Immigrant workers in the country were a source of development, she said, and the issue of immigration needed to be separated from the problem of trafficking in people. Many immigrants came from Portuguese-speaking countries, and several programmes had been initiated in the country to achieve their integration. Some of those programmes addressed discrimination against immigrant women.
A serious debate was going on in Portugal on the nature and causes of prostitution, she continued. The Government’s opinion was that prostitution was not a crime. Neither were the prostitutes’ clients considered to be criminals, but those who exploited prostitutes and gained profits from their activities were considered criminals under the law.
Another country representative added that there was no such thing as voluntary prostitution. About 90 per cent of prostitutes who had participated in a recent study had said that they wanted to change their lives. In many cases, the subject of prostitution was not a subject of women’s choice, but of violence and trafficking in people. To combat trafficking in women, an inter-regional programme had been undertaken by Portugal in cooperation with Spain, taking into account the economic aspects of the problem. Joint efforts of the police were needed in both the countries of origin and the countries of destination.
Ms. DA CUNHA REGO agreed with the experts that in the media, some traditional portrayals of women represented them either as wives or as temptresses. However, that was part of a larger cultural problem which needed to be addressed.
A speaker said that the enthusiasm of the Portuguese delegation was commendable. From the report, an acceleration of efforts for the advancement of women was obvious, but gaps still remained between the demands of the law, including the Constitution, and their practical implementation. Despite its enthusiasm, however, the country was late in presenting its sixth report, which had been due last year.
Another speaker expressed sympathy for Portugal’s budgetary restrictions, adding that innovative solutions could be found to many problems. If the country managed to interest women in political life, their participation could be a great contribution to overall success.
Regarding the human resources involved in the functioning of the gender equality machinery, an expert said that it was important to provide sufficient training to those professionals. Unless a gender perspective was integrated in the training of lawyers, social workers and the police, the mechanisms set up in the country would be unable to reach their goals. Also essential for success was the support of the media.
Being militant meant believing in an ideal and acting to achieve it, a speaker said. The principle of equality had been integrated into all aspects of Portugal’s public life. The issue of equality had become one of the national priorities. The Government’s efforts to understand the causes of violence should become an example to other countries. The number of women in decision-making positions, however, was not commensurate with the efforts made so far. The number of women in the judiciary was still low, for example. It was also important to achieve a change of mentality. Portugal had identified the problems and was working to find solutions. She hoped that the new elections would not question the achievements of women, but would confirm them instead.
It was also pointed out that more concerted efforts were needed in such spheres as the training of teachers and the treatment of disadvantaged groups of women. Questions were also asked about the follow-up to the recent initiatives on inclusion and labour equality, and a draft law instituting quotas for women in senior positions.
Ms. DA CUNHA REGO said there was a breach between the law and practical reality. That would be addressed in the next report. It was true that more awareness-raising campaigns were needed. Strong campaigns were being planned under the heading of affirmative action. Portugal was concerned about the neediest women. One of the Government’s objectives was to reduce the income gap. Concrete projects were under way.
Women were at a disadvantage because their traditional role had been in the private sphere. When they moved into the public sphere, they did not find themselves in a friendly environment. Much emphasis was being placed on a law to give men paternity leave. Paternity rights also needed to be protected. The fear of women entering public life needed to be removed. Men were sometimes left out of the relationship of women with their children. Men must be drawn into the private sphere, including the educational sphere. The power of the private sphere must be opened up to men as well, so that both spheres could be shared.
Regarding the draft law of parity, she said it was a Government proposal to the Assembly. At first, 25 per cent was proposed, then 33 per cent. The first was preceded by a study of eminent jurists representing different trends. The Government had then proposed its own bill. At the judicial level, the courts had only been opened to women since the revolution.
In conclusion, she said she would do her best to follow the recommendations of the Committee. If there happened to be disagreement on some issues, it would be important to work together to reach an understanding.
An expert said that it was important to disseminate the Committee’s recommendations. It might be useful to convene a meeting of Ministries’ representatives or hold a press conference to achieve that goal.
Ms. ABAKA thanked participants for a constructive dialogue. Coming elections notwithstanding, she was sure that the recommendations of the Committee would be widely disseminated. It was important to make the Parliament and the civil society aware of them. Another significant issue concerned the need to achieve parity in gender representation in politics.