Currently, gender equality is an important topic, not because it is trendy, but because it is imperative to end gender discrimination (1). Although in 1918 some women got the right to vote, 100 years later, the Guardian newspaper published testimonies on predictions for the next 100 years and none of them were optimistic (2). The Gender Gap Report of 2020 confirms it and adds that “none of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, and nor likely will many of our children” (3). So, it is imperative that gender equality is understood as important for both men and women (4).
Fortunately, equality between women and men is a fundamental value of the European Union (EU), enshrined throughout its history and Treaties since 1957 (5,6). To help to close the gender gap and reduce inequalities, the EU developed a new strategy for the next five years (7). However, the movement promoting gender equality has known advances and setbacks over the past century (8).
In Portugal, for years (1926-1974) women were not seen as someone with an active role in society (9). After the end of the dictatorship, the inclusion of women in the labour market and the promotion of policies guided towards gender equality were of major importance to promote the model of a dual-earner couple (10). However, much remain to be done.
The Portuguese labour market is characterised by a high participation of women in full-time employment, but men continue to occupy the dominant positions whereas women are often relegated to more disqualified positions (10). Also, according to the European Social Rights Committee, Portugal is one of the 14 countries that violates the right of the equality of salary and work opportunities between genders (11). The increase of women on the labour market mentioned before is not followed by the increase of men in domestic life (10). When a couple is unemployed, the women tend to be tied to domestic work 24/7. However, with men, the contribution only increases during the weekdays (12).
Considering the academic context, even though women represent most students at higher education institutions, majority of university women suffered some type of harassment (13). Also, when entering positions of leadership the male leaders' percentage is far higher compared to women, approximately 66% against 34% in 2019 (14). Inequalities also appear in other sectors such as the media media, where authority figures such as experts and specialists, presented are most of the times men (15). Another phenomenon is violence in the older generation. From a study made, it is possible to say that from 10 older women around 60 years old, 4 already suffered violence or abuses (16).
This should not happen in the current and modern world we live in, and the term feminist lacks from a global understanding and widespread acceptance to ensure that gender equality is achieved. However, as a movement, feminism, the fight for equality between men and women, has never had a solid footing in Portugal (8).
To better understand the Portuguese reality regarding gender equality, four interviews were carried out with people involved in gender equality projects. One of the questions, in common, to all the interviews was “How do you look at new generations who speak more openly about the subject and seek to change the course of history, for example through social networks? Will this be essential, or will it take more “fighting” in the real world?”. The answers about this subject are similar throughout the interviews. Social media will not change the world, but it can help when used properly and in coordination with what happens in the offline world. However, its use needs to be careful and ensure the transmission of fact-based information since the knowledge flow can be the most non-violent weapon (17). Therefore, there is the need to consider which platform to be used, how to use it, when to post and who is the target audience. Also, it must be ensured that hate comments are not promoted but can help to start a debate between different mindsets.
Another common question to all the interviewees was “46 years have passed since the Portuguese revolution of April 25th, 1974. How do you see the situation of gender equality in Portugal today comparing to those times?”. In those times women were totally dependent of men as stated by one interviewee and the inequality was part of the national law, as stated by two interviewees. Although all the interviewees agree that progress has been made since then, inequality still exists in people’s mindset and in different sectors of society. As mentioned by interviewee 4:
“We are far from what we should be. Obviously, we managed earn enough rights and we managed to walk baby steps but there is a lot to do mainly on the issue of education and changing the mindsets.”
Another common matter in Portuguese society is related to passiveness demonstrated by its population when it comes to more delicate and political subject matters. Taking this into consideration, it was asked “Do you consider that they (Portuguese people) are still passive when it comes to taking actions to reduce or eliminate gender inequality?”. Interviewee 4 believes that there is an “illiteracy” that is still prevalent as heritage from the dictatorship. Also, there is a widespread lack of trust in political institutions. Interviewees 1 and 3 agreed that it is always given priority to economic matters. Interviewee 3 also brought to light that there is a permanent belief that the situation “could always be worse”, instead of considering that there is room for improvement. Namely with the pandemic of COVID-19 and the risk of a new crisis, people tend to focus on other aspects of society and gender equality loses importance on a daily basis (18).
Interviewee 1 added that there are many traditional proverbs that reflect how gender inequality is engrained in society and how hard it is to dissipate those ideas. Interviewee 2 mentioned that Portuguese society is not homogenous and that some ideas and behaviours linked to gender discrimination are still prevalent in younger generations. As mentioned by Interviewee 1 we should avoid looking at Portuguese society as a whole.
Regarding data collected about gender inequality in the European Union, it was asked “The report on gender equality from 2020 concludes that it will take about 99.5 years to end this gender inequality. Do you think that in Portugal it can take even longer?”. Interviewees 1 and 2 both believe that Portugal is at the same pace as western countries. The latter believes there is a governmental effort and there is positive progress. Interviewee 3 corroborated what was found on research that while women have conquered a place on the workforce, the same cannot be said about men and domestic labour (10). On the other hand, interviewee 4 disagreed. She believes Portugal will take much longer to reach gender equality, enforcing that it is important to educate children, particularly young boys, and that it is important for women to unite:
“Fortunately, we have reached a point where we have provided education to girls that has given them plenty of tools to reach several places that were unreachable before. But the truth is we are still forgetting an even more important factor that will transform those 100 or 400 years that there is left for Portugal to change mindsets, from those 400 into 150 years, which is boys.“
Still regarding predictions for the future, the following question was “One of the UN's goals for 2030 is to achieve gender equality in the world. However, in Portugal, there are still many inequalities in different areas, for example the academic world, in top leadership and even in domestic life itself. It is possible to predict how we will be in 2030?”. The overall sentiment from the interviewees was that it is very hard to predict what is in store for the next few years. There was also a shared concern for the rise of the far-right in the country. Interviewee 3 added that there are many young women and men adopting sexist views. However, she also believes that there is the opposite movement:
“What I’m aware is that we have a gender inequality problem and that problem is creating two spikes, a feminist spike and a conservative spike. And what will happen is that if one of them grows, so will the other one, for better or worse. What we must do is hold on. And if we keep holding on and continue to work, there is hope.“
It was also asked “Data from 2019 from the European Institute for Gender Equality shows that Portugal with 59.9% is below average in terms of achieving this equality. This linked to recent news that our country is one of the 14 that violates the right to equal pay, according to the European Social Rights Commission, does not favour our position. What is your opinion on the subject?” Interviewees 2 and 3 stated that there is a gender gap and although Portugal is not the only case in the European Union, interviewee 2 also pointed out that there is legislation regarding equal pay. Interviewee 4 believes that women are still accepting of the gender gap and accept it as normal.
An important matter is also the need to review paternity and maternity leaves. Although in Portugal is dominated as parental leave (19) it is still common for the mother to be the one who stays at home. This happens because while dividing the parental leave for the mother and the father, many fathers still do not have the opportunity to experience the parental leave, given their employers’ (20).
Interviewee 1 is a book writer and teacher in fashion in Portugal. In her book, which tackles gender equality over generations, she interviewed a group of women of different ages and different backgrounds. The goal was to study their life and point of views about society and a particular item of clothing from the past, the corset since this is a characteristic piece of clothing related to the female gender. One of the things that was mentioned by her was that from 23 women, only two claim that were satisfied with their bodies, namely the oldest and the youngest. She also said that an explanation for this may be that these two women are at a similar stage in their lives and they do not care about stereotypes and society. However, from other point of view, one of the comments that she also heard was that sometimes the look that women usually got on the streets can be very disturbing. Interviewee number 3 referred to something similar. The female body is a public subject. She stated:
““I feel that the female body continues to be public.”.”
This adds a huge pressure on women, since there is the feeling that there is always someone analysing the way they dress or talk in front of society.
Interviewee 2 works on a governmental organisation. One of the questions was about the reason behind the choices of studies and jobs by women. In his opinion and the studies carried out in the organisation show that although women have better grades, comparing to men, there are not many girls going to certain fields of engineering such as electronical or mechanical. The lack of women in politics and activism also happens, given the fact that, when women get married, they need to balance their job with the house and the kids. The same does not happen with men (15). The information confirmed that women still work more hours at home than men.
Interviewee 4 also mentioned that about gender equality in the world, when a feminist gives one step forward the patriarchy pushes them 2 steps back. It is important to do not forget that the progress made can always disappear. That was other subject discussed, the weight of the word feminism and what it represents. Interviewee number 4 talked about the word “feminism” and the strength of the word just by itself.
Interviewee number 3 also states that there are many people that are not feminists because they do not know the right meaning of the word. Therefore, it can be difficult to reduce the judgement that feminism is associated with the idea that women are superior to men. However, as stated by the Oxford Dictionary, feminism is “the belief and aim that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men; the struggle to achieve this aim”(21). Many definitions can be identified depending on who is using the term and for what purpose (22). As well, many types of feminism can be identified worldwide (23,24). This need to be considered when discussing the topic since the idea that feminism is a whole and cannot be divided can harm its aim.
With this idea of demystification of the word “feminism” emerges the importance of education. It was found that there is the need to educate younger generations before the formulation of stereotypes in their heads as mentioned by interviewee 4. The role of schools is very important, especially primary schools since children notice and internalise that becomes the rule. Considering that children are the future and given what society and the school teach them from the beginning, the gender inequality becomes stronger and easier to understand.
Also, there is the need to focus more on the education of young boys for gender equality. A very important path has been made regarding the empowerment of women in different sectors and there is still much to be done (25). However, education should start to focus on how to educate young boys so that they are also activists for gender equality and help to reduce the chance that they can turn into the next aggressor since gender inequality and violence against women can be seen as two sides of the same coin (26).
To finish the interviews, it was questioned: “what do you think is necessary to do for people to be more involved in the fight for gender equality, as elements of a modern society?” Interviewees 1 and 4 had to say that there is a lot to be done, but also sometimes it is not necessary much to get people involved. The consensus was the importance of education and that more involvement from young people is needed. Interviewee 2 mentioned:
“You, young people, have a very important role to get more involved, to fight, to pass along the message. Today there is a lot of information and accessible one. Many people are against it (gender equality) and speak without information. When confronted with current data, their perception changes. With data it can be easy to change mindsets. Many people are convinced that women rule more than men, but when you show them the statistics that is not the reality and people react “Oh, I had no idea”. Sometimes it’s easy to deconstruct beliefs of most people with some data.”
This study found out that the use of social media to inform about different situations of the world, namely gender equality will rise. Second, there is the need to reinforce gender equality in education programmes starting from a young age and targeting girls and boys. Thirdly, even though Portugal introduced the change from a maternal leave to a parental leave most fathers are still not obligated to use their days which can lead to a regular maternal leave in some cases. To conclude, more work is needed to achieve gender equality in all areas of our society. Also, the analysis of the word “feminism” can help or harm the fight for gender equality depending on the person that advocates to be a feminist and for what purpose.
For the researchers of this study feminism aims to achieve gender equality and that means put women and men at the same level, with the same rights and responsibilities.
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