Quick facts

Qualitative facts

1.  Electoral system and party system and their impact on women

2.  History of Women's suffrage

3.  Legal framework for the promotion of a balance between men and women in political decision-making
   a.  Infrastructure responsible for EO
   b.  Women's participation in politics as a governmental objective and strategy
   c.  Actions initiated to promote women's participation in politics

Europäische Datenbank: Frauen in Führungspositionen

Report from Portugal by our transnational partner
Isabel Romao

Quick facts
Women in Politics:
Women's suffrage active: 1974
Women's suffrage passive: 1931
1st Women in parliament: 1935
1st Women in government: 1971 Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo,
Secretary of State of Social Affairs
1st Ministry on women's issues: 1999
% women in national Parliament: 19,6% (2000)
% women in national Government: 11,7% (2000)
Electoral System:
Proportional: Assembly of the Republic:
230 deputies; 226 elected by party list vote from 22 multi-seat constituencies, 4 elected by Potuguese abroad.
Direct presidential elections.
Quota Law: No quota regulation legislation.
Party Quota: No quota system on party level.
% women with secondary degree: 10,3 %
% women with degree in higher education: 6,8%
% women in senior management: 5,2%
Women's employment rates:
Full time: 52,5% (1998)
Part-time: 17,4% (1998)
Activity rate: 64,0% (1998)
Unemployment: 6,4% (1998)
*sources: Employment in Europe 1999 and Schlüsselzahlen zum Bildungswesen in der Europäischen Union, Amt für amtliche Veröffentlichungen der Europäischen Gemeinschaft 1997, Luxemburg; European Database - Women in Decision-Making and data by transnational experts.

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Qualitative facts

1. Electoral system and party system and their impact on women

The electoral right is defined in the Constitution. There are 4 categories of elections: the President of the Republic, legislative elections at national level, legislative elections at regional level for the two autonomous regions existing in Portugal (Azores and Madeira) and municipal elections. The country is divided in 22 electoral districts (among which 3 in the autonomous region of Azores and 1 for the autonomous region of Madeira), 305 municipalities and 4007 "freguesias". The participation in legislative and municipal elections is limited to political parties only. For the "freguesias", lists of independent citizens can participate. The candidates can be presented by a minimum of 5000 electors.
The electoral system is based in proportional representation, with closed candidatures. According to the Electoral Law, voters elect political parties based upon lists of candidates selected and determined by each political party. The electorate is therefore unable to select a specific candidate or use a preferential vote. The abstention increased considerably since the first elections, due in part to the fact the citizens cannot directly elect their representatives. The system based in proportional representation, usually more favourable to the participation of women in decision-making, does not in this case produce positive effects.
The counting of the votes is made according to the Hondt method, which distributes the posts according to the number of votes obtained by each political party.

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2. History of Women's suffrage

Although it began several years before, the organized fight for women's suffrage is deeply attached to the feminist movement dating from 1910, when the Republic replaced the Monarchy. The women belonging to the "League of Republican Women" conducted it. Some of its members noticed that the Administrative Code gave the right to vote in municipal elections to the heads of families. Therefore, in 1911, Carolina Beatriz Ângelo, doctor, widow and mother, voted in the elections for the Constitutional Assembly, on the basis of her position as head of the family, given that the law omitted to state the sex of the head of the family. She was not only the first Portuguese who voted, but also the first Latin woman doing so. The law was subsequently altered to give the vote to men only.
1931 - Suffrage is given to women with university degrees or secondary schools qualifications. Men had voting rights if they could read and write.
1935 - First three women elected to Parliament.
1946 - Electoral law was altered, but maintained different requirements for men and women. However, there were then fewer restrictions when compared to the law approved in 1931.
1968 - Approval of equal political rights for men and women regardless of marital status is given. For local elections, however, inequalities persisted.
1971 - First woman in the government: Maria Teresa Lobo - Under Secretary of State for Welfare.
1974 - All electoral restrictions based on sex were abolished.
- First woman minister: Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo, engineer, Minister of Social Affairs.

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3. Legal framework for the promotion of a balance between men and women in political decision-making

Equality between men and women is a fundamental principle of the Portuguese Constitution since the 2nd April 1976. The recent revision of the Constitution dating from the 20th of September 1997 reinforces this principle stating in Article 9) - h (Fundamental tasks of the State) that the promotion of equality between men and women is one of the fundamental tasks of the State. The Constitution states also in Article 109) (Political participation of citizens) that "Direct and active participation of men and women in political life is a condition and fundamental instrument of the consolidation of the democratic system. The law must promote equality in the exercise of civic and political rights and non-discrimination based on sex in the access to political office".

Since a discussion on the revision of the Electoral Law was underway, the Government ordered a study on the impact of article 109 of the Constitution on the Electoral Law to be done by a renowned group of five jurists, two men and three women. Their mission was to explore ways allowing, under the Constitutional scope, to promote equality of access to decision-making positions and to present propositions in this sense. The new Electoral Law was not approved and the government announced the prompt of an independent proposal of Law aiming at the approval of criteria of parity in the preparation of electoral lists.

The socialist Government approved in the Council of Ministers meeting on the 25th of June 1998 a proposal of law introducing minimum percentages of both sexes in the elections for the national and European Parliaments, both in lists of candidates and in the equivalent reflection in results. The Government then submitted it to the Parliament. As Proposal of Law Nº 194/VII, guaranteeing improved equal opportunities in terms of representation of citizens of each sex in the electoral lists of both the National Parliamentary Elections and for the Portuguese representation in the European Parliament.

In March 1999, the Portuguese Parliament discussed and then rejected this Government proposal, parliamentarians being more in favour of alternative solutions, such as the adoption of internal rules by parties, refusing in this way the legal means to ensure equality in political participation.

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a. Infrastructure responsible for EO

In 1999, a Minister for Equality was appointed for the first time, Maria de Belém Roseira. The Office of the Minister for Equality comes under the Prime Minister's Office. It is currently responsible for the Commission for Equality and Women's Rights, the Commission for Equality in Work and Employment, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Immigration and Ethnic Minorities.

This was the achievement of a long process beginning in 1970 with the establishment of a Working Group on the Participation of Women in Economic and Social Life, chaired by Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo. As a continuation of this group, the Commission on Social Policy for Women was created. In 1975, this Commission was given a new name, the Commission on the Status of Women. In 1977, the Commission on the Status of Women was given an organic status and attached to the Prime Minister's Office. In 1979, the Commission for Equality in Work and Employment was set up with the purpose of guaranteeing the application of the law on this same issue. In 1991, the Commission for Equality and Women's Rights replaced the Commission on the Status of Women and, later that year, was provisionally attached to the Minister of Employment and Social Security. It was transferred again, four years later, to the Prime Minister's Office. In 1996, the Office of the High Commissioner for Equality and the Family was created, also attached to the Prime Minister's Office. This High Commissioner had equivalent status to an Under-Secretary of State and was responsible, amongst other services, for the Commission for Equality and Women's Rights. This Office was abolished in 1999 with the appointment of a Minister for Equality.

The Commission for Equality and Women's Rights operates in the same way as a Ministerial Directorate General, in all fields relevant to Equal Opportunities between men and women. It endeavours to ensure that men and women have equal opportunities, rights and dignity. In addition, it promotes effective joint responsibility in all fields of family working, social, cultural, economic and political life, and encourages society to regard motherhood and fatherhood as social functions and to shoulder the consequent responsibilities.

It has a Consultative Council with two sections. The first is namely a Joint Ministerial Section made up of representatives of governmental administrative departments relevant to the work of the Commission operating as equality consultants. The second is a Non-Governmental Organizations Section comprising NGOs that have similar objectives to the Commission, endeavour to improve women's living conditions and status or promote equality.

The Overall Plan for Equality, which was approved by the Council of Ministers on 6 March 1997, primarily meets the concern about implementing gender mainstreaming into the various Ministries' policies and activities. The Ministerial Advisors on Equality, appointed by the respective ministries, have regularly sat on the Consultative Council of the Commission for Equality and Women's Rights since its inception, helping to ensure the implementation of the action Plan.

The Programme adopted by the Government elected on 10 October 1999, comprises two major transversal subjects, one of which is Equal Opportunities. Gender mainstreaming, which involves integrating Equal Opportunities between men and women into all sectorial policies, is considered a mainstay of governmental action.

There is still another equality mechanism: the Parliamentary Commission for Parity, Equal Opportunities and Family.

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b. Women's participation in politics as a governmental objective and strategy

The Programme adopted by the Government elected on 10 October 1999, comprises two major transversal subjects, one of which is Equal Opportunities. In this Programme, the Government commits itself to giving a strong impetus to the promotion of equal opportunities for men and women. This implies the reformulation of deep-rooted conceptions of the organization of family life, political life and parties themselves, of the sharing of tasks between women and men, and of the organization of the world of labour and teaching institutions according to this new paradigm of parity.
The Programme contains general and specific measures aimed at reaching equality. Among the general measures, the Government commits itself to the adoption of a Second Overall Plan for Equality which, following the previous one and taking into account the evaluations undertaken, will reflect the current context. It commits itself also to the reinforcement of the participation of civil society, through the support given to NGOs working in the field of equal opportunities.

In its V Chapter, "The quality of democracy", the Programme states the will to proceed reforming the way politics are carried out in Portugal. The way political institutions work, as initiated by the XIII Constitutional Government, reconciles citizens with mechanisms of representation and participation in political life, and adapts political parties to the new challenges of democracy.
In order to achieve this, the Government will promote the reform of the State and of political institutions, namely through proposals and initiatives such as:
- Legislative measures of positive discrimination aimed at increasing the participation of the underrepresented sex in the elective bodies of national and local scope and in the bodies of appointment and political trust.
- Revision of the system of local government, in order to reinforce the stability of the executive bodies and the personalization of voting.

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c. Actions initiated to promote women's participation in politics

The Commission for Equality and Women's Rights regularly publishes a chapter containing statistical data on women in decision-making in a book annually updated, called "Portugal Status of Women". The dissemination of this data makes the under representation of women in the different decision-making fields more visible. It is also a starting point for several initiatives in this area.

The Technical Secretariat for Matters of the Electoral Process- STAPE, a government department, has been regularly publishing studies containing a detailed analysis of women elected at the municipal level. The fact, that these studies are usually launched three to four years after each municipal election has taken place, makes them more useful for historical purposes.

The Commission undertook a study in 1995 and published it in 1996. This study on "New indicators for Equality" dedicated a chapter to indicators of the participation of women in public and political life.

In addition, in 1995, two women parliamentarians, Margarida Silva Pereira (PSD) and Ana Maria Bettencourt (PS) published a book called "Political Women - Their causes". The book contains interviews with 30 of the most distinguished women in Portuguese political life after the 1974 Revolution. The interviews address the women in terms of the tasks accomplished and longevity in this field. These interviews gather biographical data, the causes the women defend, and their attitudes towards the participation of women in politics. The interviews are complemented by the analysis of an inquiry to women in parliament or ex-parliamentarians, focusing on the same subjects.

"Democracy with more citizenship" is the title of a book published in 1999 by the Presidency of the Council of Ministers containing articles of distinguished jurists, constitutionalists, and political individualities on the issue of the quality of democracy, parity, equal participation in political life and measures to increase women's participation in decision-making. Also published the same year was a book called "Women in politics", deriving from a sociological study ordered by the Government and more precisely by the former Secretary of State Presidency of the Council of Ministers to the Centre of Research and Studies in Sociology of the High Institute of Sciences of Work and Enterprises - ISCTE. The study produces analyses of the possible impact on political parties if the Proposal of Law referred in point 2.3 were to be approved. It also analyses similar policies and measures already existing in several countries.

A NGO, the Alliance for Parity Democracy, launched in 1999, with the presence of the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, António Costa, a book called "After all, what is parity democracy". The book is meant to give answers to the question "what is parity democracy?" and "why is there a need to adopt it?"

NGOs have had an important role in the struggle for a greater participation of women in citizenship and for their increased presence in decision-making. From 1993 on several NGOs were created with this purpose, among which the Network of Women Elected at Local Level - REMA, the Alliance for Parity Democracy, the Association Ana de Castro Osório. In 1995, as a movement of the civil society, the Observatory of Citizenship was also created. These NGOs implemented several initiatives such as information and awareness raising campaigns and seminars.

We should also mention the important role played by the members of the European Network "Women in Decision-Making" in concerns such as gathering data on the presence of women at all levels of decision-making. They were also concerned about the dissemination of this data through research, and implementation of projects co-financed by the European Commission involving NGOs aimed at increasing women's presence in the elections for the European Parliament in 1993-94, in the local elections of 1994-95, again in 1995-96, and as a preparation for the local elections of 1997. The first of these three projects paved the way to an initiative of three women members of Parliament, the Parity Parliament, which took place in January 1994 in the Portuguese Parliament. 115 women, former or present members of Parliament, invited the same number of men parliamentarians to sit with them in Parliament and debate the situation of women in Portugal, citizenship and parity democracy. (At that time, out of 230 members of Parliament, only 21 were women).

The campaigns deriving from these initiatives included spots in television and radio, debates, seminars, and meetings with political decision-makers. These efforts contributed in a great extent to give visibility to this issue and to put it on the political agenda.

The Commission for Equality and Women's Rights contributed also to these efforts by disseminating statistical data, the Athens and Rome Declarations, E.U.'s and other international organizations' resolutions, recommendations and political texts engaging the Portuguese Government. They also gave technical and financial support to NGOs' initiatives, such as seminars and research projects. The Department of Socialist Women also benefited from this support in the undertaking of two research projects on this issue in 1996 and in 1998.

In 1998, after the revision of the Portuguese Constitution (1997), the Government itself assumed the process, by affirming the need to address the issue in the Law. In 1998, the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs raised this debate in Parliament. Several studies were ordered, and a Proposal of Law was presented and defended (1999). Before the presentation of this Proposal of Law, the Parliamentary Commission for Parity, Equal Opportunities and Family organized an Audition in Parliament giving voice namely to Cabinet Members, to Heads of Mechanisms for Equality (present and former), to Heads of Political Parties sitting in Parliament, to representatives of NGO belonging to the Consultative Council of the Commission for Equality and Women's Rights, to representatives of Civic Associations, and to the media, etc.

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