Maria Do Rosário Carneiro
Profession/ Current priorities
Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments
© Jan 2001
Maria Do Rosário Carneiro
Well, I was thoroughly fed up with many years of PSD (Social Democratic Party) absolute majorities and in 95… Portuguese society was being suffocated. The sensation I have of that time is a memory of suffocation, of a very technocratic kind of management, very empty of essential values and very superior. These are the key ideas. At the time the PS (Socialist Party) began to systematically expand into civil society, to include independents, and I came in on that wave; I was asked if I would like to be involved and if I thought I could make a relevant contribution to helping end something which seemed to me had to end… thank goodness that I did participate in that. I started my political activity in 95.
2. Have you had or do you have any person or political personality who has been a model or reference for you?
I was born into a political family. My father was a member of the Government in the Old Regime for nearly 10 years although it's very different being a member of the Government now, his offices were always predominantly technical but, at any rate, that which he passed on to his children, more than the political understanding of participation, was the understanding of service, in other words, we, citizens, have a fundamental role in society which is to serve. He served all his life, at the highest levels, but he served, he put himself at the country's disposal. Hence, all this made a deep impression in one's education. After the 25th April of course my participation was as a student but it wasn't very significant because what really interested me at the time was studying; but after the 25th April one of my brothers (Adelino Amaro da Costa) became a founding member of a political party and today he continues to be a striking character in Portuguese society, 19 years after his death, he continues to be a striking figure in society, in political society and beyond because he was in fact a top quality humanist. It's obvious he also made a deep impression on me, not so much from the point of view of party profile but his character and the way he acted politically. Later, a little later, my husband also went into politics, he was secretary of state for four years, he was a minister for four years, so I would say that I have lived all my life in this environment of service. When I accepted the invitation it was again the recuperation of all this understanding about service which is part of my character. It's a formative culture.
3. Have you been engaged in political grassroots activities before your involvement in party politics - e.g. in a citizens' rights, parents or other initiatives? What were important experiences you made?
I've never been involved in an association of a party political nature. I was involved in the student associations. I was an active member of various voluntary associations which intervened directly in society within the scope of the fight against poverty, in run down areas, in supporting families. Then, obviously as the number of children I had grew, it became difficult to be involved so systematically although this is an activity which has been a constant factor throughout my life. Before the 25th April, together with a fellow female student, we started the first proceedings which led to the suspension of a teacher at the ISCS (Higher Education Institute of Social Sciences), then of course I was penalised; but this is just to say that I have an understanding which is political, not from a party political point of view but it's political from the interventionist and participative point of view. Also at that time, in the 70's, at the ISCSP which was abolished by Herman Saraiva because it was a revolutionary school, the students were always on strike as a mark of solidarity with everyone else but then nobody supported us. A group of seven students to which I belonged used to go everyday to the Ministry of Education and say "well, what about us, what's is it going to be?" … then, there was a change in Government and Prof. Freitas ...received us and said "if you show me that Portugal needs you, your ISCSP will be operational the next day… and I was part of that group of students… we were four, we undertook serious scientific research under the supervision of a Professor in order to demonstrate that Portugal needed people specialised in Social Sciences. We carried out a study at national level, identified by sector, production area, service, of the need for people qualified in social sciences in Portugal. It was an alibi but it was very interesting because we covered the whole public administration, the whole factory sector and it was very important from the point of view of the formation and strengthening of this conviction which led us to believe that there are limits to the capacity for intervention and production but if one doesn't want anything, nothing is done and, in this case, it was very good… I remember being invited to join more than one political party but I refused systematically because I was completely incapable of being subordinated to dogmatism. Nothing which might imply subordination to the dogmatic principle which always exists in organisations of this kind. There is one dogma which must be accepted and I have great personal difficulties in doing so; it's a question of character, never accepting it. Therefore, my life carried on like this, my involvement was always in the so-called civil society and in associations which work to support the run down living conditions of the poorest. I held direct contact offices as a volunteer and I have never held management offices. The same happened in the students' association.
4. When did you start your political career? What have been the most important experiences you have had? What made you change from grass roots political activities to party politics?
My political career started definitively in 95. That which stimulated me most… was that which has always stimulated me all my life, which is the conviction that it's possible to intervene. I'm not going to say that I have had great moments which have been determinant, but this is the determining reason for my being here… although now with little excitement… but there were some very interesting moments from the point of view of fighting, these there were over these five years. The 95 electoral campaign was a particularly extraordinary moment because of everyone's conviction that we were changing something, the belief both in values and in the absolute need to change the country. That in fact was an extraordinary thing which wasn't to be seen in the last elections. Now everything has gone to sleep, it seems as if the spirit has been lost. Whilst in 95 there was a great spirit which moved through everyone with various characteristics, a huge conviction that it was possible, that there were fundamental values which were at last going to be found such as the humanisation of society, respect for the individual, the primacy of the individual, at last… of course I took the front line in the fight against injustice, the fight against discrimination, etc.. These were key words in 95 which made a whole society vibrate and which brought about a change that no one was expecting to happen in such a striking fashion, and I have to say, that then, on election night, after the results were known … I cannot remember a night of so much joy because it was the joy of those who had won but it was also the hope of those who had voted for those who had won, therefore, there was a collective, shared feeling that something was going to start anew and that is very pleasing as a memory. Then, there are moments here… the first year I was year in the Assembleia (Parliament) was particularly difficult because I had a very serious health problem which I overcame and when I arrived here at the Assembleia, after all that joy, I had great expectations and the expectations I had… because all my life, whenever I believed that I had to do something I did it… I was the principal of an art school for eight years, so I had to think about what I was doing, I had taught all my life so I structured my classes and I said what I thought; all the pedagogic models I wanted to try out, I did try out. Always with complete autonomy even if the rest of the school didn't do what I did. I arrived here and it's none of that. That which I thought could happen didn't. The ideas I'm having have no impact. There is nobody to listen to them… because there are other rules given that I don't belong to any party. I was elected as an independent member of parliament by the PS by an even less direct means because it was through the Movimento Humanista de Democracia (The Humanist Movement for Democracy) (MHD) which is an organisation belonging to civil society which gathers together dissident elements, old founders of the CDS (Social Central Democrats), of the Christian Democrats which distanced themselves from the current CDS many years ago and which agreed to co-operate with the PS … and established a parliamentary quota of three members of parliament. They invited me, proposed me to the PS, therefore I entered by means of the MHD… this was the way in because in fact my ideological family lies with the Christian Democrats, with the old Christian Democrats.
Therefore, when I arrived here, I had no one to whom I could relate because in terms of friends and acquaintances, they're all in other parties, they aren't in this parliamentary group and they don't regard me as a nice person, they regard me as a traitor, a dissident. The person I know in the PS is Eng. António Guterres (the Prime Minister), we're long standing friends. Then I know one or two other people but I'm not close to them, let alone intimate friends. On top of this I was catapulted into the presidency of a Parliamentary Commission (Parliamentary Commission for Parity; Equal Opportunities and the Family), which was simultaneously hard and a great challenge because at least it gave me a concrete reference point to which I could relate and begin to structure my involvement.
The Parliamentary Commission was a concrete thing and all my life I have known how to do concrete things. I may or may not have been competent, that is another matter, but I have to relate to something concrete and it was in fact very important to have been put forward as President of a Commission and to have been elected because I was able to start to position myself in terms of political intervention. And here there was a new issue which marked me which was the fact that I concentrated on matters of equality which I had never worked on from that point of view in all my life. I was someone who came from University, I have experience in education, I was part of the specialised personnel of the Ministry of Education, I followed a certain path as an educational specialist, an expert in areas of curricular development, educational policy, planning. Then I stopped for a while and just taught at the Faculty and afterwards I became the principal of a school. What I teach at the Faculty is Socio-economic Planning and Sociology of the Family which naturally and increasingly necessarily involves the issue of rights. I started teaching this discipline 18 years ago.
One didn't use to mention family and much less family policy. I remember having travelled at the time and there were two or three books per book shop or library… there were many more on women's rights. But the whole approach to the family is gradually absorbing the issue of equality because it's an essential component for understanding the role of the family.
All that I had studied came via the family so I wasn't out of my depth when I arrived at the Commission but it wasn't the crux of that which I had studied all my life. And this again was an issue which marked my life deeply, to have come to study the issues of equality in depth because some of the options and concepts which I had in relation to intervention in society had a significant and tangible function. And then there were momentous moments in terms of parliamentary debate, of important issues and some were momentous for all of society and others were momentous because nobody noticed them but they made their mark on account of the comma which was removed, the word which was taken away or added and we know how important that is, not in the short term but in the long term.
It's obvious that things have been achieved the area of Equal Opportunities, there were two important moments: one was clearly a victory, that was the inversion of the onus of proof with regard to dismissals because it was an issue that had been in the Assembleia for twelve years…and it moved on … and then there was the whole discussion about quotas, not on account of the result, but on account of that which it was possible to unleash in Portuguese society and, above all, that which it became possible to change in Portuguese society because since then, if you remember, journalists, the press, have never again "derided" equal opportunities. They reverted to "derision" to a small extent, not in relation to the issue itself, but on account of there being a Minister for Equality. But the topic was never again subject to that boring reporting, above all with regards to quotas…. That is probably the most significant thing that happened … it changed…it became a serious issue. I think that the fact that us members of the Assembleia wanted to hear the media (Public Hearing in Parliament on the Proposal of Law guaranteeing equal opportunities in the participation of citizens of both sexes in the lists of candidates to National and European Parliaments) was a determining factor because from the moment they were heard, they could no longer ridicule.
There were journalists who asked me if I hadn't gone crazy asking journalists to come here to speak to me and I asked them if they were opinion makers or not. Because if the AR (Assembleia da República) asks Portuguese society to give an opinion as to the way in which the matter of participation must be resolved, "you, as much or more than them, must be heard because you are the opinion makers and we need to know what you think and you need to know what we think". On an equal footing. These were two intense days which were very important. It had such a mobilising effect that the press itself recognised it publicly, they recognised that it's a topic, it's an issue.
5. Have there been changes in your private life which affect or have affected your political career?
There has been no change in my private life. I continue to be married and have nine children. There was a small problem at the beginning of my active political life which did put it in danger. I was in danger of loosing my domestic help and I have to say that if I hadn't been able to resolve the domestic situation in November 95 I might have had to give up my mandate at the Assembleia.
6. Did your objectives change during your political career?
The objectives have never changed throughout my life. They have always been the same: to serve. I have and, when I leave, I hope to continue to have this objective. I wouldn't say objectives…I would say strategy, I came to understand that there were a certain measures that needed to be taken actively. As you can clearly see, my intervention in society has always been at the grass roots level, therefore, I'm convinced that it's possible to be involved at that level. Then, from the technical point of view, I'm an educational specialist and I think education is a key instrument for change and in this respect I worked actively with Prof. Veiga Simão (was Minister of education at that time) in implementing the first major policy for the democratisation of education in Portugal, therefore, I have these ideas which exist; it isn't something that can be done from one day to another, it's moving forwards.
I think that this way, through human rights, we will attain equality. As I come from a Social Sciences background I also know that this isn't enough, the fight must be waged on other fronts. Always in the name of equal rights, without a clear distinction between men and women. In fact that wasn't my motto nor was it when I accepted the invitation. It clearly became the motto of my intervention in the Assembleia when I was elected onto the Commission (Parliamentary Commission for Parity, Equal Opportunities and the Family), the 12th Commission, to which I had not applied at the time. I had applied for the Work and Family and Drug Dependency Commissions because that was the area I had worked in at the Faculty. So I'm President of a Commission to which I did not apply. And I'm involved in something in which I wouldn't have become involved by choice. It was clearly a discovery, it's a subject which I believe makes an impression. If I had not joined the Commission I wouldn't focus in the way I do today. I have to say that five years ago I only taught Family, the number of subjects I teach on Equal Opportunities within the scope of this discipline has not changed over the last five years, therefore, it has nothing to do with the scientific essence of the thing, it has nothing to do with the substance, it has to do with the focus one puts on things. Obviously I probably teach with much more vivaciously than I did at the time. It isn't so much a question of conviction, it's now a question of militancy. At the time I wasn't as militant on the subject as I am today, I was militant with regards to the family, the fight against inequalities, but not in this area. Now this isn't the case, now I'm clearly militant in this area; it's not a new objective, it isn't a change in objectives but rather a change of focus and then, in this area, there are clearly programmes in which I developed strategies. When I got here and the issue of quotas was put to me for the first time, I said, "I'm sorry, but what nonsense", but actively working in this area…I still think what I thought before, I think it's appalling, it's appalling that quotas should be established for anything, but this is the logic by which democracy operates, democracy works by quotas, therefore, if we establish the pragmatic understanding of what democracy is, we no longer find it so horrifying because in democracy we operate by quotas, participation is guaranteed by quotas. And this is something I learnt. I don't say in the Assembleia but by virtue of the area in which I came to work, this is the great step forward I have taken… from the outset, militancy… I became a militant in issues of equal opportunities. It's a determining factor, but we mustn't be distracted, we mustn't ignore other things about which I'm militant. One cannot ignore exclusion in relation to the family. Just because I'm President of this Commission does not mean that I have ceased to believe what I believed before about the family. I think that the way in which politics ignores the family is very serious, it has serious repercussions in my new area of militancy which is Equal Opportunities.
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The Socialist Party does.
2. Did you have any mentors inside the party?
No. I was invited directly by Eng. António Guterres (Prime Minister) and I was invited by the Secretary General of the Movimento de Humanismo e Democracia (The Movement for Humanism and Democracy), Dr. Luís Barbosa. These were the two people who talked to me directly before I was accepted.
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It's closely linked because both Planning and Family are subjects which are very closely related to intervention. And it's very interesting… I always liked to stir up the pupils and challenge them, to tell them that they had to intervene and that they had the power to intervene and now I'm much more at ease saying so than I was before coming here. Now I say to them, "you have all the power", therefore, if nothing else, it's a "mini exception" of political pedagogy. I think there is a clear link. It's obvious that from the Family point of view there is a great deal of material which I then work on here, from the point of view of the initiatives, analysis, etc.. Not so much in Planning because I sit on the Commission for the Economy…. But everything is related to philosophies of intervention, analysis…
2. What kind of qualifications do you have?
I have a degree in Social Sciences and Politics. I attended a Master's course in Political Science. But then I thought either I have children or do a Master's.
3. What kind of jobs have you done?
I'm one of the senior specialised personnel at the Ministry of Education. For many years, from 1973 to 1978 I was in the Gabinete de Estudos e Planeamento (The Studies and Planning Bureau). From 1978 to 1982 I was assistant to the Secretaries of State for Higher Education and Scientific Research and at the end I also worked for the Secretary of State for the Family. Then I thought there was no reason to have two jobs because I was teaching at the same time, I have always taught since I graduated and it's what I like doing, so I left temporarily, I asked for leave from the Ministry of Education and I taught full time and it was then that I thought I might do a Master's degree but this wasn't possible because a great deal of freedom was needed to allow one's head to think.
Then, when my husband became Minister of Education, motives of an economic nature led me to accept an offer of a second job which luckily I had at the time. And then I was the Principal of the Escola Superior de Artes Decorativas (The Decorative Arts Higher Education School) belonging to the Fundação Ricardo Espírito Santo from 1987 to 1995. They invited me to turn the old Escola de Artes Decorativas (School of Decorative Arts) into a Escola Superior Politécnica (Higher Education Polytechnic). It was a very stimulating and interesting project. I made the harmonisation of timetables a condition, therefore, when I started there I went with my time clearly limited… I was there for 8 years. When I came away I left behind me a Escola Superior Politécnica with five Graduate Licence courses, two Bachelor's courses, a research department, a data processing department and two experimental laboratories. It was very stimulating… Then when I came here, the Fundação considered it incompatible.
4. Is it possible to articulate your professional life and your political career?
Yes, because what I teach is related to the areas in which I work here at the Assembleia. But beyond that, no.
5. In which areas do you see your special competencies?
I'm qualified to organise and manage. I like to do this and I think I'm capable of doing it. Looking back, I think I did well with that School and that is related to my capacity for organisation and management. I have a third skill which is execution. For example, here at the Assembleia, I think I was able to organise and manage the Commission… but the capacity for execution… that doesn't exist here and that bothers me. But I think I have these skills.
6. What are your political priorities?
I think that my main political priority is to continue to be effective. For four years I was as effective as possible given the conditioning factors of my not only being a member of parliament but also an independent, but I managed to intervene in areas which seem to me to be important. The interventions I was able to make were effective. My main priorities are these broad areas in which I'm working. Obviously the area of equality. I don't doubt that the sustainability of the material development achieved is only possible with stabilisation, with the realisation of human rights. Without realising human rights, amongst which is equal opportunities, there is no sustainability. This is clearly a priority area of my involvement. The redefinition of the ways of organising family life shall also be an area of intervention. I also have priorities in the fight against inequalities, but this in not so relevant here, it's more relevant to the intervention I make in terms of society.
7. What are your main areas of intervention?
I actively work with associations which work with the most poor.
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I think there has to be militancy in order to achieve participation. The militancy of all who believe, of those who can do something.
Without going too far afield, just last year four political parties proclaimed the principle of equal opportunities and they proclaimed it assuming responsibilities. All of them said "we're going to do"… Only the PCP (Communist Party) saw it through … met the quotas. The PS (Socialist Party) now has 26% but this is so because of a ratio of substitution… The PP (Peoples' Party) has even less women, the PSD (Social Democratic Party)…The government has five women! An educational policy related to equal opportunities is needed. A labour policy related to equal opportunities is needed; this essentially involves the modification of working habits. Now if we want to talk about equal opportunities in access to decision making positions, I think that if there are no quotas, if it's not obligatory in all positions both elected and appointed, then there must be a progressively equal representation of both the sexes. I think that in Portugal it's still going to take long time but I think it's a matter of human rights and that we cannot wait for the social consequences of waiting for evolution; I think that the social consequences of the natural access of women to decision making positions are too much for this society to bear.
2. Do you see direct or indirect discrimination in conventional policy-making? What is it that keeps women from committing themselves to politics?
There are hindrances of social nature, which have to do with ones' options, with education, with ones' manner and predisposition; there are organisational hindrances, the way society organises itself doesn't favour women's participation in a certain type of activities, namely political activities. Because these still have a very anachronistic organisation, very out of phase from all social functioning. Political involvement is so structured that it is out of phase from the common life rhythms, and therefore, those who are more sensible to these rhythms find it more difficult to participate in something which is so out of phase. Politics has to reorganise itself so that all citizens may participate. Besides that, we have the levels of who decides, who holds the power, they usually say one thing and do another. They have a speech, and the practice is another. They say they want more participation, but they hinder participation, because it is the power who determines who is there and who is not...
3. What obstacles have you had to overcome in your own career?
I don't have a political career, I have no obstacles to face. Well, I have the obstacle of being an independent, I have no support. When I was invited it wasn't even because I was a woman but because of what I represented politically. Being independent I would be better integrated if I were a man… But I think that the main obstacle is not belonging to the structure and also not being part of the mechanism and, being independent in this parliamentary group, the fact of belonging to the Christian Democrats.
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