Political Development

Party Affiliation

Profession/ Current priorities

Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments





The Team




[ European Commission, DG V ]

© Jan 2001

European Database: Women in Decision-Making

Sonia Fertuzinhos

Political Development

1. What made you decide to go into politics?
Above all the will to participate in the construction of a society which is also mine, of which I'm also part and in which I feel responsible, and usually I have has a way of being in life to participate in everything that concerns me and to try to give my contribution, as modest as it can be. When there was an opportunity for me to participate actively in activities of a political party, because initially I wasn't even affiliated, I took it, with that spirit I've referred. I tried to take the opportunity I was being given.

2. Is there a tradition of political involvement/policy - making in your family?
There is a tradition of participation in what is the day to day, which are the opportunities of participation. My mother is now the President of the Junta de Freguesia, but at the time I entered into politics more actively, she wasn't even in the world of politics anymore. Nowadays she is President of the Junta, but there isn't that tradition passing neither from parents to children, nor from grandparents to grandchildren.

3. Have you had or do you have any person or political personality who has been a model or reference for you?
There you are. I have several national and foreign references, but at the time I took the opportunity to participate actively in politics, there were, above all, personalities at local level who made me believe there was a space of intervention and that I could take that space: As a matter of fact, those people gave credibility to that space, and I refer namely to the mayor of my hometown, which is Guimarães, Dr. António Magalhães. And other people, at local level that, in fact, made me believe it was possible. One thing is to have heroes or national and foreign references. Another is to have space for intervention and having people in that space, who make us believe that it is worth while being there, because they are a positive example, and that's what happened.

4. 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 participated without being directly engaged in party politics, at the University and in Secondary school. I was above all engaged in Local Development Associations, and it was mainly through that path that the opportunity arouse to participate in political life. I was in the Association of Municipalities of the Vale do Ave, and in another one, called Turiminho, which was an association of tourism, in the regions of Minho and Vale do Ave, where I did participate. Then, I was also engaged in an association that had to do with the preparation of projects to submit to the European Union, the Associação Euroiniciativa. I was more or less 18 years old, I was in the 12th grade, and then, that participation continued throughout University.

5. What made you decide to change from grassroots to party politics?
I didn't change from one to another. One coincided with the other at a certain moment.

6. Did your objectives change during your political career?
They haven't changed. My objective is to give my best contribution and to feel I'm part of something for which I'm also responsible.

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Party Affiliation

1. What was your motivation to join a political party?
I usually participate in all I can and is within my reach, in that spirit. Entering a political party happened because I was working with people - when I was working in the associations I have referred - who were part of the Socialist Party and, at a given time, invited me to participate.

2. Which party and when?
The Socialist Party, since I was 19 years old, that is, since 1982.

3. Does your party have equal opportunity regulations?
It has a Women's Department having as a main goal to promote Equal Opportunities, although I think that it should be the Party to promote Equal Opportunities. It is the Party in the first place and the Department is an instrument. There is a rule having to do with quotas, but, at last, as you know there is and it there isn't, because it is complicated, the Secretary General himself assumed that, at the time of the discussion of the so called Law of quotas, and which was respected in these last legislative elections. But for the municipal elections it's even more complicated. We shall see. We are going to have municipal elections soon. I hope the challenge will stand and that the demands will be the same.

4. Which office/function did you hold in your party at the beginning? How long after joining? How did you get into running for office?
The first functions had to do with the Municipal Assembly and I was also a candidate to the Assembleia de Freguesia (Municipal Parliament), then came the Assembleia da República (National Parliament). It happened four to five years after I joined the party. That's it. The Municipal Assembly was from the beginning. The Assembleia da República was past two mandates at the Municipal Assembly. My running for an office was based on the choice of the Secretariat, which was later ratified by the Local Political Commission and later by the Political Commission of the District.

5. Did you have any mentors inside the party?
I had many people who helped me and keep helping me, because in this area one is always learning and, like all things in life, there is always someone that, in one way or the other, is closer to us or to whom one feels more attached and more at ease and we keep asking for their advice, if I can say so, I had and I have several persons who are with me and who are my friends, or else there are persons whom I have a great regard for and admiration and I keep asking them for help, and speaking to them.

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Profession/ Current priorities

1. How does your profession relate to your political work?
I ran for office to the Assembleia da República when I was 22 years old and I held that office when I was 23. Therefore I had no professional opportunity, besides the participation in local development associations , which I already mentioned. I had neither the opportunity, nor the time to have a profession, in the heaviest sense of the word.

2. What kind of qualifications do you have?
I have a degree in International Affairs, I have a post graduation in European Studies and I am doing my Master in Political Science.

3. What kind of jobs have you done?
My training is related to politics. As for my profession, when I was called to the Assembleia da República, I was finishing a training post at the European Commission and, therefore, in one way or another they are related. But I also didn't have the time to have a so-called profession, of many years, or of some years.

4. Are you linking both your professional and your political career?
The linkage is total, because it is an activity of study and research.

5. In which areas do you see your special competencies?
In the area of European Affairs, but it ends up being an area to which I have been less attached due to the fact that I am very much attached to the issue of Equal Opportunities and the Family, where I am the co-ordinator for the Socialist Party. That gives me increased responsibilities and obliges me to be closer and particularly attentive to these matters.

6. What are your political priorities?
At this moment, my priority is, clearly, the field of Equal Opportunities and the Family, because I believe it is a field where there is still a lot to be done, since after the fifties and the sixties, when there were clearly rights to be ensured and after those rights were ensured, there was in fact a significant change of behaviour. Figures related to women's participation in the most diverse activities in society changed, the most significant discriminations, the ones being more visible in society, have disappeared. But there is still a lot of circumstances having to do with the way society functions and how it is organised, that ends up not guaranteeing full equality of opportunities in the organisation of peoples' lives, women and men.
Today, organising one's life and having equality of opportunities isn't 100% guaranteed, for women and men, on account of reasons which are less visible than they were in the fifties and the sixties. Therefore they are less discussed and, when they are discussed, they are less visible. There is work here, which is very appealing, which is not related to elaborating more laws. Probably what we want today is, on one side, the implementation of those laws and the guarantee of the application of the laws already existing and it is also the debate and the change of mentalities and the change of the way society itself is organised. This is today's big challenge. Mentalities take lots of time to change, as we know, but the organisation of society is to be built, is to be done and this is our challenge and I think it is gratifying to be involved in these issues at the present time.

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Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments

1. Which objectives would you like to achieve through your political work?
At this moment, in terms of what is my direct political work, equality is my main objective. Then, there are other fields, which I think are important, having to do with my work, lacto senso, related, for instance, to the connection between those who elect and those who are elected. There is a lot to be done, from the working conditions of parliamentarians, the way they are elected or chosen and, also in this field, there is a great amount of work to do, and I would like to be able to participate in this more effective link between elected and electors.

2 Did your objectives change during your political career?
When I entered the Assembleia da República I had no idea, whatsoever, I was going to work in the field of Equality and in the field of the Family, because these weren't my fields at all. It's a field I have being working in and deepening my knowledge. But when I first arrived here and started to discover how the house functioned, I, in fact, made a clear option for this field in detriment of a field where I would be, from the beginning, more at ease, which is European Affairs. The change had to do with the lack of visibility I believe the fields of Equality and the Family have. And I think they must have more and therefore, even for a matter of opportunity to participate, I got myself increasingly attached to Equal Opportunities. I became more and more attached...

3. Do equal opportunities strategies in your opinion have an impact in your country in the promotion of women in decision-making- please specify?
Above all, I think that the discussion must be oriented, and I think it has been, on the contrary of what happened in the past, which I think was harmful. These issues are already society's issues, but for a long time they were discussed as women's issues, by women and for women. Nowadays, the big challenge is to make these issues, in fact, pass to public opinion and to the decision making bodies and to those who decide, as society's issues; which must be discussed by everybody. We can, as we are speaking about women, speak of equal opportunities, but we can never speak of equal opportunities as being women's issues, exclusively because, on one hand, they aren't, and also because in that case we would only call women's attention, or raise women's awareness. It's a false question, and I think these issues have lots of prejudices attached to them, which work negatively when we want to discuss them and when we want to give them importance and visibility, because for a long time they were perceived as being for women and about women. I think this is a big goal to reach.

4. Did you benefit from these strategies? How do you judge these strategies?
There was no strategy, the only strategy there was, was my will to participate. And the people with whom I was and still am in the party at local level, because all this happened at local level, in Guimarães, believed it would be a good bet, that I could do a good work and I was ready to do that work.

5. Do you see direct or indirect discrimination in conventional policy-making? What is it that keeps women from committing themselves to politics?
I think there is a whole range of behaviours which end up, sometimes, being discriminatory. Clearly, politics was for many years a masculine club. And therefore it has a very masculine style and in what is related to partisan competition, there is clearly no habit, it isn't natural women being in politics. Although they are a great part of the electorate, although they are the majority of the Portuguese society, parties always thought it was good to have one or two for electoral reasons, but not because it was natural they participated, because it was natural for them to be there. And, therefore, this has as a consequence in the day to day life that a whole range of behaviours and attitudes which aren't objectively though, but are subjectively admitted and end up becoming the practice. For instance, I recall perfectly what happened with the choice of women for the Congress, the last Congress of the Socialist Party, when it was obligatory for the party to comply with the quotas. Here you are, one thought about women not because it was natural for them to be there, but because there was the need to comply to quotas, and since it was so, let's think about women. The first attitude of a group of men, seeing I was the only woman in the Secretariat being present was that "women should choose", "let women choose the women". When I told them I didn't agree, that it didn't make sense, that it had to be the same group who had chosen men who had to choose women, they said "But we don't even know, which women there are, it's better you do it". I insisted again that it didn't make sense and then they said "Let's think about women". And we did and... suddenly someone said "well, but these cannot accept". "Why can't they?". "Because they have young children". And the majority of men there, were young men, they also had young children. And I said to them "Then you also can't, because you have young children". "Oh no, we can, because we are available". And then I told them "Then you must ask women if the are available, and then you can evaluate whether they are or not. But first you must ask them. You aren't going to decide just because they have young children". And this isn't openly discriminatory, but it is clearly an attitude which ends up excluding women.

6. What are the major obstacles that women need to overcome?
First, there is the fact of thinking that women who are in politics are exceptional, that they are there as an exception. No, they must be there naturally. And we only acquire this with time. Isn't it? And then, on the other side, probably the parties have a way of functioning and of selecting candidates, that, because women aren't naturally in politics, ends up being very complicated. I think, in fact, that only the will of parties to have women in politics and the passing of time will result in an easier participation of women. Well, and on the other side, the organisation of society itself. Because if we have social infrastructures of support, or more efficient social support structures, corresponding better not to women's needs, but to the families' needs, to the couples' needs, this will lead to a greater participation of women. Because people have a greater capability to organise themselves, to manage their own lives easier. While this doesn't happen, on the one hand, parties changing the way they function, they think and they select candidates, and this aspect of the selection of candidates is fundamental and, on the other hand, guaranteeing individuals, whether they are men or women, support structures allowing them to organise their lives on an equal way. Equal opportunities is this.

7. What obstacles have you had to overcome in your own career?
The obstacles I had to overcome were the ones other colleagues of mine, that were in competition with me, had to overcome, at the last elections. For instance, I recently became a mother, I had obviously to get one person that would stay home all the time. This is possible having financial possibilities, isn't it? But there is a certain time in the evening... meetings... when things become difficult. In this first phase it is necessary to choose. Either the schedule of meetings is changed, or I wont be able to attend them. Because I'm not going to take a child with me at nine o'clock in the evening, I don't know where to, to get home at midnight, one or two o'clock in the morning. I mean... it makes no sense! That's when I'm going to see my colleagues' capacity to adjust to change.
This is what I think: I shouldn't abdicate of the different aspects of fulfilment of my life because I am in politics. And I think this is also the challenge. Being in politics while being young and trying to have a regular life, while being in politics. As regular as possible. And I say as regular, for instance, not giving up family, not giving up being a mother while young, because I wanted to be a mother while young. But this implies, in fact, I won't say sacrifices, because it isn't a sacrifice; it is trying, in these circumstances, to question things or to push changes inside the party itself and inside the organisation where I participate. And this happens when I say. "I cannot, we must change the schedule of the meeting because I have a child".

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