Sílvia Vasconcelos is the regional coordinator of the Women's Democratic Movement (MDM), which is based on participation in Portuguese society, through both political and non-partisan participation, as well as through debates with populations and schools on human rights, with particular emphasis on women's rights.
According to an OECD study, Portuguese women spend more than 328 minutes per day on domestic work versus men's 96 minutes. They earn 15.7% less than they and yet represent 48% of the workforce. So how are these discrepancies still verified, despite all the rights acquired after the April conquests?
Silvia Vasconcelos: Exactly, after the achievements of April and the democratic assumption that should lead to a gender equality that there is not. Why? It is complex to answer in a linear way, because we had to go back in history, because we have centuries of machismo and pratriarchy. Democracy in Portugal is something very recent, is 43 only years old? When, in the past, women had to ask for permission to their husband, or their father to work or to travel. They were objects whose choices depended on them, this is something very recent and we still have a long way to go and how is this done? Through all possible fronts, with wisdom and all legal means. It is done with awareness campaigns, especially in schools. This is where we must begin with boys and girls, and the women's democratic movement has already taken the first steps in this direction, even at the national level, which is to bring the programs closer together. Being one of them about violence in dating, obviously we got there and we say that her and him are absolutely the same, they look at each other and they giggle and laugh, but they are equal in terms of rights and opportunity and the differences exist to complement and nothing more. We disrupted stereotypes, we approached Louis XIV's court where men had long hair, painted their faces, wore high heels and pants that looked like leggings and that was masculinity from that time, women should be more plump and this notion of men and women, this differentiation that exists, besides the hormonal questions that are beautiful, are all surreally cultural conceptions. When a girl is born she is not submissive and the boy is not domineering. It is all social processes that we adult men and women have responsibilities for the way we educate girls and boys. There is a very interesting video that illustrates this, both are born the same and are yellow in color and then they are differentiated by color, she is pink and he is blue, why? Precisely for the actions of parents and educators. When a girl wants to go out at night is a series of obstacles and for him it is more acceptable, there is a very great differentiation still today in 2017, although, I hope by the end of this century we have a society more aware of this issue of education. I wondered how we got around to it? By education at home and in schools.
Interestingly, I would also address the study on violence in dating because they are even troubling numbers, in the region, but what is intriguing is who educates and transmits these habits to the children are the mothers.
SV: I was telling you before, that we have a secular heritage of patriarchy and machismo.
Yes, but many of these current mothers are from our generation and were already conscientialized for this question, so why this apparent setback?
SV: Because women are also sexist. Not all of them, obviously. I can talk about a case without addressing anyone, my mother is 75 years old and she is unknowingly macho because we had a family member who decided to end up with a relationship that did not make her happy and changed her life. For my mother, it is true that it was more than ten years ago, it was a damnable situation, because she left home, was in another relationship, but if it were the other way round, she would say that men were like that, he had behaved badly, but he was a man, when she decided to change it was a scandal and it was not just my mother to recriminate her, it was my aunts and that happens why? They were educated in this way, for me it was different, I had access to education and freedom, I had other references and I tried to deconstruct all this. That was the education they had, the woman is submissive to the man and they transfer it to us and if we have not been alerted and we have taken advantage of the opportunities that most of our generation had, we continued with that mentality. We women have a heritage of patriarchy and machismo in us and we have to be free and so mothers educate their children differently. Maybe with our generation, I hope things are different and in 10 to 20 years the numbers are different and equality is the same and that success depends on being, not because it is a woman, or a man, because that person, that gender is a detail of our diferences that are beautifuls.
Silvia you are member of the parlament, domestic violence is still a stark reality in our society, as we know many women die who are murdered by their partners, or husbands. So how do you create mechanisms to prevent these numbers from continuing to grow?
SV: Politically there is a lot of work to do. Many awareness campaigns have been set up, but there is one aspect of our legislation that prevents domestic violence, which punishes perpetrators and you ask if there is legislation, why these numbers? Because it is often not applied, this is one of the points, there are mentalities that need to change and this is a long process, in a society that is as macho as ours, because it is true, we are Latin and it is necessary to deconstruct all these myths in terms of discrimination, there is much work to be done. Legislation does exist, but I do not know to what extent it might be tighter.
But could you give me an example? Because until very recently, when a woman filed a formal complaint with the police or the court, it was later removed because they both continued to reside in the same residence and she and her children were threatened. Now, it is a public crime, but even so, they persecute them, they change their lives, the zone of the country and they die any way.
SV: This is because the legislation is not fulfilled, legally the woman has mechanisms that protect her, but the problem lies in practice. The aggressor should be subjected to all the removal mechanism, but it does not happen, even with electronic bracelets they transgress, other times have security measures in terms of distance, they transgress and this leads to these people develop a pathological trend, because no one in their due sanity has this behavior that leads to persecution, or even obsession, is an extreme process of machismo, in which he commands, dominates and if not me you cannot love anyone, or if you leave I kill you and I do not care and I kill myself. In relation to what we are here to address, I assure that there is legislation, now, it is not fulfilled, even in these cases is not properly applied, in principle there is a bond that benefits the aggressor and democracy is also this, ends up penalizing the victim in some cases. Obviously, in case of doubt there is a presumption of innocence and the perpetrators defend themselves, but then the guilty is already the woman and rarely does the greater measure of guarantee that is the preventive custody applies. In Madeira, if there are two or three, that's the maximum, at least as far my knowledge goes. What happens is measures such as suspension of imprisonment, or expulsion, and in fact what should be done is to force the perpetrators to carry out treatments, under penalty of being arrested. There should also be courses or rehabilitation training that already exists in several European countries and the US, more penalties for community work for them, or women because there are also female aggressors. In my view, all these measures in the medium and long term would be more effective. What we have to change is also the mentalities, because justice alone is not enough, the political measures have not been enough, we must promote the treatment of the aggressors, but also of the victims, in the case of domestic violence is so devastating that they are brand for life.
Do you think in an island, where the mentalities are more closed, is a much smaller medium where people recognize themselves socially is not so visible the problem of domestic violence?
SV: Visible is and there is a report at the national level that shows that the numbers are worrying, in 2015 put Madeira at the top of domestic violence. I do not have the most current data, but I believe that it has not decreased so much, in the Azores the same thing happens. This issue of the smaller medium is because they create tensions, which lead to alcohol, drugs that lead to more aggressive behavior and there is domestic violence not only against women, but also children and Madeira may not be at the top of the ranking, But still has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the country. Our case has a very special feature is that this data does not correspond to reality. There are many women who do not complain because of shame, this happens to both the worker and the executive, any of us can be a potential victim. Even if we know who it is, it is moral and legal to denounce this situation. But what sets us apart from the country are domestic violence death, it is smaller, we had two cases last year, but the proportion in terms of territory is much smaller.
And how does the association intervene, how do you act accordingly? To warn and educate?
SV: We have several programs with schools because of violence in courtship, we have educated for non-violence, for equality, for the harmonization of the sexes, without anyone being superior, we tried to sensitize them to situations that seem very innocuous. We do not make presentations with powerpoint, it is through dialogue that we have to deconstruct some of these myths. For example, one of the most frequent comments concerns jealousy, being jealous does not have any harm, it is a sign of liking, it is a form of love, but we know jealousy kills. I gave theater classes in a community five years ago where the girls were enthusiastic because it was a way to increase their self-esteem, they were actresses, they worked for the community and I even had girls who come hidden from their boyfriends, they could not use mini-skirts, make-up and we are talking about girls of 15,16 and 17 years of age. And many times domestic violence with these scary numbers starts here. If we do not intervene in these cases, how can we for twenty years have the perspective and hope that equality is a fact and that these interviews do not even make sense anymore? We have to act at these ages, in the whole community, with politicians, magistrates and teachers, we all have to act together, we cannot continue to see women, or girls and men die, because violence exists and is a reality.
Do you have actions in schools, but you also reach the adult, also promote activities?
SV: In Madeira, we raise awareness in associations about these matters, bring the community to these meetings and debate these themes to promote more ideas. We do not yet have a regional headquarters, the MDM has a political role, although it is not a partisan, it does not have a social assistance role, so to speak, yes we receive women who come to us through cases of domestic violence that we redirect and in this scope we have an association very interesting that it is the "feminine presence" they collect the complaints and go to the judicial or social route. What we do not have is a system of protection, we only intervene politically and when I say this I speak of intervention that takes women out of the street, which protects the children that is politics in its grand design. This is a non-partisan movement where everyone, from all religions, is responsible for our intervention role with schools and the community on all issues. Not long ago, we discussed "women and disability" and we bring all this to politics, through diplomas of resolution that can favor women. On March 8th, we were going to address women and sexuality, because it is still taboo in the 21st century, but we decided not to, we are going to talk about women, family and work instead, because you were right to address those OECD data and there was even a demonstration in Iceland, where they worked the same hours as men, and stopped for a day, from the moment they start working from free and womens receive less. Fortunately, nowadays, there is a lot that has changed, there are already electrificians and mechanics who are women, but there is still the feminization of work. On the other hand, when they leave work, in addition to receiving less than men and working longer hours, they arrive at their homes and have to perform various domestic tasks, spend more time on them than men and this is a tremendous inequality.
Even with all existing legislation there is still a great prejudice in terms not only of employing disabled, but also in relation to skin color.
SV: I confess that I do not have a great knowledge on this matter, racism is not radical in Portuguese society.
However, I had a colleague who studied engineering and was called for an interview by the content of her curriculum and it was not for the answers she delivered in the formal conversation that she was not hire, but she thinks she was deferred by skin color and is not an unique case.
SV: I think so, and it's hard for me to say that. These are situations that, although we are aware that they exist and are absurd, I admit that they occur. The Portuguese are not of the most racist peoples, although they have been conquerors in the past, but this problem is real. I confess I had never looked into this subject of women, work, and skin color.
Perhaps because in Madeira there are no large communities of African descendants, but in the mainland it is a very visible reality.
SV: This is a field of action that should be studied. In the case of women with disabilities, they suffer from triple discrimination because they are female, because they have disabilities and depend on other people for the level of locomotion. I believe that a disabled woman or man has the same abilities as a normal person, they have some physical limitations and need different work tools and it is true that many businessmen employ these people because it has social and tax advantages with these hirings, but do not adapt the workplaces, these people are not targeted for training and obviously that at the end of the employment contracts are dismissed. I was just asking about the measures that can be taken, these cases do require a strong initiative, because instead of solving this question, pensions are given and I am not obviously challenging these benefits, because if it were not these funds people had no way of succoring. Above all, the employability of these people should be promoted, they ought and need, because work is a vassal, a help in self-esteem.
But, this also involves a cultural aspect. Employers do not create the accesses, because if we notice in general still there are many architectural obstacles and there are not as few as this, there is legislation in this matter and however, there are some ramps so inclined that it is impossible even for the circulation of chairs with wheels and lifts that do not work.
SV: You are right and there is legislation for this and I can say that at regional level, we debate this, there is a plan for inclusive accessibility for public buildings and there is no access for these people. The laws are excellent, but they are not enforced.
The Portuguese are recognized by very advanced legislation in terms of gender equality and other rights, but that always fails in practice. So the problem in our case what is it?
SV: It is necessary to continue the work, further political actions and enforce the law.
In the background no one is penalized.
SV: It is social and political machismo too, because we have a constitution, and I will reinforce that, it is beautiful, it was one of the messages of 1976, in terms of human rights and gender equality, there is everything. We are also advanced in environmental law, more than some European countries, and the truth is that we are a country that owes a great deal to gender equality, the rights of people with disabilities and even in environmental terms and everything has to do with mentalities. I dare to say that education is basilar in this matter and period. And when we have a weak political investment in this area and teachers are humiliated, this demoralizes the class and obviously the teaching will not be the same for future generations. It is a chain process, a system that is nothing abounding in a society that wants to be more just and egalitarian.
But Portuguese women already outnumber men in terms of literacy.
SV: There is still a very heavy patriarchal inheritance. We're better, but it's a very slow progress.
Recently there is a word that has returned to the limelight that is feminism, because our generation of women who enjoy the acquired rights think it is no longer necessary, but we still see a little around the world that women are trafficked and has no rights. Do you think we have to be more feminists in Portugal?
SV: First, I think these feminist questions are no longer justified when feminism is seen as the opposite of machismo. Machismo kills and humiliates every day, torture, enslaves, exploits, prostitutes and discriminates against women because they are women. Feminism was initially a movement of women and some men and we are talking about the nineteenth and twentieth century when there were several Portuguese Republicans and more recently the three marias in the "new Portuguese letters." These women were not against men, feminism is a philosophy, a morality I dare to say that promotes gender equality and dignity of women, because in defending our rights we are not saying women, yes, men no. I will say more feminism that these movements defended the right to the emancipation of women, the vote to the male sex, because if they were poor men did not vote, they also defended the rights of the children, the black populations and other ethnic groups, in the background it was a Human rights issue. I am in favor of feminism, it makes perfect sense to be a feminist, but it is not because we are more than men.
I address this because the far-right movements in Europe and Trump's election as President of the United States relaunched these ideals reinforced these arguments because it now seems that they are trying to withdraw those same acquired rights and even in Russia it has passed a law in which a man may be violent for a day against a woman. That is why it seems that we have to start again this kind of fights and revive these movements.
SV: That's right. You focused on an interesting question, our generation assumed that this was all like that and that we have acquired rights. I stress once again that it is necessary to educate boys and girls, because it is not a given. It is necessary to teach through history that it was necessary for women and men to fight for their rights of affirmation and the right to employment. It is natural that there is a challenge against this type of measures, how should I classify without being offensive? They are inconceivable in an advanced state, as is the case in Russia and by all the others that are emerging and even more so in these Western nations, not in countries where women are seen as objects. In Europe, 3 out of 10 have experienced any type of violence, sexual, physical and psychological, a number they would not even have imagined. As for the appearance of these governments, they are reaction movements, of course, we have to come up against it, but to say that feminism reappears, MDM never ceased to be feminist, it is for human rights defense and therefore we must react from all the civic and legal forms in the USA, Russia or Portugal.