Monday, March 08, 2010

International Women's day and women's rights in Portugal

Women's rights (or the lack of it) is a topic very close to my heart. I have lived and traveled through several countries where women have no say in their life and where I, myself, felt oppressed and had to fight to be respected as a woman and as a human being. Am I a feminist?  I don't know if there is a word for what I am. It's only during a lecture about Women's right, during my Post-Grad. in Human Rights and Democracy (Coimbra Faculty of Law, 2007) that I understood and pictured what I was/am feeling inside. Our lecturer, the Professor Teresa Pizarro Beleza, took 2 pen: one red (representing women) and one blue (representing men). Here is what she showed us:

Women and men are different in nature. We can't fight against those natural differences, rather we should accept it.The problem has never been those differences. The problem is that humanity often uses/used those differences as an excuse and a reason to justify why one gender should rule the other. And that's what we should fight.

I have been blogging for almost 4 years but I never wrote anything about women's day. Why this year?!  Well, the other day I went to the book store with my boyfriend and out of curiosity he checked the Lonely Planet Portugal. He was shocked to read the paragraphs meant for women travelers and called me: "Hey Nat, did you know this?". Word after word, I read it all and understood that I knew little about women's rights in my country. I guess I assumed it had always been the way it is. I felt ashamed (not only of the sad reality of my country's history) but because being a Portuguese citizen I didn't know anything. 

I went back home and did a search on internet. Since the poor women's rights happened mostly during the time Salazar (the Portuguese dictator) was ruling the country (the equivalent of Franco in Spain, Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany), I asked my dad, my mum and my grandpa about what they remember. Well, they didn't remember anything! "What?!! How come, you don't remember anything?"

Not only they don't remember, but worst they have this strange "nostalgia" about Salazar and the time of the dictatorship. Could it be the Stockholm syndromeThe worst is that it's happening all around the country! In 2007, the Portuguese public elected Salazar as the "most important Portuguese personality of the XXth century" during a live TV show. How sad!!!

Due to our present economical decadence, many refugee themselves in this nostalgic feeling because "at least the country was growing, blah blah blah...". Both my dad and my grandpa remember sharing a small fish between their brothers and sisters. Is this growth?

Although I might find a way to excuse 60 and 80 years old people whose poor and short education was conditioned by that Salazar they admire so much, I can't understand the younger ones. Last week I went to a workshop, and behind me was this young woman, good looking, well educated, 35 years old, employed at the middle management level of a Portuguese company. She said : "The result of the Portuguese Personality election couldn't have been better". I couldn't stop looking at her. I was disgusted! How can a woman who have benefited  all her life from the freedoms, which came with the end of the dictatorship, say something like this? What an ignorant!

For all the women who think this way I would like to point out few sad things that women were undergoing during the time this "Portuguese Personality of the XXth century" was ruling the country: 

- To work outside the household, women had to ask for their husband's permission.
- It's only in 1959 that a woman who gets married with a foreigner can finally keep her nationality. Before she wouldn't have the choice and would automatically loose it. 
- Prostitution was only forbidden by law in 1963.
- Until 1969, women had to ask for their husband's or father's permission to travel outside the country. 
- It's only in 1969 that women are guaranteed a fair and equal salary.
- It's only in 1975 that women are guaranteed the same electoral rights as men's.
- Until 1976, husbands were allowed to open their wife's correspondence.
- Until 1978, women didn't have the same status in the family as men. Women were considered to depend on their husbands. The husband was the patriarch of the family.

Happy women's day!


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