SYLVIE IMELDA SHENE
by Sylvie Imelda Shene on Wednesday, August 4, 2010 at 8:49am
A Portuguese football official I have known for sometime, invited me to join a group of ‘old boys’ at dinner in a local restaurant in Porto.
I always find conversation with Portuguese men in their fifties and early sixties quite difficult as it invariably revolves around football and/or women.
I had met all my table companions before but had never had a chance to talk to them at any length.
As I spent the evening and the whole of dinner talking to B, I was totally alien as to what was being discussed by the other two (C and D) at the other end of the table.
As the evening progressed the topic of conversation turned to women and one of the group expressed the opinion that since they were all married men with grown up children, it was easier for them to go to a brothel and pay a prostitute for sex, he said, rather than having a girlfriend, they claimed that at the brothel they paid once what they were asked to pay, instead of having a girlfriend who would end up being more expensive in the long run and would also bring problems to their family life. When I raised the point of being happily married, they all said that there was not such a thing because “men had their needs”.
At this stage I remembered what an English female friend of mine had told me recently: “you cannot fight ingrained, generalised cultural attitudes for you find yourself fighting a losing battle with you being on your own against the world that surrounds you”. With that in mind and with the experience of my restaurant evening, I decided to investigate the issues faced by Portuguese women.
To verify attitudes and facts and figures I contacted a Portuguese women’s organisation called UMAR (the first Portuguese organisation to set up a women’s refuge) and had a rather lengthy conversation with one of its Directors, Ilda Afonso. Ilda informed me that, domestic violence, including violence against children, prostitution, and women trafficking were extremely serious issues in Portuguese society and provided me with several leads and a great deal of valuable information.
To start with, as for the problem of domestic violence and violence against children, a lot of research has been undertaken and many reports and articles were written on this both by Portuguese and non-Portuguese individuals, press and organisations.
In 2002, the APAV (Portuguese Victim’s Support Association), reported over 18,000 domestic violence crimes, 17,000 of which (93%), against women. It added that the number of complaints was on the rise due to the fact that victims were increasingly more aware of their rights.
At the same time, the same report stated that “...the majority of the victims still do not report incidents”... and that ”...from a total of 18,000 cases of extreme violence, only 6,000 filed a complaint...” It was also reported at the same time that 94.6% of domestic violence cases were performed by men and 75.3% of these took place within the home.
In July 2004, Ignacio Ramonet wrote wrote in Le Monde Diplomatic that “for European women aged 16-44, violence in the home is the primary cause of injury and death, more lethal than road accidents and cancer”. He went on to say that between 25 and 50% of women were victims of violence.
At the time of his article, statistics showed that 52.8% of Portuguese women claimed to be victims of violence from their partners or husbands.
In February 2005, the Portuguese National Health Directorate reported that One Million people were victims of domestic violence in Portugal. Portugal has a total population of just over 10 million.
A March 2005 report by CIDM (Portuguese Equal Rights Commission) reported that, although 52% of women claimed to be victims of domestic violence, only 36% of these same women reported to be frequently attacked.
The CIDM report goes on to illustrate that 78% of victims of domestic violence end up taking a passive reaction up to the point when the situation becomes unbearable or ends up in murder. It further adds that 21% react and a mere 1% take legal action.
This report by CIDM, elaborated by Prof. Manuel Lisboa, explains that the figures above reflect the economic and family conditioning experienced by the victims, allied to social and cultural and male domination factors.
Also in 2005, the Northern Portuguese Universidade do Minho, arrived at the conclusion that 25% of Portuguese couples admitted to have lived through situations of domestic violence.
A US ‘Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Portugal’ published in 2006, stated that “violence against women, including domestic violence, continued to be a problem...” and “...while there was no clear evidence that violence against women increased, more cases of violence were reported...”
This country report quotes APAV as claiming that of the total reported cases of violence in the country, more than 83% related to domestic violence.
It also added that “the police detained 500 suspects of domestic violence, resulting in 83 arrests” and that according to a women’s rights NGO, 39 women were killed by their husbands or partners.
The Amnesty International Report 2009 states that APAV received 16,832 complaints concerning domestic violence in 2008, including seven murders. This report goes on to say “this represented an increase over the 14,534 complaints of domestic violence received in 2007” and “according to statistics compiled by a women’s rights NGO, 48 people died as a result of domestic violence in the year to mid-November”.
As I was compiling details for this piece, the Porto daily newspaper Jornal de Noticias, on 24 November 2009, published an article entitled ‘26 women have died so far since the beginning of the year, victims of domestic violence’ It goes on to say that a further “43 women were victims of attempted murder”. It adds that “the dead women were killed at the hands of their partners, husbands or boyfriends”.
On the same day, the same newspaper also reported that“within the past 10 days, five women were murdered by their partners”.
In my conversation with UMAR Director Ilda Afonso, I was told that the real picture relating to domestic violence still remains to be uncovered as any figures published never include what goes on within society’s top strata. Ilda claims that there are many cases of domestic violence within that society level which never really come to light as women are frightened to lose their status and never use the available routes to expose their misery
As for domestic violence against children, a lot also remains to be uncovered. The real dimensions of domestic violence against women are now emerging as awareness is being raised and support infrastructures have been set up. Children cannot speak for themselves in most cases and when they can do so, they are threatened with the real issues of starvation, depravation and further physical abuse.
Children cannot live home and earn a living and be independent in order to escape physical and mental torture.
Children cannot walk into a police station or NGO office and be taken seriously particularly if they live in a predominantly male violent society.
In Portugal, you often hear people state that, when children, they were severely punished physically by their parents or guardians but that “they deserved it” and that their parents or guardians were right to do so and should have done more assiduously.
Murray Straus PhD, Head of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, in Differences In Corporal Punishment by Parents In 32 Nations And Its Relation to National Differences In IQ, a paper presented at the 14th International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Trauma, 25 September 2009, starts off by saying in the paper’s abstract: “A previous study found that spanking by parents of two nationally representative age cohorts of children found that the more spanking at the start of the study, the more the child fell behind in development of cognitive ability when tested again four years later.
There is also evidence of a world-wide decrease in use of corporal punishment (CP) by parents and a world-wide increase in IQ.
The combination of these sets of research results suggested the hypothesis that the decrease of the use of CP as part of the explanation for increase IQ in many nations.”
Dr. Straus goes on to say that “a number of studies have found that the higher the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a nation, the higher national average IQ (Dickerson 2006; Lynn and Vanhanen 2002; Lynn and Vanhanen 2006; Neisser 1998; Rushton 2003)”. The results presented in Dr. Straus paper show that the above illustrated relationship also applies to the 32 nations in the International Dating Violence Study.
Dr. Straus explains that the contribution in his study is in developing a theoretical model in order to explain why Gross Domestic Produce is related to the national average IQ and providing a preliminary empirical test of that theory. Straus goes on to explain that tests found that the higher the percentage of parents in a nation who used CP, the higher the average score of students on a measure of traumatic stress symptoms and the lower the national average IQ.
Straus also states that “...Because economic development brings with it a decrease in use of CP, the results suggest that a reduction in use of CP is part of the process explaining the correlation between economic development and IQ.
The International Dating Violence Study Sample included 437 subjects as the Portuguese sample.
Of those who stated that they had been spanked a lot before they were 12 years-old, 4.6% were male and 5.2% female.
As teenagers, those who declared that they were hit a lot, 12.6% were male and 5.9% were female.
The mean scores of post-traumatic stress symptoms relating to the above is very evidently higher in females (38.2, as opposed to 36.4 in males).
As for the country’s mean IQ -95, this can only take on significance when compared to other EU countries: Germany-102, Holland-102, Sweden-101, Belgium-100, UK-100, Hungary-99, Lithuania-97, Romania-94, Greece-92.
Dr. Straus’ study does not show the real picture. Anyone venturing out of a Portuguese tourist resort, not resembling a Northern European tourist, will be able to see Portuguese parents scream and hit their children in public. Because I look Portuguese and speak fluently the Portuguese language, I often am taken for a local and the average local residents do not hide normal daily practices. Furthermore, Portuguese society revolves rather a lot around appearances.
The aforementioned US Country Report states that “...the minimum working age is 16 years. There were instances of child labour, but overall incidence was small and was concentrated geographically and by sector. The greatest problems were reported in Braga, Porto and Faro and tended to occur in the clothing, footwear, construction and hotel business”. “There were also reports that... ...minors were often used for street begging”.
At the time of this report, a government study revealed that nearly 50,000 children aged 6-15 were engaged in some form of economic activity, with 85.3% of those used as unpaid family workers, 14.7% working for third parties.
The same Country Report also states that the Portuguese government is committed to children’s rights and welfare. It goes on to say “nine years of compulsory, free and universal education is provided for children up to the age of 15. The majority of children attend school; however, 45% drop out before completing high school” The report also states that “...child abuse is a problem” and quotes APAV as reporting that there were a total of 396 cases of crimes against children under 18 within a space of nine months” and that most of the cases related to domestic violence.
Having looked at domestic violence against women and, to a certain extent, at violence against children, I am now going to look at another social evil caused by Portuguese male chauvinism: Women Trafficking and Prostitution
Portuguese MP Ilda Figueiredo described women trafficking thus: “This crime of women trafficking, which today uses modern control methods and technologies and which is less risky than drug trafficking, although most often linked to it, ends up providing vast funds towards criminal business activities that can only survive on the back of money laundering and tax paradise operations”.
The UNHCR, in a report published on 16 June 2009 entitled ‘Trafficking In Persons Report 2009-Portugal’, mentions that “Portugal is a destination, transit and source country for women, men and children trafficked from Brazil and, to a lesser extent, The Ukraine, Moldova, Russia, Romania and Africa for the purpose of commercial sex exploitation and forced labour. The majority of trafficking victims identified in Portugal are Brazilian women trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation”.
It goes on to add that ”trafficking victims also transit through Portugal to other European countries”.
04 October 2009, IPS-Inter Press Service News Agency, in an article by Mario de Qeiroz, goes further by claiming that “Brazil’s influence in Portugal is not limited to music, television programming, football, cuisine and tropical beach vacations... ...the World’s fifth largest country in terms of both population (182 Million) and land area (8.5 Million Square Kilometres) is nearly 96 times the size of its former colonial ruler, with a population 18 times larger... ...today is also the main source of victims of human trafficking to Portugal, women who fall into prostitution and sexual exploitation networks, as well as a source of large numbers of women who marry Portuguese men.
In this IPS article, Mario de Queiroz goes on to state that Brazil is the favourite country for women traffickers involved in prostitution networks that mushroomed throughout Portugal, as reported by recent study results presented at a seminar organised by the Portuguese governmental Youth Institute. At this seminar, Inspector with the Portuguese Service for Border Control Fernando Flores stated that the trafficking generates huge profits and that a woman alone can generate some €20,000 within 3-4 months.
Flores also added that “most of the trafficked women are legal immigrants, with all their documents in order and regular visas, which makes it even harder for the authorities to take action. However, thanks to forthcoming reforms in the Portuguese legal code, the situation may change radically”.
To support this argument, Queiroz refers to figures published recently by the Portuguese National Statistics Institute that show that 1 in 12 Portuguese marry foreign nationals making up for a total of 3,909 marriages last year alone as opposed to 1,346 in 98 and 2,721 in 02.
The previously quoted US Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Portugal also dedicates a chapter to this matter which starts off by saying that “the law prohibits trafficking in persons; however, there were reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country” and that “in January 2004, the government established an anti-trafficking task force to combat prostitution and the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation in the country”.
It goes on to state that trafficked women, prostitutes and traffickpersons often live in hiding precarious conditions with “little or no sanitation and cramped space conditions” and ...the traffickers frequently demand additional payments and a share of earnings following their victims’ arrival in the country, usually under threat of physical harm. They often withhold the identification documents of the trafficked persons and threaten to harm family members who remain in the country of origin”.
In an article entitled ‘Portuguese Police Officer Headed a Women Trafficking Operation’, published by ‘Portugal Diario’ on 19 November 2009, it was reported that following various investigations against organised crime carried by the Portuguese police and the Portuguese Service for Border Control, six people were arrested, being one of them a police officer.
When I started compiling reports, statistic, articles and comments that have been included here so far, I realised that the emerging picture is very reminiscent of what in Britain we are used to verify in certain non-EU countries which are often the stage of serious human rights violations. Also, one may ask at this stage if such a society is worthy of an European Union membership. Many years have passed since Portugal was accepted as a member of the European club.
Evolution in attitudes and behaviour within a given society are not only a result of social change in the strict sociological meaning, with legislation and imposition of adopted rules and policies.
As for the nature of violent behaviour, it has been stated quite often that wars are not a woman’s initiative and that women are generally more peaceful and pacifist than men.
In the case of Portugal, as for the present problems exposed so far which relate to domestic violence, violence against children, women trafficking and prostitution all seem to emanate as result of male chauvinism.
Could this social conditioning be eroded if an example came from above and/or from women in power? If so, those who rule the country can have an input and so can the top country’s companies.
I have at this stage decided to look further afield and see what level of involvement Portuguese women have in politics and within the top Portuguese companies.
Socialist Prime Minister Socrates was this year voted in for a second term in office. In the course of his first term in office, a new decree came into force in 2006 called “Lei da Paridade”. This imposes that 33.3% of political candidates to all elections must be female.
However, on 12 September 2009, following local elections in the country, the daily ‘Publico’ stated in an article entitled “Local Elections: Paridade Decree violated by most political parties all over the country”.
It goes on to say that “most political parties and several independent lists violated the Lei da Paridade in 63 local election lists, a problem which only implies that there will be central government funding cuts imposed”
National statistics published by INE, the Portuguese National Statistics Institute (the equivalent to OPCS), Portugal has a total population of 10,627,250. Out of these, 5,142,566 are male and 5,404,684 female. INE also shows that a total of 41.77% of the Portuguese people are illiterate. Of these, 49.27% are female and 33.41% are male. Illiteracy rates are only shown for continental Portugal and exclude Madeira and the Azores.
INE also shows male and female percentages of civil service employees. We can verify here that, the male/female percentage discrepancy is abysmal. In 1995, some 91.38% of civil servants were male as opposed to 8.62% of these being female. The latest available figures, refer to 2005. Here, the total of males was 88.68% and the total of females 11.32%.
The latest INE publication on unemployment figures, relating to the third quarter of this year, shows that there is a total of a 9.8% unemployed active population. In Northern Portugal, this is 11.6%. If we look more closely at the INE figures, we can also verify that the employment rate for 15-years-old and over, for the same period, is much higher for males than for females.
Of the total 9.8% rate of unemployed people in the country, 26.3% are male and 38.2% are female.
The Portuguese parliament figures also show that out of a total of 230 MPs a mere 66 are female which represents 34.8%. So far so good because the “Paridade” Decree.
At government cabinet level, out of a total of 56 appointments, 10 are female. At senior level, of the 17 secretary of state posts, 5 are female.
According to listings in Forbes and the Lisbon stock exchange, the top 10 Portuguese companies are EDP (electricity), BCP (banking), PT (telecommunications), SONAE (retail), BPI (banking), Brisa (motorways), CIMPOR (cements), BES (banking), GALP (petroleum), Jeronimo Martins (retail). According to details of board of directors listings published on the internet, of these 10 companies, only a mere 3 have one female each included on their board of directors.
It is case for one to ask if Portuguese women do not have bank accounts, do not use telecommunications, do not have any purchasing power, do not drive cars on Portuguese motorways and/or do not fill up their tanks.
An article published by the Portuguese media company TSF on 20 May this year stated that a study by the Portuguese consumer watchdog DECO found out that, out of the 400 companies represented at the Lisbon stock exchange, four of the largest Portuguese companies, namely GALP, EDP, PT and REN (Portuguese national grid company) were found to be extremely poor in relation to transparency.
As we have seen so far, the problem in Portugal does not only relate to transparency. Equal Opportunities for women is something that is totally alien to Portuguese culture and society and there are very few efforts or attempts to rectify this aberration in a supposedly modern, developed European economy.
Britain can by no means be considered a model in this area. However, we all know that the Equal Pay Act, the Sex Discriminations Act and the more recent Human Rights Act have had so far an extremely positive influence in British society with the very hard work carried by infrastructures created under these acts of parliament.
Portugal also has legislation that is supposed to impose this same sort of influence in society. However, the same way that the ‘Paridade Decree’ has been overlooked and ignored by all those who were supposed to abide by its contents, any anti-discriminatory legislation has had so far exactly the same effect.
In most areas, the European Union imposes some sort of uniformity and member countries must adopt measures to implement changes to achieve this uniformity. Portugal seems to have legislation on paper but measures are never implemented. Infrastructures to enforce those same measures do not go beyond yet another manoeuvre to apply for and spend community funds.
There is a very old Portuguese saying that goes “é só para inglês ver” which literally means “it’s only for English eyes to see”. This means the same as saying in English that it’s only veneer.
I left Portugal in 1977 to head to the UK to study English. Subsequently have married an English woman, studied for a degree at Leeds University and for an MPhil at York University, worked for the CRE, the Citizen’s Advice Bureaux, the BBC. 30 years later the country has not changed much.
Except that when I underwent my Sociology degree studies at Leeds, I undertook a final year dissertation project on Portuguese peasantry. This was in 1986. I found out at the time -a mere twenty three years ago- that there were plenty of traces that are often described as important for defining peasant matriarchal societies.
Since the community I used in Northern Portugal at that time was a typical traditional type of Portuguese community, one may ask what has happened to the Portuguese traditional society matriarchal traces?
Tony da Silva,
Porto, December 2009