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How women live in Portugal

Mulheres em Portugal

International Women’s Day is that special day in the year when the issues of gender equality and women’s living and working conditions assume particular relevance for public entities, the media and public opinion in general.

It is therefore appropriate to take this opportunity to share some preliminary results of our Survey on the Situation of Women in Portugal, which has been running since the beginning of this year and has so far received 882 responses. The survey is aimed at all adult women residing in Portugal, regardless of their nationality or professional situation.

Our methodology involves trying to obtain as many responses as possible, which is why we have focused on publicizing it on social networks and among similar entities. Although the respondents do not correspond to a representative sample of Portuguese women, the results are clearly indicative of problems that deserve visibility and recognition.

Level of education versus income

One of the aspects that stands out has to do with the relationship between the level of education and income. Historically, a direct causal relationship between these two variables has been observed, that is, higher levels of education correspond to higher levels of income.

This relationship remains, however, despite the fact that 69% of the women who responded to our survey have higher education, 52% have a monthly net income of less than €1000, and 15% have a monthly income of less than €500, including those who have higher education.

These data place many women with university degrees below the poverty line, and many do not even earn a minimum wage. In other words, contrary to what seemed to happen in the recent past, investing in higher education in Portugal is no longer a guarantee of escaping poverty, particularly for women, who despite having higher academic results and educational levels than men, continue to have lower incomes.

This fact motivates women to rethink their education options, with many women making drastic career changes and investing in lifelong training, outside of the university context. Soft skills assume an increasing importance, as well as informal learning and practical experience acquired during the course of a professional career.

Still and always gender inequality

It is obvious that we are going through a particularly challenging moment, in which, in the aftermath of a pandemic, we are faced with a war at our doorstep, which affects all citizens. However, these contingencies will naturally affect more those who are already in a more vulnerable situation.

As it is possible to verify in the following graphic, the general perception of inequality between men and women in Portuguese society, among women, is still very persistent and refers to deeply rooted cultural issues, which the comments placed in the questionnaire allow us to glimpse.

The graphic displays the answers to the question “I believe that in Portugal we all have the same access to resources and opportunities, regardless of our gender”. 1 corresponds to “completly disagree” and 5 corresponds to “totally agree”.

A testimony in the questionnaire allows us to understand how gender inequality in wages and working conditions still affects our society:

“I’m responsible for production and I have a much lower salary than a male colleague with the same category. Despite the wage difference, I am charged with many more duties as a woman and I do not have the same rights (in addition to equal pay, I am not entitled to transport by the company that offered it to male colleagues with the same category)”.

As this testimony shows, gender discrimination in the workplace is still a reality in Portugal, which deserves in-depth study and concrete intervention measures. Above all, it is necessary to work to change mindsets and empower women so that they have a voice and can exercise it effectively, so that situations like this do not continue with impunity.

The political irrelevance of female entrepreneurs

Despite its seriousness and persistence, wage and labour inequality explains in part, but not entirely, the economic fragility of women in Portugal. There is also the predominance of women in unpaid care work at home and in support of the family, which is neither socially nor economically recognized and compromises the labour availability of the women who carry it out.

“I had to leave my job to take care of my disabled daughter, with no understanding either from medical services or the school; I had to fight alone for her to be who she is today. A difficult path with many closed doors even today; I either do the work or she is excluded from society”.

Entrepreneurship is a way found by many women to manage this situation, as it supposedly allows for a greater autonomy to decide where, when and how to work, in addition to providing and alternative to unfavourable work situations or to unemployment. However, this is not a safe path towards financial sustainability and compatibility between family and work.

Of the respondents who manage their own business, 63% indicate an annual turnover of less than €20,000. The same percentage of 63% applies to businesses that are unable to meet their financial responsibilities for a single month if they do not make new sales.

Despite their enormous fragility, 86% of these businesses never received any kind of support, public or private. In the rare cases in which some support was granted, this mostly refers to the public support to the creation of employment for entrepreneurs, which merely translates into an anticipation of unemployment benefits.

The representatives of the Startups supported by the Portuguese Government in the Opening Ceremony of the Websummit in Lisbon, in 2019, where no women can be seen

Parallel to this absence of public or even private support, there is a tax burden that exerts a very intense pressure on these entrepreneurs, which stands out very markedly in the numerous comments made on this issue.

“3 years ago I started as an Independent Worker, but social security was taking away the little income I could get, considering all billing was regarded as income and not as product sales (which I have to buy to resell). I then created a company. I feel like it just took me longer to get into the deep hole. I don’t know where to turn with so many obligatory things to constantly pay and for which I see no return. I feel that I have an employee that I never recruited or hired, who receives the salary that should be mine (since I can’t even get remuneration to try to pay for organized accounting and the like), and who doesn’t even work or help me at all. It’s super frustrating and right now I feel desperate and not knowing what to do”.

This is where the fragility of micro businesses in Portugal is manifested, regardless of the gender of the managers. This fact reverts to a lack of representation, with 93% of respondents reporting that there is no entity that represents their interests as entrepreneurs/businesswomen.

“Women can and should be supported more, more involved and, above all, more cooperative with each other. Maybe for all the reasons mentioned above and because we continue to be the support of our families we don’t have time to be part of politics and we are not so visible in the world that we want to change, but we still can’t”.

Summarizing but not concluding

We are still a long way from the number of responses we want to reach to give voice and visibility to the situation of women in Portugal. However, the preliminary data presented here already allows a glimpse into some of the challenges that women in Portugal are facing. Added to what has been mentioned here is the difficulty in accessing housing, distrust of political leaders and a generalized disenchantment with the economic situation the country is going through.

We believe that we are at a key moment to act in order to change these worrying trends. Above all, there is a need for greater recognition and support from public entities in the face of informal care, micro businesses and gender equality in the economy. Women in Portugal cannot just be recognized on International Women’s Day; recognition has to be daily, consistent and persistent, so that effective changes arrive and translate into the construction of a fairer and more prosperous society for all citizens, regardless of their gender.

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