New initiatives on gender equality

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In summer 2001, addressing gender inequalities has been high on the agenda of the government and social partners in Portugal. In June, new legislation came into effect aimed at reinforcing mechanisms to monitor and punish discriminatory employment practices, and at measuring the progress being made in eliminating discrimination. Furthermore, Portugal's 2001 National Action Plan for employment focuses on equal opportunities, while a number of other initiatives have been taken by the Commission for Equality in Work and Employment and trade unions.

The Law on Equal Opportunities and Equal Treatment for Men and Women in Work, Employment and Vocational Training (Decree-Law No. 392/79 of 20 September) came into effect over 20 years ago. However, research indicates that, although progress has been made, the position of women continues to be unfavourable in a number of areas:

  • even though Portugal's active female population is one of the highest in the European Union, both the number of women in the workforce and the average monthly earnings of women are lower than those of their male counterparts;
  • women are more likely than men to be unemployed;
  • women are under-represented in positions requiring higher qualifications, but over-represented in those sectors traditionally identified as "female", such as the textiles industry; and
  • women are more likely than men to be part-time workers, work on fixed-term contracts, receive the minimum wage and work at home.

A number of recent initiatives seek to address these persistent gender imbalances in the labour market.

National Action Plan for employment

As in 2000 (PT0004190F), Portugal's 2001 National Action Plan (NAP) on employment (PT0106151N), in response to the EU Employment Guidelines, is geared toward bolstering equal opportunities policy with regard to gender. In particular, the Plan provides for:

  • the creation of a system to evaluate the status of women and men with regard to employment, vocational training and paid and unpaid work;
  • initiatives to combat the disparity between the sexes, the main aims being to reduce differences in unemployment rates by 25% before 2003, reduce disparities in average wages, reduce differences in occupations and sectors where discrimination is greatest, and - by agreement with the social partners - bring about progress in collective bargaining that will reduce inequality and combat segregation in the labour market;
  • initiatives that will enable workers to reconcile their work and family lives. This will involve a number of measures such as promoting the idea, within society and company cultures, that a better balance between work and family life is a right and a duty for both male and female workers, as well as a responsibility that society must undertake. Furthermore, measures will seek to improve the living and working conditions of women, enabling them better to sustain a family life, and to promote more sharing of household tasks and responsibilities between men and women;
  • more dissemination of information;
  • initiatives to ensure that legislation on equal opportunities is applied and prevent non-compliance;
  • measures to reintegrate workers after a prolonged absence - on maternity leave, for example; and
  • the development and promotion of programmes to support the family. These include baby-sitting and childcare services, different types of parental leave, as well as other kinds of leave.

New legislation

Two new laws on aspects of equal opportunities came into effect in June 2001.

Law no. 9/2001 (published in the Diário da República, IS-A, No. 117, 21 May 2001) reinforces monitoring and sanctions in cases of non-compliance with equal opportunities legislation. The law ensures greater enforcement by broadening the competencies of the General Labour Inspectorate (Inspecção Geral do Trabalho, IGT) in dealing with the prevention, monitoring and punishment of discriminatory labour practices, now including indirect discriminatory practices - which are defined as those in which a measure, criterion or practice of an apparently neutral nature disproportionately prejudices an individual of one or the other sex, and cannot be justified for any other reason than gender bias. The IGT is empowered to act on its own or at the request of a competent entity. Furthermore, greater weight will be given to reports and opinions on evidence of discriminatory practice produced by the tripartite Commission for Equality in Work and Employment (Comissão para a Igualdade no Trabalho e no Emprego, CITE). The CITE will also be able to work in close cooperation with the IGT, accompanying inspectors on their site visits.

Law no, 10/2001 (also published in the Diário da República, IS-A, No. 117, 21 May 2001) provides for an annual assessment of equal opportunities for both genders in Portugal. The law stipulates that before the end of each round of yearly legislative sessions, the government is to submit a report to parliament on what progress has taken place in equality in employment and vocational training. The report is to contain national indicators that should enable parliament to evaluate any advances in the fight against gender discrimination. The data provided must include:

  1. information on the human and material resources directly involved in monitoring whether equality legislation has been complied with;
  2. the number and type of monitoring and inspection visits that have taken place;
  3. the criteria followed in choosing the types of inspection visits to be carried out; and
  4. the number of complaints that have been submitted, their geographic and sectoral distribution, and the subjects of the complaints.

Parliament will then analyse the report in the presence of members of the government.

CITE award

In summer 2001, CITE is in the process of evaluating applicants for its annual "Equality is Quality" (Igualdade é Qualidade) prize for companies with exemplary policies in the area of equal opportunities (PT0004190F). According to the CITE, the number of applicants has increased every year. All companies or organisations with a balanced economic performance over the last few years are eligible to apply, provided that they have carried out good practices such as:

  • monitoring the status and progress of male and female workers;
  • conducting human resources policies aimed at improving equal opportunities in recruitment, career advancement, vocational training, the balancing of employees' work activities with their home lives, and the overall management of gender-related issues;
  • balanced participation of male and female workers in consultation and/or decision-making processes; and
  • use of appropriate, non-discriminatory language in all company or organisational documentation, internal memos, announcements etc.

In 2000, awards were given to the Crédito Predial Português bank, the Bruno Yantz metalworking company and Salvador Caetano, an automobile sector firm. Several honourable mentions were also awarded, with one going to the national broadcaster Radio Televisão Portuguesa (PT0103137N).

Equal pay seminar

A seminar on equal pay was held in June 2001 as a joint initiative of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses, CGTP) and the General Workers' Union (União Geral de Trabalhadores, UGT). The initiative was an attempt to stimulate discussion and reflection on the topic. Participants called for additional measures to address the continuing inequalities between men and women and discussed recent developments, particularly the NAP and the new legislation (see above).


Portuguese law does not distinguish between men and women in any way and prohibits inequality both in the public arena - which includes work - and the private sphere. However, the "male paradigm" still persists in the world of work. As seen above, in addressing this persistent inequality, a great deal of importance is given in Portugal to regulatory mechanisms based on inspection, as well as the furthering of good practice. The fact that the new legislation extends monitoring and sanctions to indirect discrimination is worthy of note and was highlighted by the trade unions. Though still in its infancy as a topic for collective bargaining, equal opportunity for both genders is fast coming to the fore in this sphere. (Ana Almeida and Maria Luisa Cristovam, UAL)

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