Women: International Women’s day – Portugal

Much has changed since the revolution of 25th of April 25 years ago. Working class women gained through the revolutionary process very advanced constitutional rights by comparison with the rest of Europe. Before 1974 women counted for nothing in the eyes of the law. The husband was her master and ruler, e.g. having the right to sexual abuse whenever he wanted. Afterwards, the universities opened for women and nowadays 56,4 % of high school students are women.

International Women’s Day. Report from Portugal.

Working class women’s rights under attack

But also in Portugal constitutional rights and reality are two different things. Unemployment is feminine: Women are working in the most precarious conditions, e.g. as shop assistants. The unemployment rate for women is about 50% higher than for men – at this moment about 6%. (For women from the age of 14-24 it is over 10 %!).

Women are paid less: female factory workers earn 31 % less than their masculine mates. In the public service it differs about 21%. (Even female directors earn 24 % less than their male counterparts).


A very special Portuguese problem is women working at home. Especially in the North of the country, working class women have to look after the children and to work at the same time. In that part of the country a high proportion of women are doing work at home for the textile and shoe industry. It is difficult to obtain any figures about this; there is no trade-union or other kind of organisation organising these women.

On the island of Madeira (autonomous region) there is the tradition of embroidery. In 1976 the women doing work at home for this industry began to really build their own trade-union. One had existed since 1856 but, until the revolution, it was hardly organising anyone. The first achievement was made in a fight of embroidery workers in 1979 when they won the right to be covered by social security – pension rights, family extra-pay, illness payment.

In 1980 the embroidery women of Madeira achieved general workers’ rights like Christmas bonuses, annual pay increases etc. This achievement strengthened the union-movement in this sector. Nearly 4000 embroidery workers became very unionised in the 80’s but there is still a long way to go. Home-workers are still badly paid, even in Madeira. In 1995 they received 500 Escudos (5 Deutschmarks) for an 8-hour working day, only one quarter of the minimum wage in Portugal.

The socialist government is carrying out a "reform of labour rights" called "Pacote Laboral".

This has to be seen as the biggest attack on workers’ constitutional rights since 1976. The former conservative governments were not able to undertake such an attack. It is about flexibilisation of work, security, increasing precarious working conditions etc. One example especially affecting women is that, according to the act, a worker will loose the right to holidays over and above ten days, if he or she is missing one single day from the work-place. (Ten free days annually was all that was allowed in the time of fascism so the Pacote Laboral threatens the gains made by its overthrow). This will affect women more than men. When a child is sick, usually the woman will stay at home to care for him or her. This is not just about unequally distributed family responsibilities, but also about the lower payment of working class women.

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March 1999