Friday, November 8, 2013

Is unisexism for all the way forward?

Portugal is in the middle order of world rankings when it comes to gender inequality. The gap is closing in several key areas, but there is little chance of this country ever catching up with remarkable developments in Sweden.
As one of the world’s most equal countries, Sweden has reached near parity in political representation, employment opportunities and wages. Not content with doing far more than most countries to eradicate gender discrimination, Sweden is forging ahead even further - into the uncharted territory of gender blending neutrality.
Plans are afoot to do away with gender altogether – well, almost. Just for starters, the most popular toys currently available in Sweden include sets of naked dolls in which each doll shows a different expression – a smile or a frown – but nothing that would identify it as representing a girl or a boy. 
Reporting on efforts to get rid of the idea that men and women are different, Time magazine recently noted that a growing number of Swedes are replacing their words ‘he’ (han) and ‘she’ (hon) with a new word -  hen. As unfortunate as it sounds in English, Swedish politicians are now using hen in parliament and it is routinely used in some leading newspapers.
Unisexism is not entirely new, but promoting gender neutrality on a national scale is viewed by many, even in Sweden, as feminism and political correctness gone mad. Yet Time ventured to predict that if Sweden succeeds, “the rest of the developed world may one day look at gender-neutral pronouns and gender-neutral dolls as every bit as essential to democracy as equal voting rights.”
Portugal has made very significant advances in gender equality over the past decade. That said, concerns have been raised about recent setbacks attributed to the on-going financial crisis and austerity measures.
Even if and when the good economic times return, neutrality is not going to work in this country. Expressive dolls might catch on, but the highly sexist Portuguese language is surely going to scupper unisexism.
It doesn’t make much sense to monolingual English speakers, but Portuguese nouns are either masculine or feminine - or in some cases bisexual, so to speak. The word ‘sex’ is itself masculine (sexo) with no feminine equivalent. A ‘journalist,’ whether a man or a woman, is always feminine (jornalista). The word for all sorts of people can sexually change depending on who it is describing (doutor / doutoraamigo / amiga). And just to make life a little more multifarious, any accompanying adjectives must agree with the gender of the noun.
Because of this linguistic complication, the equality focus in Portugal will probably remain on such matters as closing pay disparities (at present women doing similar work earn on average 30% less) and increasing the percentage of female members of parliament (currently just under 30%).
Among the other niggling imbalances, at last count more than 81% of Portuguese women do the laundry, 74% prepare the meals, nearly 66% wash the dishes and 63% take care of the house cleaning on their own. Men only shine when it comes to chores such as house repairs (60%), administrative tasks (41%) and shopping (39%).
Eradicating inequality in Portugal may not need legislation or feminist campaigns. It is happening naturally. Far fewer girls than boys are dropping out of school nowadays. Once largely illiterate and confined to the kitchen, women are well outstripping men in gaining university degrees and positions in traditionally male-dominated professions such as medicine and law.
The English word ‘idiot’ is almost the same in Portuguese (idiota). It is feminine and there is no masculine alternative. That is definitely going to have to change.

Monday, November 4, 2013

McCann case: Anger over new suspect

When Scotland Yard launched its Madeleine McCann investigation, it called for ‘restraint’ from the British media. Meanwhile, a Portuguese law forbids police here from divulging inside information about on-going criminal investigations. So how come newspapers in both Britain and Portugal have identified and published sensational stories about another implausible ‘prime suspect’ in this case?
The stories are causing outrage, especially among relatives of the now deceased ‘suspect,’ but also in the much wider community in Portugal.
Hard on the heels of reports in the UK that police were looking variously for a paedophile gang, foreign perverts, gypsy robbers, English cleaners and some fair-haired individuals possibly from Germany or Holland, the Portuguese tabloid Correio da Manhã last week began publishing a series of articles claiming police were investigating an African man.
The ‘new suspect’ was a former employee of the resort where the McCanns stayed in 2007. Phone records placed him near Praia da Luz at the time. As an immigrant from the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde, he was living with his partner and their son in the nearest town, Lagos. He was arrested in 1996 for petty theft, but had no record of any serious offence.
The Correio da Manhã stories were copied and in some cases embellished in many British and other foreign newspapers. The Daily Express, for example, claimed the suspect was “a violent thug who was a threat to children.” It gave a Portuguese ‘police profile’ as the source of this information.
In many of the regurgitated reports, Portuguese detectives were said to be examining the possibility that the ‘suspect’ had kidnapped Madeleine in an act of revenge against his former employers for his dismissal a year earlier.
This idea made no sense at all, said the brother of the Cape Verdean's Portuguese partner. “It wasn’t as if what happened there with him losing his job destroyed his life. He got work elsewhere soon afterwards.”
A Portuguese TV reporter calmly and sensibly described the recently discovered information about the man’s cell phone use as “a loose end that needs to be tied up.”  
But the British tabloids went overboard. More personal details about the man emerged, including his name. The Daily Mirror published a close-up photograph - but of course he looked nothing like either of the five-year-old e-fit images released by Scotland Yard three weeks ago.
The ‘new suspect’ died in a tractor accident in the north of Portugal in 2009, two years after Madeleine disappeared. There is that old saying, “you can’t defame the dead,  but what about the torment and humiliation these stories have inflicted upon those left behind?
This again raises serious questions about the workings and integrity of both the press and the police. How and why did details of this individual and the Polícia Judiciária’s interest in him become available? Has this man really become ‘key’ to the investigation, or is something else afoot here?
The  suspect’s widow told the Portuguese weekly newspaper, Sol: “It is disgusting that they are now trying to set up a dead man as a scapegoat.”
The Federation of the Organisations of Cape Verde based in Lisbon also believes the dead man is being used as a scapegoat. It described the allegations against him as “shocking” and “not credible.”
The truth about this matter needs to be told. Sadly, the truth about many aspects of this extraordinary six and a half year old mystery is as cloudy as ever.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Animal lovers fear new watchdogs


The Portuguese government is believed to have entered into a secret bilateral agreement with the United States over the sharing of sensitive personal data. Sources say the agreement focuses mainly on material gathered by the US National Security Agency (NSA) relating to animals in apartments.
In addition to intercepting millions of phone calls, text and email messages each month, it is thought that NSA may be priming satellite cameras to feed images to the Portuguese police.
The revelation coincides with leaked information that the Portuguese government  wants to introduce a ‘Pet Code’ that would restrict the numbers of animals in any one apartment to two dogs and four cats.
While officials this week tried to play down the proposed new law, it has sparked public outrage. Many have expressed concern that it smacks of pre-1974 revolution elitism because owners of houses will not be affected, only apartment-dwellers who tend to be the less well-off.
It has also been described as “blatant discrimination” because the new law is expected to apply to dogs and cats but leave apartment-dwellers  to keep as many pet pigs or boa constrictors as they like. It is also seen as another example of inequality as the number of dogs are expected to be limited to two whether they are chihuahuas or great Danes.
“It is the thin end of the wedge,” added Fido Basset, president of the Association of Foreign Pet Owners in Portugal. “They will start with cats and dogs and before you know it we will have to cut down on the  number of white mice, budgies and goldfish we can keep.
Animal lovers are hoping the global indignation at NSA’s spying in allied countries will prevent any new bilateral arrangement with Portugal going ahead and thus make the Pet Code unworkable.