10 Apr A PhD course on Gender Studies was launched in Portugal
In order to find out more about this newly launched PhD programme, the Gearing Roles research team at IGOT, Universidade de Lisboa, interviewed Anália Torres, the Director of the course, Professor at the Institute of Social Science and Social Policy (ISCSP), Universidade de Lisboa and Scientific Coordinator of the pioneering Interdisciplinary Centre for Gender Studies (CIEG). Although the University of Coimbra already had PhD in Feminist Studies, this PhD programme is the first in Portugal which specifically focuses on gender.
According to Anália Torres, the PhD project is linked to the creation of CIEG.
“In Portugal, it is almost an anomaly, there was no research centre completely dedicated to Gender Studies. Gender was considered important in the 1980s and 1990s. However, in Portugal many people working on issues related to gender were dispersed across many different centres and institutions, meaning there was no single place which dealt with these issues. This changed when we created the research centre in 2012. There was a meeting of like minded people who came together to form the centre.”
Professor Torres reflects on why this did not happen before in Portugal. She contends it is due to the late development of science in Portugal:
“People from my generation worked in order to create their own areas of research, to overcome the underdevelopment of the social sciences in Portugal. There were also issues related to lack of funding. Despite this, we still managed to get this project off the ground. Its success was very much down to people with similar perspectives and ideas coming together to make it happen. Although it took a while to finish the project, but we have surpassed our expectations. Still, it was not been an easy process.”
CIEG received high praise when it was rated Excellent in the last national evaluation. Despite this advance, there were certain challenges and resistances that had to be overcome. Professor Torres elaborates on the challenges which the development Gender Studies faces in Portugal:
“Academics had to establish their careers within classic disciplinary areas first rather than immediately focusing on Gender Studies. There is still a lot of sexism in Portugal and at the university, but above all the crucial problem is the persistence of ignorance. We were removed from scientific knowledge and the vast body of literature on this area, which meant gender received very little visibility. The university was distant from this area of study and the consensus was that these issues were not relevant to the scientific community and its development.”
Gender Studies, however, has become increasingly visible. Professor Torres affirms that Portugal has entered a time of social change:
“We were, to a certain extent, against the general flow in Europe. However, Portugal has changed. Previously, as a traditional Catholic country, Portugal was resistant to change, but now there is a generation of people who are in the position to decide if they want to marry or not; or to have children or not. They have a distinct vision compared to previous generations and have the capacity to accept differences related to sexual orientation and equality. The fundamental question is that the educational level of the population has risen and women have taken centre stage. The generation gap is considerable between mother and daughters in terms of education. There are individuals now who may have received PhD degrees, whose parents only had primary education.. Rising education explains the confluence of changes that we have experienced.”
A key concern of the CIEG and the PhD in Gender Studies is related to the social impact it can have. CIEG has yielded influence at the legislative level. Torres explains:
“After conducting research work for parliament, our recommendations were incorporated into the new legislation on sexual and moral abuse and divorce. Our greatest desire is that our work has an impact and changes social reality.”
The PhD programme was part of CIEG’s activity plan since its foundation.The benefits of studying for a PhD in Gender Studies not only relate to the breadth of perspectives students are exposed to but also with the potential for creating societal change. Again, in Professor Torres own words:
“It is important to increase understanding which may then promote change. It is not only activism, it is important to understand that gender is structural. As such, it is necessary to understand how to produce public policy and how to intervene at the ground level and how to mobilize society to promote change.”
Maria Lucinda Fonseca