Tatiana Moura — And what has this meant in terms of changes in your daily life, in your private life, in how you see everyday life? Marisa Matias — A greater discomfort perceiving limitations and insufficiencies while also seeing that there are many fields yet to be opened in terms of activism, since they are usually siloed into institutional categories. And it is in those areas that we have to go and break down barriers in order to be more effective.
But if we start analyzing the data, we realize, for example, very concrete things: that a large part of what goes on in this uncontrolled and unregulated world of the financial system — and what enables tax evasion, tax avoidance and tax fraud — have to do with practices related to drug trafficking, arms trafficking as well as human trafficking.
But if we realize afterwards that maybe if we work at the roots rather than the outcomes, that is to say, once we have more gender equality policies that anticipate, or prevent, in such cases, processes, regularized phenomena like human trafficking that harm women overall — then we may need not to work that much towards criminalizing practices and we even may prevent these practices from occurring.
It is a continuous learning process we undertake, and we realize within institutional politics that most areas are closed to activism since they are considered serious, technical and devoid of any soul. In fact, it is only because we deal with the end of the process and do not work with preventing those phenomena. It has to do with how we combat the maintenance of gender inequality in terms of taxation, fiscal fraud and evasion.
If we have progressive policies that are much more pro-gender equality — and this implies some level of activism — they can prevent those situations from coming to pass: massive profits for organizations and entities and organized groups involved with, for example, human trafficking and, above all, the trafficking of women for sexual purposes. Tatiana Moura — Considering your trajectory from civil society activist to Member of Parliament, what were the changes for Portugal, Europe and for the world? Can you give us examples of three actions, or something you have done as a civil society activist and Member of Parliament, that have impacted Portugal, Europe and the world?
Marisa Matias — This is very complicated, since they are mixed-up. It was the first time I had taken the opportunity and accepted the difficulty of legislating for 28 countries and million people on a matter that I still consider to be absolutely invisible to the people.
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Marisa Matias — They were not and they continue not to be, but this is irrelevant since we do the job for things to change, and sometimes it is possible to gain awareness, sometimes not. It took me two and a half years working to conclude this work and I think that up to today the overwhelming majority of the million people of the European Union are not aware of it, but this is a little irrelevant over the perspective of the…. Tatiana Moura — What existed before, how were things and what was expected to change?
They are actually not more than silent killers because they do not present any of the active pharmaceutical principles to cure diseases. Marisa Matias — They come from all sides and even enter formal networks, going so far as to arrive at hospitals, pharmacies… It was one of the toughest fields I have had because there is an extremely strong pharmaceutical industry lobby and since it is an area supposedly not to be changed.
Later on, it extended to those medicines used for chemotherapy, to treat cancer or diabetes, as in the case of insulin, in addition to other medicines. What was then acknowledged was the existence of a very well organized network of counterfeit medication production with no active pharmaceutical ingredient. Therefore, people facing mortal illnesses are taking medicines that may be a mixture of sugar and water, which are completely useless, even though they enter legal distribution chains, are transported by carriers, sold in pharmacies, used in hospitals and so on.
The aim was to find control mechanisms that could prevent counterfeit medications from entering the European Union. And beyond that, there was excessive protection in regards to what entered the EU, but there was no concern over the EU as a channel, or platform that enabled counterfeit medications that might come from Asia or Africa, to get to other regions of the world. Therefore, I also had to include customs and export issues in addition to the matter of the EU being a platform distribution of counterfeit medication, even though counterfeit medications were overwhelmingly not kept here.
Marisa Matias — It is one of the examples because it was against the current, completely counter-current. Marisa Matias — I had 11 red lines, 10 of which passed… and I lost one. Tatiana Moura — Was it a quiet change? Tatiana Moura — Do you think that politics undertaken at the European level, in Brussels, is quieter than direct politics in Portugal? Marisa Matias — We are always working against the tide, so matters never amount to the same as those worked on at the national level, at the same moment.
But if we were to work at the same time, I believe that this would always be a minor matter. It resulted from a legislation that I had drafted and was in effect for million people in the EU. I felt like crying, but not for being mushy or anything like that, I just thought that: Ok, this makes sense. At a certain level, someone thinks that something must be worth doing, so it makes sense. Tatiana Moura — There is a feminist motto that says that the personal is political and the political is personal….
Marisa Matias —Absolutely. But I was talking about the change in legislation and last week there was a seminar in the European Parliament to celebrate the final implementation phase of the counterfeit medication Directive, and I was invited. But I obviously feel that, regardless of what happens, it was worth becoming a deputy, for the matter of medication but also for others such as investigation, research, defense of social securities and humanities — which were about to be eliminated but we defended and kept them in the financial framework.
Then there are other things that have nothing to do with that and have no immediate effects, like for example, whenever we discuss income inequality…. Tatiana Moura — So this brings us to the next question. I was thinking about income inequality, your engagement with the Middle East and with informal caretakers, which I think has a lot to do with the following question: how does your engagement as a Member of Parliament contribute, or how has it contributed to democratic advancement?
Which elements and symbols of democratic advancement can contribute to fighting inequality? Countries are kind of obliged to have a national plan for dealing with this matter, though almost none has got its own. So I was responsible for drafting this European strategy, even resorting to very unorthodox methods in this political context.
At that time, I saw its approval at risk. I waited on the line for two hours but eventually, I could talk to the coach and he gave us an impressive supporting statement.
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He defended the proposal and the video was broadcasted during a parliamentary session in the European Parliament. As a matter of fact, he had the generosity to defend this proposal that was related to a series of issues. Tatiana Moura — It should be a right. Anyway, dementia-related matters are always matters of profound violence, because they mean permanent losses on several levels.
Marisa Matias — Sure, this was in the beginning. I then extended it to the matter of informal caretakers in conditions like deficiency, who in those cases, are fathers and mothers who take care of children with strong disabilities. They are almost always women who gave up their professional career and personal life in order to provide care. And dementia cases are processes than might last several years and I have contacted many families, a lot of women caretakers, as well as men caretakers and they see themselves as forced to leave their jobs, their contribution periods, personal, familial and social lives.
Therefore, this was what happened: this European strategy was adopted as a recommendation to EU countries, and then each country started to work over it on the basis of their understanding.
There were a series of advancements in many countries. France, for examples, made immense progress in recognizing the informal caretaker statute, without a loss of rights….
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Marisa Matias — It means, for example, having the right to leave without an end date. Instead, you count these leaves as years of work contributions. In Portugal everything is at step one. How does this construct democracy and citizenship? Well… I had a kind of nervous breakdown 3 years ago during a caretakers and informal caretakers annual meeting that I organize. A woman caretaker told me: ok, this is all very beautiful, a lot is talked about, there are many proposals but, what is actually being done?
In regards to the matter of informal caretakers, I was always losing. Fortunately, I have never had to encounter such a situation. I fully realize that those who are providing care do not have time to project their voice, because they are providing care 24 hours a day, every single day of the year. The one being taken care of does not have the means to raise their voice because they cannot mobilize, due to the worst reasons, and neither do those who are providing care, given that they are exhausted and no longer have the ability.
In this sense, we start contemplating, then, how to transform those moments so that people can regain their voice. Marisa Matias — Yes. It was not a personal matter, rather a matter of the personal is political and the political is personal. I faced many situations coming from different families and by the way, the whole organizing annual meetings of informal caretakers in Portugal thing began with an interview I was giving to TSF Portuguese Radio. An informal caretaker called, telling me he had been taking care of his mother and was a successful businessman. He lost everything and was living under miserable conditions because he dedicated his to life to taking care of his mother.
And he gave an extremely devastating personal statement. At the end of the broadcast I asked the radio if I could have his personal contact. They told me they had to ask his authorization, which they did. At that time I had the idea that it might not be bad to think of financing a meeting on a given day when their family could be taken care of. The caretakers could meet in the same spot and get to know each other face to face and share the stories they have in common, which they are already sharing on social media.
On that occasion a woman told me, ok, this all lovely, spectacular, but what is it that we do? So I fully realize that those who are providing care do not have time to project their voice, because they are providing care 24 hours a day, every single day of the year. And that woman caretaker told me: ok, but this is not going anywhere. And she asked: but can we do something? But force those decision-makers and political representatives to work seriously on that. The informal caretaker statute is being finally discussed in the Assembly. It will be voted on soon.
Three years have passed though, it is obviously an eternity for those who provide care because it does not meet those immediate needs. We went from a nothing to a situation in which people, driven by revolt and total incapacity, transformed their situation into one of power and gained the capacity to reclaim and strengthen democracy.
I do not recall a movement that has gained so much force and relevance in the past years of Portuguese democracy, like the informal caretakers movement did. Afterwards, it went from the dementia issues and broadened to fathers, mothers, children or young adults, or even adults with disabilities, people who take care of others and friends related issues. Imagine if they could, how would it be. Marisa Matias — Yes, and it was almost direct confrontation to say: ok, but what can be done?
Tatiana Moura — It reminds me of your first time in Rio de Janeiro. Do you remember it? And I remember you were impressed by the movements and strength of …. When there is visibility regarding those who died, who are transformed into figures, we do not even talk about those who have survived, youngsters, and with what they must deal with. We must also consider those who were harmed and became somehow disabled, who must be taken care of. I think that this debate would also be very interesting to be introduced, not only as a matter of justice, but also because caretakers, most of whom are women but also men who provide care, they take care of survivors who sometimes carry physical and psychological traumas.
Marisa Matias — Definitely, as a matter-of-fact, the quintessential motto of the first meeting was really this one: Who takes care of whom. Marisa Matias — Yes, with the world peripheries, with EU peripheries and with the issue of refugees and migrants….
Marisa Matias — And Portugal is a permanent periphery. I truly became a relentless advocate for public policies, services and of the welfare state, because I was a direct beneficiary of equality policies, equal opportunities policies. For a long time now I have had the perfect notion that I was a product of the peripheries…. I am completely aware that having been born in a village which to this day does not even have inhabitants, way smaller than Coimbra, I am completely aware that my parents started working, my mother at the age of eleven, my father at the age of ten … I am a peripheral woman born immediately after the implementation of democracy in Portugal, and I have lived in a very small village, small and far from even attempting to fight for its own rights….
Marisa Matias — I am completely aware that having been born in a village which to this day does not even have inhabitants, way smaller than Coimbra, I am completely aware that my parents started working, my mother at the age of eleven, my father at the age of ten … I am a peripheral woman born immediately after the implementation of democracy in Portugal, and I have lived in a very small village, small and far from even attempting to fight for its own rights…. Marisa Matias — Yes, close to Coimbra. And which was far from striving for rights the of existence, or thinking of having the same rights of existence as others.
And I actually grew up hearing that I could not be a demanding person, because I did not have the right to be that way, even when I was a child. But the truth is, it happened…. Tatiana Moura — Your Village, could you tell us a bit more? The Village of Alcouce…. Marisa Matias — So it was a village when I was born there and remained a village as I grew up.
Marisa Matias — There were no water pipes and no running water. There was no electricity, no running water. There were two houses with television. We lived on what we planted and from the animals we had. So, it was a kind of a direct version of food sovereignty. We ate what we produced. And I remember it perfectly, since I have lived it, and had to go every day to… ah, there was no school, no public health, nothing like that….
A periphery, really. I remember having running water at home at the age of 10 or Yes, those with petroleum, we had to buy petroleum… and light it so as to keep the light for dinner, since at night there was no other light source. I remember what it was like going to primary school on foot, five kilometers there, five kilometers back. I remember it all because it was my childhood, and I recall how transitioning to democracy was… I was moving up to third grade, a primary school was being built in my village.
Therefore, I no longer had to walk to school. I also remember that later on, the National Health Service arrived and a Health Unit was created, only 2 km away, which was great because it was much better than walking to the doctor. I also remember people starting to have television, electricity. I remember it all because I lived it in my skin. The same things that, for example, my nephews once again do not have….
Marisa Matias — Four of them in the village. But they no longer have these things, they once again do not have school, health center and the mail delivery…. I have the feeling that I was one of those cases of having had the opportunity to live in the right place, at the right time.
I am thinking about global peripheries but transposing it on the Brazilian peripheries. Yes, because it was meant for keeping people from education, training, depriving them of access. For being obedient and not rigorously questioning whichever were the decisions taken… For agriculture to continue, for all the processes related to dictatorship we know to continue.
Tatiana Moura — So as a member of parliament, if you were in charge of the peripheries? Marisa Matias — Basic things are those which guarantee equal opportunities to people, regardless of where they are. Public, free and quality services in education, health, culture. In short, those which are the basic of the basics in order to live. I also recall that at that time public and itinerary libraries started reaching my village, and I did not have a single book at home though I have read a lot, throughout my entire childhood, since I could request books and bring them back the following week and get new ones.
There was that thing of a Gulbenkian project, an itinerary library supported by the state. So we had libraries every week…. Marisa Matias — Yes, we are three siblings. And this was what we had access to, we had access to health services, schools. We began to have access to schools in the village, which nowadays no longer exist because of austerity policies. Therefore, I think that the Social State and public services are two inevitable dimensions. Then comes free access…. For example, I was completely shocked this week, referring just a little to the political context we are experiencing in the European Union, which is very scary, because Denmark approved a Decree, the Ghetto Decree.
And the Ghetto Decree, approved by the majority of the Danish parliament, says that every family living in peripheral neighborhoods, urban or rural, whose earnings are below the national average, must hand their children, for at least 25 hours a week, to public Danish institutions which will be responsible for teaching those children the values of being Danish, teaching Christians values, and they will be forced to celebrate festivities like Easter and Christmas….
Marisa Matias — I do not know how to exist without the periphery, I am peripheral, period. And I do not want to pretend otherwise. It is where I found myself and I think that people must have the right to be wherever they want to be, but that is not the point. The point is that the periphery should never be a condition of subjection. It must always be a condition of access, in a different space, geography, put it as you wish, but rights cannot be withheld because of the place where you live. Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
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José Vicente Matias
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