Up until now, the only black person to serve as a member of parliament since Portugal returned to democracy in 1974 was a man – Helder Amaral who represented the conservative CDS party between 2002 and 2019.
History was made last October when members of Portugal’s new parliament took office. Among them were the country’s first black women lawmakers who all trace their origins to Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony in West Africa.
Portugal was a leader in slavery and colonization, transporting nearly half the estimated number of enslaved people in their galleons and colonizing countries across Africa, South America and Asia. To date, it has a significant minority population from its former African colonies in Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe and Brazil.
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For the longest time, black people in Portugal were not fully considered as Portuguese citizens because of a 1981 law that was passed before their parent’s immigration status was regularised. Most of the people affected by this law were either born in or are children of immigrants from former Portuguese colonies in Africa.
Even though things have improved in Portugal, activists still complain about inequality and discrimination in many areas including housing, education, employment, businesses, politics and the media as well as the justice system. The three black women who made it to parliament were all activists who, during their campaigns, promised to fight these inequalities. They have since got the chance to take part in the decision-making process as lawmakers.
This will be an “unprecedented, original and historic” parliament, Professor Inocência Mata, the only black lecturer at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities of the University of Lisbon said after the October legislative elections. “It is not the first non-whites who are in Parliament, but they are those who are aware that they belong to a segment of the population that is made invisible through non-representation,” he added.
So who are these three women who made history in the new parliament?