Updated: 26-Mar-2002 Committee on Women in NATO Forces

Special Edition




Portugal's integration of women began in 1961, when a decision was made to train a group of nurses as part of the Portuguese Air Force. To provide the nurses with the physical and military preparation needed to accomplish their mission, the women were trained as parachutists. Their mission was to provide nursing assistance during the war on Portuguese overseas territories in Africa. This was accomplished by parachuting into combat areas and providing medical assistance and evacuation for medical casualties.

Of the many candidates, 11 were initially selected to begin two months of military training. They were instructed in military education, physical training, combat, orientation and topography, and moral psychological preparation followed by parachute training. Only five of the original 11 succeeded in completing the course.

For 13 years, parachutist nurses worked in combat areas providing medical field support. At the end of the war, the number of nurses was reduced from 21 to 16 (8 officers and 8 sergeants).

Until 1988, women were only employed in the Medical Service. Women may now volunteer for all of the Services under the same conditions as men, with minor exceptions during pregnancy. In 1988, two women were recruited as pilots for the Air Force Academy. Two years later, a woman with a university degree in Administration joined the same Academy. In 1991, the Military Service Law allowed women to serve in the Armed Forces as volunteers in all functions, with some restrictions in the Navy. Consequently, at the end of 1991, the Air Force recruited 56 women; in March 1992, 80 women joined the Navy and 34 joined the Army.


In spite of rendering service only on a volunteer basis, once women join the service, their training and commitments are exactly the same as men. All active duty personnel are divided into two major groups: Career Personnel and Complementary Personnel. There is no compulsory service for women in Portugal.

Career personnel are subdivided into Officers, NCOs, and enlisted (for the Navy). The highest rank officers may obtain is General/Admiral. NCOs may aspire to the rank of Warrant Officer, and enlisted personnel may reach the rank of Petty Officer third class. Career progression is the same for women and men.

Complementary personnel can only render service for a maximum of six years. The highest rank Complementary officers can reach is Lieutenant. NCOs may reach the rank of 1st Sergeant.

General Policies

In spite of the non-existence of legal restrictions, marines and combatant specialities are not open to women.

The national legislation protecting maternity and paternity is the same for both civilian workers and military personnel. It was amended in August 1999, mainly to enlarge the rights of parental absence to assist young children, such as the possibility of a three-month leave or part-time work during six months. The implication of these changes is still under assessment due to their relatively recent implementation.

A change in the statutory legislation, also deserves a good mark, in establishing the principle of conciliation, whenever possible, between personal and work obligations, regarding transfer and posting, especially of military couples.

Gender-related mentoring and leadership programs do not exist.


Women are assigned to almost all posts and duties, except for some combatant specialities in the Army and Marines and combat divers in the Navy. Women and men must complete the same courses to be promoted. The criterion of professional evaluation and selection are completely non-dependent on gender. Currently, the highest rank for a woman officer is Captain and Sergeant for a woman NCO. The ranks and numbers of women are growing at a slow, but steady pace.


Women make up 6.6% (2,875) of the total force (43.491), including career personnel, short-term contract personnel and conscripts. The Army employs the majority of the women with 3.7% (1.620), the Air Force with 2% (875), and the Navy with 0.9% (380).


Portugal does not have a special recruiting program aimed at women since the number of applicants is generally high. After volunteering for active duty, women must pass medical and psychological examinations, like their male counterparts. According to the results of these examinations, and dependent on their educational and professional qualifications, women are assigned to a group of specialities. They are called to join based on the needs of the Services.


After joining one of the Services, all personnel must attend a training program lasting from five weeks (for the less technical speciality) to seven years (for Engineers in the Military Academy), depending on their speciality.

Training programs are taught at Military Academies, Schools, and Units. There are no differences between women and men during training, with the exception of physical training, where there are some small differences in specific exercises.

As a general rule, training programs for Career Personnel last for several years initially and have several stages of career progression. Training programs for Complementary Personnel last from 4 to 16 months (with a few exceptions) and are rendered immediately after admission to active duty.


The Portuguese Armed Forces have previously deployed women to various missions abroad in specialities ranging from medical officer, signal and radio specialist, to cooks, mechanical and administrative support. The deployment is voluntary and women must sign an agreement to serve abroad for six months, with the possibility to extend. Only if there are no volunteers in critical areas/specialities, such as medical officers, will the appointment be compulsory.

Recent and Projected Developments

All ships in the Portuguese Navy, except submarines, are being modified to accommodate up to 15% women per ship.

Women are fully integrated in the Air Force and serve in all specialities. There are currently four pilots, with one of them serving as an Alpha-Jet pilot.

The Portuguese Armed Forces plan to convert to a professional force by 2004. As a result, the majority of military legislation will change. The new legislation is expected to banish the still verifiable differences regarding equal opportunity and treatment between the genders.


Women have been well accepted in the Portuguese Armed Forces. They are slowly but steadily working their way into more specialities and higher ranks, as well as participating in more military operations. It is expected that the new legislation concerning the full professionalisation of the military will bring more opportunities for women.

National Co-ordination Office

Ministerio da Defesa Nacional
Direccao-Geral de Pessoal e do Recrutamento Militar
Av. Ilha da Madeira, no. 14
Tel: 351-1-301-1171/1173 or 5400
Fax: 351-1-301-3037
POC: Dra Felicidade Baptista

National Delegate to the Committee on Women in the NATO Forces

Major Anabela Varela, Air Force
Estado - Maios Da Força Aerea
Av da Força Aerea, Alfragide
2720 Amadora
Tel: +351-21-472-3732
Fax: +351-21-471-6058

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