Portugal: Maria Inês Gomes Rodrigues Fontinha

To build peace, it is necessary to combat war and all its faces: poverty, prejudice, exclusion, unemployment, despair, HIV/AIDS.

— Maria Inês Gomes Rodrigues Fontinha

The social scientist Inês Fontinha (born 1943) has been fighting the sexual exploitation of women for over 30 years. In the beginning, she supported Portuguese prostitutes through her work for the non-governmental organization O Ninho (The Nest). Years later, she also started to combat sexual trafficking in children, young and adult women. In 1992, she founded the European Federation for the Eradication of Prostitution (FEDIP), a network in several European countries against this crime.

“Lost women, women who took the easy way,” that is how people used to call prostitutes in Madeira Island, where Inês Fontinha was born. “In my generation, those women faced a lot of prejudices. It was a problem nobody talked about. Women were always seen as the guilty ones.” In the early 1960s, Inês had just graduated in social science, and was invited by a friend to visit O Ninho. The organization, founded in Portugal in 1967 to support young prostitutes, followed the example and was named after a French organization created in 1936. “My friend was a volunteer, teaching the women to read and write.” When she first met the sex workers, Inês realized their “way” was not “easy” at all. “I saw the suffering in their faces. I heard their stories and decided to explore through them that unknown world I had ignored until then.” From that moment on, Inês dedicated her life to fight the sexual exploitation of women. She took different positions in O Ninho before becoming its director, her current post. Besides psychological and legal support, the organization provides vocational courses, a house for temporary accommodation of women in danger, and a stand to sell handicrafts made in their own workshops. It also works on sensitivity training, information, and reporting of exploitation of women. As the years went by, foreign women also started to ask for help at O Ninho. “In Lisbon, the number of young women from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe has increased. Women come to Europe with the promise of work, but once they are here, they do not have documents, do not speak the language, and so they become prostitutes, slaves.” To fight sexual trafficking in children, young and adult women, Inês founded the European Federation for the Eradication of Prostitution (FEDIP) in 1992. She was the president of FEDIP until 1997. Currently, she is part of its secretariat.

European Federation for the Eradication of Prostitution (FEDIP) O Ninho