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Working group recommends new question about ethnicity for 2021 Portugal Census

A working group of academics, NGO representatives and government officers is in favour of asking about ethnicity in Portugal’s 2021 Census. The group expects that the new question will allow better assessment of ethnic inequalities in Portugal. The Higher Council of Statistics of Statistics Portugal will make the final decision on whether to include the question.

The working group, which was established by the Portuguese government, suggests asking census respondents if they belong to one of four major subgroups in the Portuguese population:

  • White / Portuguese white / Of European origin
  • Black / Portuguese black / Afro-descendent / African origin
  • Asian / Portuguese Asian / Asian origin
  • Cigano / Cigano Portuguese / Roma

Responding to questions about ethnicity would be optional, according to the working group’s suggestion. Although the Portuguese constitution and data protection laws generally do not allow the collection of data related to race and ethnicity, the Portuguese Data Protection Authority may grant an exception if the data is anonymised.

However, the decision of the working group was not unanimous. Some members expressed fear that the collection of data on ethnicity may legitimise segregation along social categories, and that the establishment of subgroups by the state may be a tool to reinforce racism. In addition, the data risks being misinterpreted. To address these challenges, the working group’s final report suggests establishing an Observatory on Racism and Xenophobia.

A survey by the Centre for Studies and Surveys of Opinion of the Catholic University shows that 78% of Portuguese people are also in favour of collecting census data on race and ethnicity. 84% of citizens are willing to respond to a question about their ethnicity or origin, and 90% believe that there is currently discrimination in Portugal.

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