#StoriesOfHope — Sewing a better future in Portugal

When Zélia, Paula, Sandra and Marina joined the Molde 50 project to make their way back into the job market, little did they know the COVID-19 pandemic would completely change their plans. During the lockdown, they decided to put their newly acquired skills to good use – by sewing masks for those who need it the most.

Photo credit: Márcia Lessa

Women in the frontline of the pandemic

As if the disease wasn’t enough, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted gender inequality in all its shapes, levels and possible forms. During times of crisis and lockdown, women not only face high risks of job and income loss, but also increased risk of violence, exploitation, abuse or harassment, just to name a few. According to the OECD, women are leading the health response while shouldering much of the burden at home and many other challenges.  

The COVID-19 outbreak has put women in the frontline of the crisis, leaving them no choice but to fight it head-on. And that’s exactly what four inspiring women in Portugal have decided to do – one mask at a time.


Covid masks

© Márcia Lessa


Transforming challenges into opportunities

The Molde 50 project, funded by the EEA Grants, promotes the employability and social inclusion of vulnerable women above 50 years of age in Portugal. The project provides creative sewing workshops, and builds capacity among women particularly affected by unemployment and gender-based violence. It also aims at promoting entrepreneurship among these vulnerable groups.

“Sewing masks is a way for these women to “give back” to the community that offered them social and psychological support when they were facing unemployment and social exclusion,” explains Fátima Quintas, the Project Promoter.

Due to COVID-19, all project activities had to be put on hold. However, a few engaged and committed project participants decided to bring their newly acquired sewing skills forward to support their community – differently.

Sandra (51) was unemployed and had previously held several jobs, such as working in a school kitchen and stores. As part of the Molde 50 project, she took a sewing course, which turned into an internship at the National Theatre Dona Maria II. The next step should have been a workshop on brand development – but with the coronavirus pandemic things did not go exactly as planned. The same thing happened to Marina (52), an unemployed audio-visual expert, who got an opportunity sewing carnival costumes as a result of the workshop. As she was getting ready for the Popular Saints’ Festival in Lisbon, the COVID-19 crisis happened and put a stopper to it. Paula (54) had started a new job in April, but decided to stay in the adventure as it meant a lot to her. Finally, Zélia had only just started the sewing workshop when the lockdown measures kicked in. But that didn’t stop her for joining the effort, and she’s now in charge of placing elastics on the masks.


Sandra, Marina, Paula and Zélia all started sewing masks from their homes and distributing them in Lisbon

© Márcia Lessa


Sandra, Marina, Paula and Zélia all started sewing masks from their homes and distributing them in Marvila (a neighbourhood in Lisbon) as a way of giving back to their community. And it didn’t take long before the word got out and the masks were eventually brought to elderly homes, homeless people, police officers and firefighters in the city.

To this day, they’ve made more than 400 reusable masks, showing just how important every effort is – no matter your background or skills.

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This article is part of a series on “Stories of Hope” in uncertain times. Over the next weeks, and following the initiative of our partner, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), we will highlight stories of people and organisations who are making an inspiring difference in times of COVID-19. 



Active Citizens Fund logoThe Active Citizens Fund supports civil society by strengthening its role in promoting democratic participation, supporting active citizenship and protecting human rights. In several of the Beneficiary States, the EEA Grants is one of the most important contributors to civil society. Find out more about how we support civil society.

                                               Find out more about the Active Citizens Fund in Portugal.

                                               Curious to know what programmes we fund in Portugal? Find out more.