28 January 1999


28 January 1999

Press Release


19990128 Since 1980s, Mobilization of Wide-Based Women's Movement Has Stirred Profound Changes in Greece

Greek women were demanding equal partnership in all social and economic aspects of development, as well as a redistribution of power, roles and resources, a representative of Greece told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this morning, as it began its consideration of that country's continued compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The mobilization of a strong, wide-based women's movement had stirred profound changes in Greece since the introduction of gender-related issues in the 1980s, the President of the Hellenic Research Centre on Women's Issues, Antigoni Karali-Dimitriadi, told the 23-member expert body, which monitors compliance with the Convention. The positive impact of those changes had increased women's participation in all sectors of society. Despite their strengthened role and the presence of progressive legislation, however, men still dominated and gender-based discrimination persisted at all levels of Greek society.

Although women had recently begun to participate more actively in the political life of the country, their involvement in the higher political echelons had remained minimal, she said. They were also under-represented in Parliament, despite the fact that they comprised more than half of the voting population. Their limited presence was the result of backward attitudes, as well as the imposition of traditional divisions in the marketplace. Economic and social cohesion would require an effective strategy for integrating women into the economy.

Recent political change and economic globalization had made it necessary to consider that process from a qualitative, as well as a quantitative, perspective, she said. To do so, an action plan aimed at mainstreaming equal opportunities in all government policies had been devised. It had been meeting its objectives, thus far, by taking into account the effects of

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globalization and the transient period of change throughout Europe, and was associated with Greece's full participation in the Economic and Monetary Union. In addition, a national labour plan had promoted equal training and employment opportunities, and had reinforced women's abilities in professional and entrepreneurial roles.

Among other highlights of the new strategy, a government programme to support out-of-work or laid-off personnel had included a special measure for women, which offered them vocational training and new business subsidies. Resources had also been pledged for the creation of childcare centres to aid working parents, as well as for the dissemination of employment information through the media and the Internet. A recent court decision had prohibited the advertisement of job vacancies by gender, and had ruled that appointments must be based on merit only.

The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to continue its consideration of Greece's second and third periodic reports.

Committee Work Programme

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to begin considering the combined second and third periodic reports of Greece (document CEDAW/C/GRC/2-3), submitted under article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. That article provides for States parties to submit reports on legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures adopted to give effect to the provisions of the Convention, which Greece ratified in 1983. (For background on the current session, see Press Release WOM/1076 of 15 January).

Greece's initial report (document CEDAW/C/5/Add.28) included achievements during the period from 1981 to 1985, during which significant measures were adopted for the establishment of the principle of equality of the two sexes, such as the harmonization of provisions of family and labour law, and the creation of suitable institutional frameworks. The present report, covering the period from 1986 to 1994, includes information on the condition of women in all sectors of social life, and progress made during this period. It also provides the targets of the policy for equality for the future. A national committee, with the participation of representatives of the social and political life of the country, was established for the preparation of the report. It functioned in cooperation with all ministries, public and private bodies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and with the supervision of the General Secretariat for Equality of the Two Sexes, which submitted Greece's initial report.

In the period under review, important laws were passed concerning the family, equality, working relations and social security, the report states. One example is that part-time employment was established and matters concerning the safeguarding of the rights of part-time employees were regulated. Significant changes came about with the adoption of various measures during the 1980s. Almost all indices showed improvement, including women's participation in the labour force and employment, in secondary and higher education, and in the increasing number of women with access to "male" occupations.

However, according to the report, despite the strengthening of the position of women, the male view continues to prevail and dominate in representations and practices. Sex discrimination exists at all levels of organized social life. Hence, while women are increasingly represented, the positions offered to them are inferior. Also, there is still discrimination in the salaries of men and women in the private sector, while in television women are limited to minor roles, and in politics they are under-represented.

The report states that the legislative framework in Greece concerning the elimination of all forms of discrimination between women and men is

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considered one of the most advanced. Since 1980, significant changes have been made for the safeguarding of equality between the sexes, such as the amendment and revision of the family law, and the introduction of new legislation to eliminate discrimination in women's access to education, vocational training, employment and working relations. Although the Greek courts apply the principle of equal treatment of men and women in all cases referred to them, there are cases that are either not covered at all by the existing legislation or are insufficiently covered. As a result, the application of equal treatment becomes impossible. Such cases mainly concern violence in the family and sexual abuse in the workplace.

As progressive as the legislative framework may be, the report continues, it is not sufficient by itself to resolve the problems, safeguard equal treatment and promote equal opportunities. Actions and measures to safeguard the application and extension of the existing legal provisions, and to inform the public concerning the rights and obligations of women, are needed. In 1983, the family law was modernized and adjusted to the constitutional requirement of the principle of equality of the two sexes. As a result, the concept of a patriarchal family was replaced by a family of equality, and the institution of dowry was eliminated.

The report states that the achievement of equality of the sexes is a difficult target since it aims at changing conceptions and mentality. Positive measures have been planned to raise awareness, make women a target group in business programmes at the national and regional levels, and deal with unemployment. The main body responsible for the implementation of programmes regarding equality is the General Secretariat for Equality. Among its tasks are to promote and implement legislative safeguards for the equality of the sexes; plan activities to facilitate women's participation in the development of the country; inform the public on issues on equality to overcome prejudice and old-fashioned ideas against women; and implement vocational training programmes for unemployed women.

According to the report, the mass media cultivates and formulates the social conscience, supporting or overturning the traditional sex stereotypes. Despite legislative measures, the majority of the media continue to reinforce images of devoted mothers, housewives, or sex objects. The continued portrayal of the traditional images is mainly due to male domination in the mass media. Although there is an increase in the number of women working in the field, mainly as journalists, it does not mean that the way in which they are presented is fairer. That is why it is considered decisive to have women in responsible positions in mass media.

The report states that prostitution is not a punishable act under Greek law. The laws regarding prostitution only regulate the conditions under which it is practised. For example, it sets the legal age for prostitution at 21 and requires prostitutes to undergo a medical exam twice a week at the local

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health services. Under the penal law on the elimination of the exploitation of women, crimes such as pimping and body trafficking are punishable with imprisonment and fines.

With regard to violence against women, sentences imposed by the courts are lower than those provided for by law and the number of convictions is very small, according to the report. Among other reasons that discourage women from referring to the courts are: the long penal procedure; difficulty in finding witnesses; the responsibility of proving the claims; and the suspicion with which they are dealt with in investigations. Also, the attitude of the police towards abused women ranges from indifferent to negative. They often do not inform women of their rights and discourage them from pressing charges. In small towns and villages, the police take less action against the man because of personal acquaintance with the perpetrator. Compounding the problem further is the lack of special services available to the victims.

Regarding political and public life, the report states that the participation of women in government, 5.8 per cent, is among the lowest in the European Union. Although they make up 51 per cent of the electorate, they are not sufficiently included in the party lists. Thus, they are under-represented in Parliament. Also, there is inequality between men and women in the decision- making centres at the central and regional levels. This is attributable to the patriarchal structures of the parties and the society, and to the lack of social services for support of the family (kindergartens and childcare centres).

Turning to education, social prejudices still affect the dynamics of the educational system, the report states. The difference today is not the exclusion of women from the different ranks of education, but in the different choices of the two sexes at the highest level of education. Technical schools are still considered a male domain, while women choose schools with a human- social orientation. The failure of the educational system to draw the interest of girls towards practical sciences is visible and important, because that would widen their professional horizons. The presence of certain social and cultural models in Greek society is the basis for the differentiation of the sexes, and eliminates in practice the principle of equal opportunities.

According to the report, in the field of employment, priority is given to women who face adverse conditions in their access to the labour market and to those who have special family and social problems. Statistical data shows that the position of women in the labour market quantitatively improved during the period from 1985 to 1993. Despite that increase and the qualitative rise of qualifications of working women, there was no change in the proportion of women managers and senior executives. Furthermore, women's earnings were significantly lower than those of men in all sectors. Of the unemployed women in 1993, 55.6 per cent were those looking for employment for the first time, while the same applied to 40.7 per cent of unemployed men. Also, most unemployed women in 1993 belonged to the 20-24 age group.

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Turning to women and health, the report states that the introduction of family planning coincided with the decrease in the fertility index below the level of generation replacement. Contraceptive methods and abortion, means of controlling fertility, were accused of causing the decreased birth rates. As a result, the development of family-planning centres was interrupted. Today, they operate more as gynaecological centres and less as bodies to promote contraception.

According to the report, the difficulties faced by rural women to enter the labour market include insufficiency of jobs, difficulty in transport, and the lack of support services and facilities. In rural families, there is still a tendency to consider the education of girls as a waste of money and time, since girls are expected to get married and start a family.

The 1980s were decisive for the modernization of the family in Greece, the report states. A radical change was brought about in family law in 1983, with the elimination of the institution of the family leader; the maintenance of the family surname of the woman; the elimination of the dowry; the claim of participation of both spouses in the property acquired during the marriage; the establishment of divorce by common consent; the selection of the surname of the children; and the equalization of the rights of children born outside the marriage with children born to married parents. With regard to divorce, the report noted that almost one out of three couples living in Athens ends up in divorce, while the number in the provinces is more conservative. That may be due to the stressful living conditions in Athens, as well as the fact that today divorce is not seen as a stigma for divorced women, as it used to.


ANTIGONI KARALI-DIMITRIADI, President of Hellenic Research Centre on Women's Issues, introduced the second and third periodic reports of Greece. She said that in Greece the principle of "gender equality" had been established by the 1975 Constitution and consolidated during the period from 1981 to 1989 period by additional legislation and extensive measures aimed to abolish discrimination against women in all sectors. That had brought about significant changes in the status of Greek women. As a member State of the European Union, Greece fully endorsed and supported all actions promoting equal opportunities between men and women in employment and development, as well as in social, economic and political life.

The profound changes during the 1980s, which had followed the introduction of "gender equality" issues, had been the result of persistent actions and mobilization of a strong, wide-based effective women's movement in Greece, at that time. The positive impact of those changes was evident in Greek society today, through a definite increased presence of women in all sectors. However, despite the strengthening of women's position within Greek society, gender inequalities continued to persist in everyday life.

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Unfortunately, men continued to hold the majority of positions of authority and power in decision-making centres, she continued. The equality policies in the country, during the past few years, included measures and strategies aimed at reducing inequalities and eradicating their causes. Changing existing conceptions and attitudes, regarding the role of the two genders within the family, at work, in politics and in social life, was one of the main priorities in that phase. Emphasis was also given to the development of specific support mechanisms and structures to enhance implementation of such policies.

The present legislative framework in Greece was considered one of the most advanced and progressive in the world, she said. The principles of equality contained in international law had been incorporated in the Greek Constitution. Moreover, certain constitutional provisions referred to specific sectors such as work, education and health. Legislative improvements on certain sectors, such as physical and sexual violence against women and revision of the social security system, had been considered necessary, and provisions had been proposed to the relevant governmental bodies.

Regarding women in the labour market, she said that Greek women had taken a decisive step forward in the last decade, as verified by the relevant indicators measuring women's participation in the labour market. Among the positive changes in the employment of women, during the period from 1993 to 1996, were the increased participation of women in the labour force, the increase in women's employment and improved educational level of active women.

She said that violence against women was covered by Greek legislation, as a social phenomenon, through the general provisions of civil and criminal law and other specific legislations. In Greece, there had not been any scientific systematic research into any form of violence against women in any sector. The lack or inadequacy of available data made it hard to assess the extent, nature, severity and effects of that phenomenon. Irrespective of the insufficient data, it was generally accepted that the scope, severity and effects of the various forms of violence against women were much wider and, sometimes, more significant than indicated by available records and relevant data.

The General Secretariat for Equality was in the process of conducting national research on the issue through the Research Centre of Equality, she continued. Also, violence against women was the top priority for the General Secretariat for the period from 1997 to 2000. Forced prostitution and trafficking in women, many of whom were illegal immigrants and refugees, had recently become a big problem in Greece. A new policy had been adopted by the Government to legalize immigrants under certain conditions, and to provide them with residence and work permits.

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She said that women had recently begun to participate more actively in political life, and their involvement had enhanced women's position within the political parties, even though the percentage of women in the higher political echelons still remained quite small. Women were also under-represented in the Greek Parliament, despite the fact that they represented 51 per cent of the electoral basis. Other categories, including the diplomatic corps, the judicial and public sector, showed a steady increase, even though the highest positions were still dominated by men. Two of the main causes for the limited presence of women in all centres of power and decision-making were the established mentality, structures and attitudes of political parties and society as a whole, and the gender-based division of the labour market.

Under those circumstances, the General Secretariat would continue promoting and reinforcing gender equality issues by policies and affirmative actions, she continued. Those actions were aimed at a more proportional representation of the two sexes in political and public life, in public administration and governmental posts at the highest echelons. There were also information and consciousness- raising campaigns aimed at changing attitudes and gender stereotypes and supporting women's candidatures during elections; training and retraining programmes for women to give them access to positions of high responsibility; and diversified career options.

Concerning health, she said that the economic dependency, violent experiences and social prejudices which had affected women since childhood, and inadequate participation in the decision-making centres had created a negative environment. However, the indiscriminate access of Greek women to health services was confirmed by indicators on demographic data. In all public hospitals throughout the country, all women enjoyed the privilege of preventive medical tests, such as pap tests and breast examinations. In addition, more health-care programmes and information campaigns were planned -- with the cooperation of the General Secretariat, the Ministry of Health and other relevant agencies -- to address special problems for women, such as teenage abortions, AIDS and the effects of menopause.

The major political changes that had been witnessed during the past few years had affected the economic and social systems, with particular consequences for women, she said. Changes in society and globalization of the economy required that the question of women's integration in the labour market be approached not only from a quantitative, but also from a qualitative aspect. That was the primary condition for an effective strategy that would promote economic and social cohesion in Greece.

To implement that policy, the General Secretariat had promoted an action plan for the period from 1998 to 2000, she continued. The main consideration and top priority of the plan was acceptance of the Equal Opportunities Policy, to be mainstreamed in all government policies. Greek women had reached the point where they would demand that they must be equal and active partners in

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all socio-economic models of planning and development, particularly in regional areas. It was their right to demand reconstruction and redistribution of power, resources and roles.

Replies by Government

The delegation of Greece then replied to questions posed by Committee experts following the meeting of their pre-session working group from 11 to 15 January. Following are highlights of those replies, in the order in which the questions were asked: were as follows:

[The Greek delegation was comprised of: Deputy Permanent Representative, Head of the Delegation, Vasilis Kaskarelis; President of Hellenic Research Centre on Women's Issues, Antigoni Karali-Dimitriadi; First Secretary, Maria Saranti; Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues, Maria Pazioti; Legal Expert to the Secretariat on Gender Issues, Amalia Sarri; and the Economic Expert to the Secretariat on Gender Issues, Maria Zervou.]

-- The impact of the Action Plan for equal opportunities for 1994 to 1997 had been very positive in meeting its objectives, by taking into account the effects of globalization and the transient period of change throughout Europe, and associated with Greece's full participation in the Economic and Monetary Union;

-- The 1998-2000 Action Plan had set as its top priority the issue of violence against women and women's equal active participation in all policies of socio-economic development;

-- Greece was facing a big problem with refugees and illegal immigrants due to its geographic position, as well as the immense changes in the eastern European countries or countries in economic transition;

-- Many of those immigrant women had become victims of forced prostitution;

-- The policy to legalize immigrants had provided, under certain conditions, residence and work permits, but the country needed to concentrate further on developing shelters and on transnational cooperation to combat trafficking of women;

-- Among the various lawsuits submitted under gender-discrimination charges, many had resulted in the court's decision finding of discrimination;

-- A National Action Plan for Employment had aimed to promote equal opportunities in training and employment for both women and men and had sought to reinforce women's ability in professional and entrepreneurial roles;

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-- In order to enhance the role of the media in combating prejudice and eliminating stereotypes, television spots had drawn attention to Women's Day 1998, and a pilot radio programme on equality issues would result in the creation of similar programmes throughout the country;

-- Combating violence against women was the main priority of the General Secretariat for Equality of the Two Sexes, the State agency responsible for gender-related issues;

-- The Research Centre for Equality would begin to conduct research on violence against women because the scarcity of records had created difficulties in assessing the prevalence of that phenomenon;

-- Despite legislation protecting women from violence, there was a real shortage of victim services;

-- Among measures to sensitize the public to gender-based violence, the Government had initiated campaigns and visited town councils to promote measures to combat the phenomenon;

-- Although 16 men in 1995 had been convicted of sex crimes, such as paedophilia, that number had not reflected the reality of that socially taboo practice;

-- The increased entrance of immigrants from countries of Eastern Europe had resulted in an increase in trafficking in and sexual exploitation of women and young girls in Greece;

-- According to Greek legislation, prostitution itself was not considered a punishable act;

-- Because of the increase and expansion of the problem of violence against women and sex trafficking, the General Secretariat for Equality had intended to upgrade its existing infrastructure aimed at, among other things, providing 24-hour services to women victims of forced prostitution;

-- Concerning Greek women's involvement in political and public life, almost all political parties in Greece had introduced some form of quotas;

-- The number of women judges had increased in recent years, as had women's participation in the judicial sector. There had also been a gradual increase in their participation in the diplomatic service;

-- The newly founded NGO, "Political Association of Women", would initiate a campaign demanding the adoption of a "one man-one woman" candidates' list for the Euro-elections;

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-- Reduction of female illiteracy had been focused on rural women, and the Government had primarily targeted repatriates, immigrants, and refugees;

-- The increased number of women employed in the service sector had been accompanied by an equivalent decrease in their employment in the agriculture and industrial sectors, as a result of the restructuring of the Greek economy by the mechanization of agriculture, the introduction of new technologies and the development of new industries and occupations in the service sector;

-- A programme which had supported unemployed or dismissed persons had also included a special measure for women which offered vocational training, as well as subsidies for new businesses;

-- To address difficulties in implementing employment programmes for women, the Government had pledged to equally distribute resources and investment in the Women's Potential, the creation of 100 creative occupational centres for children and day nurseries; and to intensify dissemination of information on training programmes of women publicized by the daily media, magazines, pamphlets and the Internet;

-- Among the recent judicial decisions related to gender discrimination in employment, job advertisements were not permitted to separate vacancies by sex, and appointment should be based on merit only;

-- The Government had mainstreamed equality issues with regard to the labour market and economy in all the pillars of the National Action Plan for Employment for the year 1999;

-- In order to promote the participation of women in the workplace, the Government had undertaken special provisional measures, including the development of infrastructures that had supported working parents;

-- In order to collect and analyse data on unpaid household work, a special questionnaire had been introduced to be completed by family members of a household over 12 years of age;

-- Women's committees within the trade unions had opened the debate on the issue of disparities between the earnings of women and men, which had required further investigation, given their linkage to social and political inequality;

-- The Women's Group of the Economic and Social Committee -- a political mechanism which inputs opinions into government policies and legislation -- was due to be set up this month, and its first meeting had been scheduled for 22 January;

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-- The function of health centres had been revised in 1997, and emphasis had been given to prevention and elementary health care through the creation of networks linked to hospitals of the National Health System;

-- Those health centres had provided specific population groups, like gypsies and refugees, with elementary health services countrywide;

-- There was no discrimination based on sex in the health section of the national budget;

-- In 1986, artificial termination of pregnancy before 12 weeks had been legalized. In the case of rape, incest, and genetic disorder of the foetus, the operation could be performed after the twelfth week;

-- If the pregnant woman seeking abortion was a minor, the consent of one of the parents or a guardian was required;

-- Besides equal representation of both women and men in sports, women's federations specializing in the boxing, wrestling and weightlifting had been founded;

-- Since 1983, women were no longer excluded from receiving a wedding allowance, and since 1989, single mothers, widows and divorced mothers were also entitled to a wedding allowance;

-- Married women had full access to bank loans, mortgages and other forms of financial credit provided by both public and private institutions;

-- Basic services such as roads, water supply and telecommunications had been made adequate to benefit rural women, even in the remotest areas;

-- The General Secretariat for Equality had encouraged the creation of women's "agrotouristic" cooperations, which had had positive results for women, as well as for the local rural population as a whole;

-- According to a law adopted in 1983 which modernized family law, an unmarried mother could acquire parental care of her child without any procedure or court decision, and children born out of wedlock had the very same inheritance rights as children born to married parents.

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For information media. Not an official record.