Equality Still Failing Women in Greece
By Kathy Tzilivakis, Athens News
THE FACTS of life: Women earn less than men. And more women than men find themselves stuck in low-income dead-end jobs.
Greek women have made impressive progress in academia the majority of university graduates are females. But there is still a long way to go before they achieve absolute equality with their male counterparts in the work force. Few women hold high-end and decision-making posts in the corporate world, even fewer in political affairs.
Angela Daifa-Frantzeskaki, president of the Panhellenic Women's Organization, is a prominent figure in the local women's movement. She firmly believes the decades-long struggle for equality has not been in vain.
"Greece's legislative framework is one of the best in Europe," Daifa-Frantzeskaki told the Athens News. "We must take advantage of this and promote the right initiatives. We must also raise awareness among women. The Greek movement has made considerable headway, and we are now at the stage of discussing with state agencies about many issues… I believe, as one of the older women in the movement, that we are on the right track."
European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs Anna Diamantopoulou has made mainstreaming gender equality in all community policies and activities a top priority. She told a recent Athens conference organized by the interior ministry's General Secretariat for Equality that women have a greater presence in the labour market in recent decades.
"The gap is smallest in northern Europe," she said. "Larger gaps exist in southern member states like Spain, Greece and Italy. And mothers with young children have the lowest employment rates.
Another problem facing women in all countries is their position in the labour market. Women are concentrated in low-income jobs, service work, the public sector and part-time jobs. Across the Union, the largest occupational group among women is salespersons, followed by domestic and personal care workers. All low-skill jobs."
Diamantopoulou cited statistics depicting a rather disappointing reality: men take up to two-thirds of the high-skilled jobs and the promotion of women in decision-making positions is still poor.
"The so-called glass ceiling is preventing women from accessing jobs with higher levels of responsibilities and high pay," said Diamantopoulou. "The gender pay gap is real."
"One in four women over the age of 20 is jobless," President of the General Confederation of Workers in Greece (GSEE), Christos Polyzogopoulos, told reporters on March 4. "The percentage of long-term jobless women is three times that of men…More than two-thirds of temporary workers are women, while 28 percent of females work less than 30 hours a week."
On an equal footing with men
Addressing the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) during the United Nations' 47th session at its New York headquarters on March 3, Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis vowed that Greece and the EU are determined to promote gender equality in the workforce. He said the EU is set to increase female participation in the labour market to 60 percent by 2010. It is currently 53 percent. This policy is based on a decision taken at the March 2000 Lisbon European Council.
"The legislative framework exists, both at the national and the EU level," Skandalidis told an Athens conference on women's rights in January. "Consequently, our efforts must focus on implementing existing legislation…The working women themselves must know about their labour rights and demand them. The state deals with the matter through legislation to protect citizens, but the citizens themselves must demand their rights."
Skandalidis reiterated Prime Minister Costas Simitis' pledge last year to do away with gender inequalities and promote equal opportunities for men and women in society. Ahead of last year's International Women's Day, Simitis said his government was striving to shatter the glass ceiling. He had admitted that women were clustered in lower-status jobs and under-represented in top-end posts in local and central government.
"The EU is on the eve of a historic enlargement…making a Union of some 450 million people. Yet over half of the women are still, to a considerable extent, being excluded from the work of building the future of Europe," said Diamantopoulou at a European Council meeting in Brussels on March 4. "Our goal is clear. Women and men must have equal rights in all fields, irrespective of their race, ethnic or social origin, religion or beliefs."
According to women's rights advocates, gender equality means that females and males are equally represented in committees, government, parliamentary assemblies, managerial posts, unions and public and private bodies as well as in all public institutions. Society, they say, also needs to change attitudes, norms and values that define gender roles.
The way women are portrayed by the media also needs to break away from stereotypes. In a March 3 press release, the Greek Consumers' Institute (INKA) criticized nationwide advertising campaigns targeting women. The consumer watchdog pointed to three areas of concern: women are portrayed as sex objects, the ones in charge of the whole household and all family responsibilities, and intellectually inferior to men. "Advertising today is backwards and does not seem to have been taught very many things from women's new social role," said INKA in the statement.
Affordable child care
Greek women, however, have greater family responsibilities and many shoulder an unequal distribution of work in the home. In fact, studies show most men spend much less time than women on domestic chores. And, women significantly reduce their time spent in paid employment after the birth of a child.
"The role of men and women in marriage remains traditional," Haris Symeonidou, research director at the National Centre of Social Research, told the Athens News, "Few men do housework and care for children. They mostly do outside repairs. Women handle the chores."
Champions of gender equality are calling for more accessible and affordable child care. Last year, Labour Minister Dimitris Reppas unveiled plans to inject billions of euros from the European Union Social Fund into the creation of some 500 child care centers across the country over the next two years. He said this would also create as many as 8,000 jobs to be filled mainly by women. Families in Athens, however, still face long waiting lists at most state-financed child care services. New Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyianni recently promised the municipality would extend the hours of day care centers to meet the needs of working mothers. Still, many resort to private centers, but this is a costly alternative.