“Of all creatures who live and have intelligence, we women are most miserable. …People say that women lead a life without danger inside our homes, while men fight in war; but they are wrong. I would rather serve three times in battle than give birth once.”
Medea’s complaint, Athens, Greece, 431 BC (Euripedes, Medea 230-51.G)
As Medea’s words show, the glorious democratic freedom of classical ancient Greece was not applied to women. On the contrary, women in everyday life in ancient Greece were completely subject to the authority of men (father or husband). However and as always, there were women who didn’t follow the “rules.” There is the famous story of Kallipateira. She was the mother of a famous boxer. She wanted to see her son’s fight in the Olympics. As women were not allowed to attend the games, she dressed up as a male trainer and she stood in the crowd. When her son won the fight, Kallipateira was so excited that she jumped over a barrier to congratulate him. Unfortunately, the robe caught on the barrier and revealed her identity.
Despite some movements and positive changes for women with respect to political and social rights during the Hellenistic and Roman eras that followed the classic Greek, women continued to be required to take care of their families and remained under the thumb of her husband or whomever was the head of the house.
The Greek Women’s Rights Movement has its origins in the late nineteenth century. At
that time, the priority for women was to fight for the right to an education. For the first time, we had women entering universities and saw the emergence of female publishers like Artemis (1866), Thaleia (1867) and Eurydice (1870-73). In 1887, the Newspaper of the Ladies (I Ephemerida ton Kirion), lead by Calliope Parren, represented the movement.
In 1920, Anna Theodoropoulou and Maria Negrepontim, with Maria Svolou, Roza Imvrioti and Elleni Korrylou, founded the League of Women’s Rights. The beginning of the organized women’s movement was real. Women were demanding the same political, economic and civil rights as men.
Unfortunately, the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas followed by World War II introduced serious problems to the feminist movement, not only in Greece but all over the Western World.
After World Word II ended, urbanization and industrialization brought a lot of changes to Greek society. Finally, women started to vote in the early 1950’s and actively participate in politics. In 1953, Eleni Skoura (1896-1991) was the first woman to be elected for the Greek Parliament as a candidate for the area of Thessaloniki. Interestingly, her opponent was another woman, Virginia Zanna. Skoura garnered 46,650 votes while
Zanna received 23,808 votes. She came from Volos. In 1956, the first woman minister Lina Tsaldari was elected as Minister of Social Welfare. Also, the first woman Mayor was elected in the island of Corfu.
Women started to earn significantly bigger wages than they earned before the War. Still, the military one more time tried to stop the women’s movement in Greece in the late ’60s through the early ’70s, under the regime of Georgios Papadopoulos. Greek women (especially students) were pressured to follow strict dress codes and stay away from mixed-sex social groups.
Finally, after the end of Papadopoulos’ dictatorship, women’s liberation and equality advanced rapidly. One of the most important steps happened in 1983, under Andreas Papanderou’s first PASOK administration. The Family Law was enacted in 1983, which promoted the equal partnership of women and men in all social and economic aspects of development.
Women have made impressive progress in Greek society. The majority of university graduates are female. More women participate in the Greek parliament and work outside of the house. Though they are on the right track, they are still behind. They win less money than men in high positions and the unemployment rate for women is higher than for men. Men still take up to two thirds of high-skilled jobs and the promotion of women to decision–making positions is still poor. Especially today, with the economic crisis in Greece, unemployment is higher for women than for men and their salaries are lower. According to statistics released in January of 2010, 14.9 of women were unemployed, compared to 8.7 percent of men, and in the private sector, women make only 82.9 percent of men’s salaries annually (IKA, Social Insurance Institute 2009).
Greek women have taken a lot of important steps, but we need to be feistier and more active. It will take more time for Greek society to accept the idea of women in powerful jobs, but people in general have more opportunities today, and it’s easier to get new ideas as they communicate more easily with others all over the world. Come on, Greek women, we can do it!
First image on the right is Calliope Parren. Second image on the left is Lina Tsaldari.
Violet Tsagkas is currently working on her Master’s degree at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University. She grew up in Ioannina, Greece, and finished her Bachelor’s degree there. She loves communications and is interested in politics and women’s issues.