Women have long waged a struggle for equality, battling against prejudice, persecution and often outright injustice. Legislative changes in recent decades, especially in the West, have made it appear as though this battle has finally been won and we have arrived at equality for men and women. The harsh reality is that this progress remains largely on paper, however; real women continue to struggle against inequality, which impacts all areas of their lives.
This is especially true of Greece, which ranked last among European countries in the updated Gender Equality Index issued by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) in 2017, with an overall score of 50 out of 100. Even top-ranked Sweden, however, fell significantly short of perfect equality between the sexes, with an overall score of 82.6 points. The index measured all key areas of life, including work and free time, access to financial resources, knowledge, power and healthcare and even their exposure to domestic violence or sexual harassment.
The Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) approached three women to talk about their own experiences of gender equality and their battles against sexism in Greece: actress and director Katia Goulioni, national health service doctor Maria Zyga and university dean Dimitra Kogidou.
Professor Kogidou: “The crisis and austerity policy are seriously harmful to gender equality”
The chairman of the Gender and Equality Committee at the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki (AUTH), Professor Kogidou commented on Greece’s ranking in the EIGE index, saying it was directly linked to the economic crisis.
“I am not surprised by the data since it was expected on the basis of previous reports,” she said, especially highlighting the gap between men and women in terms of their access to power and decision-making centres, whether in politics, business or society.
“I choose to focus on this area in my account of whether I have experienced inequality in my workplace and whether there is progress on issues of equality in this framework because I have been a professor at AUTH for many years and held top positions in the administration. At the rank of professor I felt a great deal of loneliness since women are under-represented at the higher levels (when I was elected a professor only 10 pct were women in universities; now the ratio has somewhat improved).”
When she was elected a dean – where she insisted that she be addressed with the female version of the title “Kosmitorissa” – this loneliness was greater, Kogidou said.
“I did not feel uncomfortable since the representation of women academics in the administration hierarchy is very small. Halfway through my term we were only two and then I was alone. It is no accident that, even though I had prior administrative positions and experience, there was no lack of ‘advice’ from other colleagues experienced in administration issues on how I should exercise my role. Even that I should not be involved with LGBTQI issues because that would undermine my prestige. ‘Isn’t it enough that you’re involved with feminist issues, you’re also concerning yourself with…’ I don’t want to repeat the abusive language about this group. Enough of this kind of talk was heard recently regarding the bill for legal recognition of gender identity.”
Reporting bad practices or sexism from a position without power was not such an easy thing, Kogidou pointed out: “Many women pay a price of silence for their academic advancement. We women academics operate in a male-centred structure and under-representation in the administration makes the silence louder.”
On her decision to insist on the title “Kosmitorissa” rather than the more customary forms of the title, she said it was accompanied by non-sexist language and policies to fight sexism on several levels.
Katia Goulioni: Equality that worships inequality
“The examples of inequality between the two sexes are so many that they bombard the way we express things,” Goulioni noted. Words such as terrorism, inflexibility or censorship had a female gender in Greek, she pointed out, but the fear they engender was definitely male.
“Who cares about grammar in an age of so much inequality and division, though? I refuse to process the inequality of the two sexes through my profession because this is yet another distinction that obscures from me the essence of this mechanism of fear. The journey to my work has already made me accustomed to fear,” she said.
“The example of Harvey Weinstein shows us 30 seemingly liberated women who were frightened to talk about the sexual harassment they experienced for all these years. The diseased of the shut mouth. These women, because of their fear, are both the cause of the disease and its victim. The issue, therefore, is not to pinpoint or find examples but to find the root of precisely that fear that does not even allow us to talk about inequality.”
Maria Zyga: Women continue to struggle for a better position
“Some roles are not given up by female nature, even in conditions of equality. In the face of the new millenium, Greek women must continue to strive for the position they deserve in a climate of small, even imperceptible, inequalities at their expense, without the pressure of the recent decades.”
A doctor in Greece’s national health service, Zyga said that the female presence had increased in recent years as a result of the greater expectations of women.
“In the health sector and in relation to the parameters of the study, I would not say that they concern only women, since the extended economic crisis has had repercussions on the health services provided.”
“The issue is not the laws but the behaviour and the attitudes regarding the role of women that unfortunately exist in Greek society, fortunately expressed by a small number of people.”
The problem areas, in her opinion, were those of power and time. “A quarter past eight in the morning. A jumble of white coats in the corridor outside the surgeries. A new day begins with the same demands as the previous days. At midday, usually it’s the mothers that run to pick up the children from school, food is prepared by women 99 pct of the time, helping children with homework, doing housework.”
“The day begins at 6:00 in the morning and ends at midnight. You simply wonder that you didn’t manage to do something for yourself but, unfortunately, the next day will be the same. This is for me the most problematic area since the State has not created the kind of support structures that would allow a woman to have free time, to continue her studies, become involved with trade unions. Usually women get ‘left behind’ professionally or settle for something less, in order to be able to meet the demands of being a mother, wife and running a home.”