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The History of Feminism in Greece

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Women protesting in Athens. The sign reads “I’m not my father’s, I’m not my husband’s, I want to be myself.” Feminism has a long history in Greece. Credit: Public Domain

While there were some proto-feminists in ancient Greece, feminism as a movement began in Greece in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when women across the US and Europe began fighting for their rights.

Women from the US, UK, and Ireland in particular sparked an international feminist movement in the mid-nineteenth century, when they began advocating for women’s suffrage and other feminist causes.

For centuries, Greece, particularly in the rural areas, was an incredibly patriarchal society in which women were not afforded equal rights in the home, school, or workplace. Women in Greece did not gain the right to vote until 1952.

Kalliroi Parren and the early feminist movement in Greece

Kalliroi Parren (also known as Kalliroi Signaou), is widely considered to have founded the feminist movement in Greece. Born in Rethymno, Crete in 1859, Parren received a high quality education in some of the best schools in Greece at the time.

Fluent in Russian, Italian, French, and English, Parren was highly intelligent and dedicated to spreading knowledge, a passion that led her to become a teacher.

After traveling around the world to teach girls, Parren settled in Athens and married the French journalist Jean Parren.

While in Athens, Parren became focused on women’s rights to equal educational and employment opportunities, ideas which were unheard of at the time.

She focused less on suffrage, as she believed providing women access to employment and education would slowly but surely allow men to understand that women’s suffrage was necessary.

Parren began a feminist newspaper entitled Ladies’ Journal (in Greek, Ephemeris ton Kyrion) in 1887. The publication was radical in that it was run entirely by women, and Parren often featured the work of the most famous and talented contemporary Greek women writers. The paper ran until 1917, when Parren was exiled to the Greek island of Hydra by Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos because she opposed Greece’s position in World War I, favoring the Triple Entente.

The Ladies Journal was incredibly influential in that it exposed Greek society to the concepts of equality, feminism, and women’s rights, which were not prominent ideas at the time, and mirrored the changing role of women in Greek society, particularly in major cities like Athens.

Women in Greece gained right to vote in 1952

The movement faded into the background until the 1950s, however, as Greece suffered a series of national tragedies, including the Asia Minor Catastrophe in 1922, the Nazi occupation of the country, and the ensuing Greek Civil War. Such events left little opportunity for feminism to develop in the country.

Following this period of turmoil, Greece set its sights to modernizing and westernizing the country. This involved not only a major migration from rural villages to cities but also to a re-examination of many traditional aspects of Greek society, including the roles of women.

Across Greece, women were still associated with the home and domestic life, and they did not play a major role in politics, art, or public life, except in a few isolated cases.

In 1952, Greek women finally gained the right to vote when Law 2159 was enacted, which was a major, albeit delayed, step toward equality of the sexes in Greece. The first election in which women were allowed to vote was in 1956.

After women gained the right to vote, their role in Greek society began to change. The number of women in the workplace and in higher education boomed in Greece during the 1960s and throughout the 1970s.

It was at this time that the strict romantic and sexual mores of conservative and religious Greek society began to change, as well. It became more commonly accepted for women to date and flirt with men, but it was still common for women to have a male relative escort them on dates, even in large cities.

While some progress was made in this area, there were still aspects of society that were very conservative, as the ultimate goal for Greek women remained marriage and a family.

Tragically, a woman’s “reputation” could make her a victim of honor-based crimes in Greece even at that time, particularly in villages, where the amount of time a woman spent outside of the home was considered to reflect poor character.

Additionally, although birth control was gaining popularity in the rest of Europe, it was not widely used in Greece. Abortion, however, although illegal in the 1960s and 1970s, was quite widespread amongst Greek women. In 1986, abortion was legalized in Greece.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Greek feminist publications questioning women’s roles in Greek society began circulating across the country. These texts often provided information and statistics about birth control and abortion and supported women who could not or did not desire to have children or get married.

Feminism vs. Greece’s archaic, oppressive family law

These publications particularly targeted Greece’s extremely conservative and oppressive family laws. At the time, Greek law required men to be the “head of the household,” implying that women were the wards of either their fathers or husbands. It also mandated that women take their husband’s last name upon marriage.

Additionally, although men could only legally be married at eighteen, women were considered to be at marriageable age at fourteen years old, and dowries were legal and widespread.

Under old Greek family law, illegitimate children, or children born to unmarried parents, were not granted the same rights as legitimate children. Adultery was also illegal, civil marriage did not exist, and divorce laws were extremely strict. There was no mention of domestic violence at all in the old Greek family law.

It was not until over twenty years after women gained the right to vote in Greece that they were fully protected under Greek law, however. In 1983, Greece signed and ratified the landmark “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,” which is one of the most progressive of such laws in Europe.

The 1983 legislation totally reformed Greece’s oppressive family law, as it provided for gender equality in marriage, abolished the dowry, expanded the divorce law, decriminalized adultery, and provided equal rights to children of unwed parents.

Since this law was passed, women in Greece have rarely taken on their husband’s last name.

Domestic violence, traditionally seen in Greece as a private issue, was still not extensively covered in the law, however, but this has begun to shift, as the Law 3500/2006, aimed at combating domestic violence, was enacted in 2006. The law criminalized domestic violence and marital rape.

Feminism in Greece today

Despite rapid progress made in terms of women’s rights, there are still many issues that Greek women face, particularly in the workplace.

According to research conducted around the country by the group ActionAid Hellas in 2020, an astounding 85 percent of Greek women say they have faced sexual harassment at work.

One in ten women who participated in the research claim to have been victims of attempted assaults at work while one in five report that they had been sexually blackmailed.

Only 6 percent of Greek women who say they faced sexual harassment in their workplace reported the incident to authorities.

Oftentimes, women hesitate to report incidents of sexual harassment in fear of retribution or loss of employment, something that could be disastrous for an employee in a country with a notoriously struggling economy and lack of employment options.

Additionally, and most disturbingly, victims fear that their claims will not be taken seriously if reported to authorities.

The recent uptick in disturbing murders of women, often by family members or romantic partners, called “femicides,” has led to a resurgence of feminism in Greece.

Femicide is a worldwide phenomenon, but the thirteen femicide cases recorded in the first ten months of 2021 in Greece was a mind-blowing number.

Last May, the Greek public was obsessed with, and eventually outraged by, Caroline Crouch‘s murder at the hands of her husband, Babis Anagnostopoulos, the self-confessed wife killer.

The Crouch femicide appears to demonstrate a system of collateral damage and light sentencing for men who kill their wives. It is also a consequence of a society that not only tolerates violence in general but also appears to still carry patriarchal, anachronistic ideas about a woman’s place in society.

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