In Greece, Challenges Remain for Women

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The United Nations Women’s Guild hosted a lecture on traditional gender roles in Europe with a particular emphasis on Greece. It was realized that the majority of Greek women today face new challenges not seen by previous generations.

The United Nations Women’s Guild hosted a lecture on traditional gender roles in Europe with a particular emphasis on Greece.

It was realized that the majority of Greek women today face new challenges not seen by previous generations. "The increasing cost of living is making it more difficult to resist becoming dual income households," according to research presented by Christine Schiwietz a scholar from American University in Washington, who addressed the United Nations Women’s Guild in New York City on Tuesday.

The data concurs with other studies on women in Europe. A recent report by the World Economic Forum entitled "Women’s Empowerment: Measuring the Global Gender Gap" found that no countries have entirely eliminated the gender gap. The study highlights the need for major improvement in Greece (which ranked 50th out of 58 countries) particularly as it relates to the lack of decision making power afforded to women as well as poor career prospects.

The report goes on to point out, "Countries that do not capitalize on the full potential of half their society are misallocating their human resources and undermining their competitive potential."

The European Union initiated a strategy for Gender Equality in 2001 to address these very issues by the end of the decade. Ms. Schiwietz summarized to the Women’s Guild that "The European Model for Gender Equality sets to develop a modern and equal society via gender mainstreaming." The implementation of government policies which promote equality between men and women is known as gender mainstreaming.

Salwa Kader, Director with the UN Women’s Guild stated, "the relevancy of Ms. Schiwietz’s findings are applicable to women not only in Europe, but also around the globe." The United Nations Women’s Guild, formed after WWII was originally established to help needy children in war-torn Europe. The Guild is made up of women from dozens of countries who invite prominent intellectuals to talk about the important issues facing women and children.

"The challenge today in Greece is to move forward with progressive policies that will empower women" says Ms. Schiwietz a Greek American who conducted an in-depth qualitative analysis on mothers in Athens.

Changing the traditional role of motherhood

Ms. Schiwietz stated, "It is time to examine the experiences and challenges faced by mothers today. This is a topic of overdue attention. Mothering experiences must be considered to improve gender policies in Greece with regards to societal expectations, globalization, urbanization and socialization."

"Although Greece is still very traditional in regards to family, marriage and motherhood" according to Ms. Schiwietz, "modern mothers placed themselves in a different category to previous generations. They are more educated, more aware of choices, and have high career expectations." This is in addition to the "traditional responsibilities of marriage and raising children."

These same mothers, Ms. Schiwietz noted, are also aware of financial disparities. Today, women in Greece earn 25% less than men in the same job according to Eurostat.

"Therefore we need to improve policies which address: family, labor, childcare, and education to foster greater equality. Greece will strongly benefit from improving these areas," said Ms. Schiwietz.

Mothers in the workforce – Choice or necessity?

Recent data suggests that the majority of Greek university graduates are females. These women are more educated and seek good jobs with advancement opportunities. Ms. Schiwietz noted that a challenge faced by women is the notorious ‘glass ceiling,’ employment discrimination, particularly after childbirth as well as difficulty in ‘cycling’ back into the workforce.

Working mothers also face what is known as the ‘second shift’ a term devised by Arlie Hochschild to describe the experience of returning home to a husband and children after a full day of work.

Childcare – a chief concern

Her research on motherhood in Greece spotlights childcare as a chief concern. Many mothers find themselves entirely dependent on grandmothers for childcare. Although seemingly practical, some modern mothers believe that solely leaving their children in the care of their extending family (i.e. grandmothers) is not capable of meeting the needs of today’s modern expectations. To many families, private day care is not a feasible option.

Subsequently, the interviews illustrated that mothers repeatedly pointed to the explosion of private schools in Athens and their loss of faith in the public school system. The mothers in the study cited large classrooms, outdated teaching methods and the influx of immigrants as major concerns.

Three recommendations for Greece

In her conclusion, Ms. Schiwietz stressed that engaged research continues to identify the differences in "roles, responsibilities, opportunities, needs and constraints to implement equality between men and women."

Constructive measures can be adopted by lawmakers which will make gender and family policies more efficient within their member states and within the European Union model for Gender Equality. Christine acknowledged that although it is a slow process, "Gender equality must remain a national priority to develop a modern and equal society."

The suggestions put forth support policies aimed at working mothers. These include the need to:

1.Create affordable, good quality childcare.

2.Work towards closing the pay gap: support equal pay for equal work.

3.Promote fair and equal access to employment for women, including advancement opportunities, particularly after child birth.

The past years have improved the position of women, but more needs to be done to assure gender equality at all levels. It is a priority and women have a lot to expect from Europe and Greece. After all, gender equality can be seen as the indicator of a modern society.

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Nino Kader

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