Women in Greece

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Women in Greece
Έλλη Λαμπέτη.jpg
Ellie Lambeti, Greek actress
Gender Inequality Index[1]
Value 0.146 (2013)
Rank 27th out of 152
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 3 (2010)
Women in parliament 21.0% (2013)
Females over 25 with secondary education 59.5% (2012)
Women in labour force 44.2% (2012)
Global Gender Gap Index[2]
Value 0.6782 (2013)
Rank 81st out of 136

The status and characteristics of ancient and modern-day women in Greece evolved from the events that occurred in the history of Greece. According to Michael Scott, in his article "The Rise of Women in Ancient Greece" (History Today), "place of women" and their achievements in Ancient Greece was best described by Thucidydes in this quotation: that The greatest glory [for women] is to be least talked about among men, whether in praise or blame.[3] However, the status of Greek women has undergone change and more advancement upon the onset of the twentieth century. In 1952, they received their right to vote,[4] which led to their earning places and job positions in businesses and in the government of Greece; and they were able to maintain their right to inherit property, even after being married.[5]

Women in Ancient Greece[edit]

Woman kneeling before an altar. Attic red-figure kylix, 5th BC, Stoa of Attalos

The status of women in ancient Greece varied from city state to city state. Records exist of women in ancient Delphi, Gortyn, Thessaly, Megara and Sparta owning land, the most prestigious form of private property at the time.[6]

In ancient Athens, women had no legal personhood and were assumed to be part of the oikos headed by the male kyrios. Until marriage, women were under the guardianship of their father or other male relative, once married the husband became a woman’s kyrios. As women were barred from conducting legal proceedings, the kyrios would do so on their behalf.[7] Athenian women had limited right to property and therefore were not considered full citizens, as citizenship and the entitlement to civil and political rights was defined in relation to property and the means to life.[8] However, women could acquire rights over property through gifts, dowry and inheritance, though her kyrios had the right to dispose of a woman’s property.[9] Athenian women could enter into a contract worth less than the value of a “medimnos of barley” (a measure of grain), allowing women to engage in petty trading.[7] Slaves, like women, were not eligible for full citizenship in ancient Athens, though in rare circumstances they could become citizens if freed. The only permanent barrier to citizenship, and hence full political and civil rights, in ancient Athens was gender. No women ever acquired citizenship in ancient Athens, and therefore women were excluded in principle and practice from ancient Athenian democracy.[10]

By contrast, Spartan women enjoyed a status, power, and respect that was unknown in the rest of the classical world. Although Spartan women were formally excluded from military and political life they enjoyed considerable status as mothers of Spartan warriors. As men engaged in military activity, women took responsibility for running estates. Following protracted warfare in the 4th century BC Spartan women owned approximately between 35% and 40% of all Spartan land and property.[11][12] By the Hellenistic Period, some of the wealthiest Spartans were women.[13] They controlled their own properties, as well as the properties of male relatives who were away with the army.[11] Spartan women rarely married before the age of 20, and unlike Athenian women who wore heavy, concealing clothes and were rarely seen outside the house, Spartan women wore short dresses and went where they pleased.[14] Girls as well as boys received an education, and young women as well as young men may have participated in the Gymnopaedia ("Festival of Nude Youths").[11][15]

It has been convincingly argued, based on records and laws from the various Greek states, that contrary to the popular scholarly notion that Sparta was unusual among the ancient Greek states, in fact it was Athens that was unusual in its low status for women[citation needed]. One possible reason for this is that the creation of the democratic system in Athens, which favored free-born adult males, led to an obsession among the Athenian citizenry with restricting wives' activities outside the home, so that they might not mingle with foreigners and slaves. The ancient Athenians feared the possibility of adultery on the part of women, since it could lead to uncertainty about the paternity of children, and according to law, if paternity could not be established, then the child could not be a citizen. Thus we see that the Athenian patriarchal system was not a natural facet of early Greek society but rather the result of ideologies which arose at a relatively late period in their history[citation needed].

Plato acknowledged that extending civil and political rights to women would substantively alter the nature of the household and the state.[16] Aristotle, who had been taught by Plato, denied that women were slaves or subject to property, arguing that "nature has distinguished between the female and the slave", but he considered wives to be "bought". He argued that women's main economic activity is that of safeguarding the household property created by men. According to Aristotle the labour of women added no value because "the art of household management is not identical with the art of getting wealth, for the one uses the material which the other provides".[17]

Contrary to these views, the Stoic philosophers argued for equality of the sexes, sexual inequality being in their view contrary to the laws of nature.[18] In doing so, they followed the Cynics, who argued that men and women should wear the same clothing and receive the same kind of education.[18] They also saw marriage as a moral companionship between equals rather than a biological or social necessity, and practiced these views in their lives as well as their teachings.[18] The Stoics adopted the views of the Cynics and added them to their own theories of human nature, thus putting their sexual egalitarianism on a strong philosophical basis.[18]

Women in the Greek War of Independence[edit]

Amongst the Greek warriors in the Greek War of Independence, there were also women, such as Laskarina Bouboulina. Bouboulina, also known as kapetanissa (captain/admiral) in 1821 raised on the mast of Agamemnon her own Greek flag and sailed with eight ships to Nafplion to began a naval blockade. Later she took part also in the naval blockade and capture of Monemvasia and Pylos.

Another heroine was Manto Mavrogenous. From a rich family, she spent all her fortune for the Hellenic cause. Under her encouragement, her European friends contributed money and guns to the revolution. She moved to Nafplio in 1823, in order to be in the core of the struggle, leaving her family as she was despised even by her mother because of her choices. Soon, she become famous around Europe for her beauty and bravery.

Contemporary period[edit]

During the past decades, the position of women in Greek society has changed dramatically. In 1983, a new family law was passed, which provided for gender equality in marriage, and abolished dowry and provided for equal rights for "illegitimate" children.[19][20] [21] Adultery was also decriminalised in 1983. The new family law provided for civil marriage and liberalised the divorce law. In 2006, Greece enacted Law 3500/2006 -"For combating domestic violence"- which criminalised domestic violence, including marital rape.[22] Law 3719/2008 further dealt with family issues, including Article 14 of the law, which reduced the separation period (necessary before a divorce in certain circumstances) from 4 years to 2 years[23] Greece also ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings in 2014.[24] As of 2014, there are 21.0% women in parliament.[25]

Family dynamics remain however conservative. The principal form of partnership is marriage, and extramarital childbearing and long term cohabitation are not widespread. For instance, in 2012 Greece had the lowest percentage of births outside marriage in the European Union, at only 7.6%.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Table 4: Gender Inequality Index". United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved 7 November 2014. 
  2. ^ "The Global Gender Gap Report 2013" (PDF). World Economic Forum. pp. 12–13. 
  3. ^ Scott, Michael. The Rise of Women in Ancient Greece, History Today, Volume: 59 Issue: 11 2009
  4. ^ http://www.db-decision.de/CoRe/Greece.htm
  5. ^ Hitton, Shanti. Social Culture of Greece, Travel Tips, USA Today
  6. ^ Gerhard, Ute (2001). Debating women’s equality: toward a feminist theory of law from a European perspective. Rutgers University Press. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-8135-2905-9. 
  7. ^ a b Blundell, Sue (1995). Women in ancient Greece, Volume 1995, Part 2. Harvard University Press. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-674-95473-1. 
  8. ^ Gerhard, Ute (2001). Debating women’s equality: toward a feminist theory of law from a European perspective. Rutgers University Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-8135-2905-9. 
  9. ^ Blundell, Sue (1995). Women in ancient Greece, Volume 1995, Part 2. Harvard University Press. p. 115. ISBN 978-0-674-95473-1. 
  10. ^ Robinson, Eric W. (2004). Ancient Greek democracy: readings and sources. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 302. ISBN 978-0-631-23394-7. 
  11. ^ a b c Pomeroy, Sarah B. Goddess, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity. New York: Schocken Books, 1975. p. 60-62
  12. ^ Tierney, Helen (1999). Women’s studies encyclopaedia, Volume 2. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 609–610. ISBN 978-0-313-31072-0. 
  13. ^ Pomeroy, Sarah B. Spartan Women. Oxford University Press, 2002. p. 137
  14. ^ Pomeroy, Sarah B. Spartan Women. Oxford University Press, 2002. p. 134 [1]
  15. ^ Pomeroy 2002, p. 34
  16. ^ Robinson, Eric W. (2004). Ancient Greek democracy: readings and sources. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 300. ISBN 978-0-631-23394-7. 
  17. ^ Gerhard, Ute (2001). Debating women’s equality: toward a feminist theory of law from a European perspective. Rutgers University Press. pp. 32–35. ISBN 978-0-8135-2905-9. 
  18. ^ a b c d Colish, Marcia L. (1990). The Stoic Tradition from Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages: Stoicism in classical Latin literature. BRILL. pp. 37–38. ISBN 90-04-09327-3. , 9789004093270
  19. ^ Marcos, Anastasios C, and Bahr, Stephen J. 2001 Hellenic (Greek) Gender Attitudes. Gender Issues. 19(3):21-40.
  20. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/1983/01/26/world/around-the-world-greece-approves-family-law-changes.html#
  21. ^ Demos, Vasilikie. (2007) “The Intersection of Gender, Class and Nationality and the Agency of Kytherian Greek Women.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. August 11.
  22. ^ http://www.isotita.gr/en/index.php/docs/c81/
  23. ^ http://www2.ohchr.org/English/bodies/cedaw/docs/54/CEDAW-C-GRC-7.pdf
  24. ^ http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/Commun/ChercheSig.asp?NT=197&CM=8&DF=&CL=ENG
  25. ^ http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm
  26. ^ http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/tgm/table.do?tab=table&plugin=0&language=en&pcode=tps00018

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