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Monday, 7 March 2011

Women's Day 2011: Tomorrow's People

Sara Paz (l) and Artemis Konstantinidi
To celebrate Women's Day 2011, humanrightseurope called on two young women at the start of their professional lives, Sara Paz, from Spain and Artemis Konstantinidi, from Greece, to find out how 21st century Europe looks to them.

1.      Do you think that male dominance is more and more a relic of the past?

Sara (SP)
Yes. Maybe not in every part of the world and not amongst all people but worldwide the concept of 'male' as superior is becoming a notion of the past, related to ideas of  roles which are no longer conceived as they were during history.

Even though my generation tends to think women's rights were achieved long ago, the truth is women have been enjoying basic rights for only a few decades. Nowadays these rights are supported by law in some countries whereas in others they are still ignored.

Artemis (AK): Unfortunately, male dominance complex traits can still be found around us. This is a question of education and mentality, since sexism can even be faced in higher working structures. Nevertheless, modern society is more aware of gender rights than it was 40 and 50 years ago.

2.   How is your life different to that of your mother?

My mother was born during the sixties, when Spain was governed by a dictatorship where women could not even open a bank account or have a passport without men’s permission. I can now say both boys and girls have the same opportunities.  It is incredible to think about how things have changed so quickly.

Women who grew up in Greece during the 70’s saw important Greek women participating actively in social and working life, highlighting the importance of gender equality in society. However, they had a huge fight against sexist mentalities, and for their labour rights and pay parity.

Nowadays, women’s role in the Greek society has advanced, and women enjoy working rights and social life more than ever. Once they are married, they do not have to change their last name into their husband’s name.

Greek society promoted women’s emancipation, and women now represent 60% of university students, boosting female employment percentage as well. New career options such as the police and the army are now possible for women, too.

3.   Do you think that girls are still brought up differently to boys?

(SP): Yes, and this is an important issue to bear in mind because education is the base of future behavior. Traditionally, girls and boys have been conditioned by an environment aimed at reinforcing stereotypes. When you are a child you are taught the bases of you future personality which can be changed by socialising, studying or being able to develop a rational judgment but would be always conditioned by a primary education. The solution would not be making girls play just with trucks and boys with little kitchens but let both experiment and choose, and make sure stereotypes are not strengthened.

The majority of families are still based on the traditional model, so I believe there will always be a certain difference between the education of a girl and a boy. Even if parents are highly aware of gender equality, girls are brought up developing in their minds that a woman’s real fulfillment comes with the creation of a family, which allows them, especially in small communities, to feel socially correct.

On the other hand, as today’s parents both work, children develop a higher awareness of the importance of both men and women contributing at home.

4.   Did gender influence your academic studies?

I don’t think it did but it’s true that in my journalism class there was one man out of 10 women. We can’t deny that we are biologically different which means we are more likely to develop certain natural talents given by our gender, like communication in women or competitiveness in men. That does not imply, however, in some hypothetically perfect society not conditioned by heritage and culture, that women and men would be able to develop the same qualities. Even nowadays being part of on or the other gender does not psychologically exclude you from any professional activity.

No, gender issues did not influence my studies 

5.   Do you think your gender will influence the job opportunities you will have in the future?

I hope it won’t. However, I am really optimistic about the situation of my gender when trying to achieve professional  goals. In my opinion,  women are more intellectually prepared, as we are still trying to demonstrate we are able to do things as well as men. It is a long process which sometimes can include finding yourself in difficult situations where, as a woman, you have to prove something which men have already proved just by the fact of being men. Sometimes this special effort makes us desire to be better and consequently we can achieve our goals.

I hope gender issues will not influence my career.

6.   How is violence towards women treated in your country?

This is a very delicate issue. In 2010, 73 women died due to domestic violence. Spain has legislation regarding violence against women,  including special courts but legislation is strong on the paper and not effective in reducing the number of victims. This is a complex problem that should be treated not just legally but from the bases of education. Public awareness is already raised but in my opinion, it is still necessary to empower women in more traditional or disadvantaged sectors and to combat the lack of information in schools and other educational centers.

Despite the important steps made in Greece during the last 30 years, concerning the protection of women’s rights, this is still an important and everyday debate.

7.   Is feminism a relevant viewpoint for you and the young women that you know?

It is. We should not forget what we owe to some brave women (and also men) years ago - the ones who dared to fight for women’s rights and freedom. At least we owe them respect and the consciousness that unfair things can be changed and passivity just leads to conformism. Inequality should not be tolerated in any sector.

We are not talking, of course, about the same kind of feminism. This conception will be anachronistic as we now have different objectives and also different tools. First feminists fight for essential rights and they might have been right on being radical so that their voices could be heard. Now we fight against different problems. 

(AK): Traits of feminism can be found in every woman’s action, since today, women's lives are  based on feminist principles. What feminism wanted was gender equality and universal recognition of women’s freedom and active participation in life. The more women are allowed to choose for a better life based on their needs and choices, the more people can speak of real modern societies and help others.

8.   Women’s Day is a tribute to female achievement and the desire for progress. How can a human rights organisation such as the Council of Europe help women in their efforts to achieve gender parity?

Efforts to fight inequality are never wasted. Awareness and education are two important factors which may, in the long term, make the situation better. This can be done by forcing some countries to follow advice on what they should do to protect women but also by promoting projects and campaigns aimed at the younger generations who have grown up in a free environment with equal opportunities.

(AK): The Council of Europe’s campaigns are, in fact, an important tool to make states evolve their strategies and move on from theory to action.  Actually, human rights issues require states to be monitored even more closely.
9. In western countries, women are overtaking men academically. They are entering the professions in ever greater numbers.  Is Women’s Day still necessary at a time of ever more impressive statistics on female empowerment?

(SP): It is important because it is not only a symbol of recent achievements but a way of not forgetting there are still places where women don’t have fundamental rights. And even around us there are always things to improve.

Women’s Day is an annual campaign to remind people of the importance of women’s active participation in life, their strong will and unique contribution as wives, partners, mothers and professionals.

10. As a young woman, are you optimistic that the gender gap, in terms of opportunities and expectations, will be narrowed in your lifetime?


(AK): The prosperity of a country can be examined from the position of women in society and specifically their position at work. Modern societies have yet more work to do, starting by increasing women’s participation in decision-making and creating stronger structures for gender equality.

Maybe today’s youth, who now study and travel even more than their parents did, will become more sensitive to human rights issues and will be able to work better to ensure equality for both sexes. The gender gap has to be narrowed and women’s participation should be more highlighted, for an equal society.

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