SONGSOPTOK: What, in your experience, is the status of a girl child in the family? Is she treated in the same way as the male child? If not, what are the major differences in treatment?

CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU:  Α girl in the Modern Greek family, as I feel myself as a mother of a girl and of three older boys, is not seen differently from the boy anymore. Parents face boys and girls as equivalent beings. In fact they are more attentive to the care of girls and are tender and protective with them. The freedom of action of girls is limited only by the fear of violence against women which continues to exist unfortunately in the Greek society to a lesser extent of course

SONGSOPTOK: Does the girl child have equal access to education in your country irrespective of economic or social status? What are the main factors that affect the equality or inequality of access to education?

CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU:  Yes, absolutely. Boys and girls in my country have the same opportunities before law and social believing to access education and to be highly educated, if they wish. A condition which was not like this before some decades. I think that the change came exactly because the law gave to women equal rights in their job and in society after the end of dictatorship in 1974 and the establishment of the democracy and of free thinking again. The factors that impede education in Greece is no longer racial or sexist but only class. The crisis is forcing many young people, boys and girls equally, to stop their studies or not to study what they dreamt because their families do not have enough money to support them during their studies anymore. Or young people are obligated to go abroad to find a job.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you think that women, contrary to men, always have to make a choice between home life and professional career? Is it fair either on men or women? What is your personal experience?

CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU:  Society nowadays demands the same responsibilities from female workers who are working outside their house as from men. So, it is not right a woman to be a super woman and to do everything she did before inside her house and also now outside her house and for her family, and in the same time her husband to be sitting relaxed on the living room’s couch. Anyway, lately in Greek society of financial crisis, but also some years before, this attitude started to change in modern couples, where often the equilibrium has been reversed, since the man suddenly and for years remains unemployed and alone with kids in house and his wife is the only one who works in the family, so he must undertake his wife's family responsibilities too. But prejudices which make women’ lives much difficult than men, have much room to further be abolished in this respect

SONGSOPTOK: Detailed studies have shown that there are very few women across the world who occupy really top positions both in the private and public sectors. How do you explain this fact? Do you think that women are less qualified to hold top jobs or are there other explanatory factors?

CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU:  In many countries women are under-represented at decision-making levels in most areas of public administration. Women and men have different priorities for developing policies and laws because of their different gender roles in the household and community, their occupations in labor markets and their access to key resources, such as capital, property and credit. Women’s leadership in the public sector, including the judiciary, is critical for increasing the capacity of public institutions to create policies and laws that respond to the different situations and needs of women. Strategic, forward-looking private sector firms recognize the importance of including women at senior levels of management to improve their competitiveness. Women managers at the highest levels continue, however, to have a meager share of corporate board and other executive positions around the world. Despite the odds against them, statistics show that since the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, women are slowly making inroads into male-dominated areas, particularly in political life. In 1995, women represented 11.3 per cent of all legislators in national parliaments. As of January 2008, they represented 17.9 per cent, the highest percentage in history (http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/world.htm), illustrating the very slow and uneven progress in women’s political participation. Participants from several countries identified constraints in the public sector, including:  Aspiring women may not have the level of education necessary for entry-level leadership positions in the public sector. Where women have been able to access positions of leadership, participants felt that women leaders needed to be supported with skills and capacity-building to perform effectively as policy-makers. Shola Oshodi-John from Nigeria noted that “the last ten years have witnessed the rise of more women leaders in different areas, especially in the private sector, media, civil society, among others. These women leaders have not only been able to hold their own among the male folks but have superseded their achievements in a number of areas. Unfortunately, there has not been a commensurate increase in women’s participation at the leadership level in the political and public sector, owing to patriarchy and male dominance.”

SONGSOPTOK: Even in the advance countries in the world, there is a large disparity between the number of men and women in political parties resulting in an under-representation of women in governments and elected councils. Do you agree with this point of view? What in your opinion are the main reasons?

CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU:  The classic liberal notion of equality was a notion of ‘equal opportunity’ or ‘competitive equality’. Removing the formal barriers, for example, giving women voting rights, was considered sufficient. The rest was up to the individual women. Following strong feminist pressure in the last few decades, a second concept of equality is gaining increasing relevance and support—the notion of ‘equality of result’. The argument is that just removing formal barriers does not produce real equal opportunity. Direct discrimination, as well as a complex pattern of hidden barriers, prevents women from getting their share of political influence. Equality as a goal cannot be reached by formal equal treatment as a means. If barriers exist, it is argued, compensatory measures must be introduced as a means to reach equality of result.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you think a larger participation and presence of women in all domains – economic, social and political- are actually required? Would it substantially improve the nature and quality of services and make the society a better place?

CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU:  Gender equality is not just about economic empowerment. It is a moral imperative, it is about fairness and equity, and includes many political, social and cultural dimensions. Gender equality, however, is also a key factor in self-reported well-being and happiness across the world.  In the aftermath of the Great Recession, there is now an urgent need to focus on the economic case and on how changes in the labour market might provide better economic opportunities for both men and women. Theere is a wide policy quest for new sources of economic growth; greater gender equality and a more efficient use of everyone's skills are an important part of the answer. The challenge of delivering long-term strong and sustainable economic growth that benefits all can only be met if best use is made of all available resources. Leaving women behind means not only forsaking the important contributions women make to the economy but also wasting years of investment in education of girls and young women. Making the most of the talent pool ensures that men and women have an equal chance to contribute both at home and in the workplace, thereby enhancing the well-being of both men and women, and more generally to society. In developing countries, the economic empowerment of women is a prerequisite for sustainable development, pro-poor growth and the achievement of all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Gender equality and empowered women are catalysts for multiplying development efforts. Investments in gender equality yield the highest returns on all development investments.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you think that for women the choice of a career and that of a family life with children should be mutually exclusive? Do you think that women who opt for both are not totally successful in either sphere? What is your own experience?

CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU:  If high childcare costs mean that it is economically not worthwhile for women to work full-time, if workplace culture penalizes women for taking a break to have a child or provide for elderly relatives and as long as women continue to bear the main brunt of unpaid household tasks, childcare and caring for ageing parents, it will be difficult for them to realize their full potential in paid work. In developing countries, if discriminatory social norms enhance early marriages or limit access to credit for women, the significant gains made in educational attainment for girls may not lead to increased formal employment and entrepreneurship, meaning a good career. The issues are complex and tackling them successfully means changing the way our societies and economies function. Men and women have to be able to find a work-life balance that suits them, regardless of family status or household income. Sharing childcare responsibilities can be difficult in a culture where men are considered uncommitted if they wish to make use of parental leave, and mothers are sidetracked from career paths. And if good-quality affordable childcare is unavailable, it may simply be impossible for many parents, especially those on low incomes, to work full-time and take care of their families.

SONGSOPTOK: What is your opinion about the role played by the mother in bringing up children? Do you think that mothers should take more responsibility for the well-being of the children more than the father given that other than breast feeding, almost every other responsibility can be equally shared between the parents? Please explain your answer.

CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU:  According to experts: The mother plays a more prominent role during the first 3 or 4 years of life teaching the infant valuable lessons of love & patience. (Doesn't mean that Dad can't do!) After that, the child will begin to primarily focus on the same sex parent (they learn how to be a lady for Mum, or how to be a man from Dad). During the early teens, the child will then shift primary focus onto a mentor - a role model of the same sex (a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, a "cool" teacher, neighbor or boss can fill this role). Children who don't find this relationship (especially boys) will rely on peers, which are a case of the blind leading the blind - you're just asking for trouble! I personally believe that both parents are equally important BUT they are important for different reasons. It could be compared to the way we love our children - we love them all equally but we treat them slightly differently according to their individual needs and characters. And so it is with parents, we need them both but to provide different roles.

PS - Apologies to single parent families. Admittedly there are definitely cases where the child is better off without a parent's influence. Raising a well adjusted child is absolutely possible in single parent families and I admire the strength and determination of any parent who is required to fill the role of both mother and father.

SONGSOPTOK: “Women have been called queens for a long time, but the kingdom given them isn't worth ruling” said famous American writer Louisa M Alcott. Do you agree? What, in your perception, is the kingdom given to women?

CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU:  Well I feel a queen but  only playing all  my roles as a teacher, a researcher scientist physicist, as a poet, as a mother, as a wife as a bad but efficient housekeeper. I do all these because my husband does the rest, and he is the right king for a great queen , me.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you agree that professional women have to work at least twice as hard as men to attain credibility in her chosen career? What is your personal experience? Do you think that it is a rule rather than an exception? What in your opinion needs to be done to bring greater equality in the workplace?

CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU:  I just found everything easy in men’world. I was always far better than all my male colleagues so I was born with credibility , I think… (humor) But I also said the truth. I never saw my male colleagues as something different than me and I always take my part of success just the same way as they do. I‘ve heard many other women though complaining about prejudices and injustice against their careers and about what they were able to succeed as women workers. I just believe that when a woman wants something nothing can stop her, she can deal with every barrier on her way, she can overcome every trouble. She is the creator of the nature, she is the nurturer and the one who cares for survival, she bares life, she does the most difficult job so nothing can stop her, if she really wishes it. At least in a place like Greece.

SONGSOPTOK: Women who choose to be ‘homemakers’ often feel that they are not respected by society in general since they do not go out to earn money, though they probably have to work harder and for longer hours. Would you agree? What needs to be done to really valorize the homemakers?

CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU:  I find the job of the homemaker really difficult; I am a bad homemaker, since I chose to run a career too. But I really admire the women who have the strength to choose and be enclosed in a house and care only for their family. I would be mad if I did only this. My character did never permit me to be “my home’s slave and queen simultaneously” as we say in Greece.

SONGSOPTOK: On the other hand, working women very often have to juggle their professional and personal lives to be perfect both at home and at the workplace. What is your personal experience? Do you think that a woman really have to be perfect in both spheres or is this idea self-imposed? In your society, what is expected of working women?

CHRYSSA VELISSARIOU: No one is perfect. The remaining of the patriarchal society in Greece also demands superwomen. This must be change. As I said before Men and women have to be able to find a work-life balance that suits them, regardless of family status or household income. Sharing childcare responsibilities can be difficult in a culture where men are considered uncommitted if they wish to make use of parental leave, and mothers are sidetracked from career paths. I finish my interview with one of my recent poems about women.


I'm burning
because I'm a woman
and women are burning stars
creating energy
which emit around them
I'm burning
because I'm a human being
and human beings' duty is being consumed
for others and nature
otherwise they are just beings
I'm burning
because I'm an artist
and artists are shining
from their internal peculiar beautiful light
I'm burning
because I'm a poet
and poets are urged to express
their shimmering and transparent soul
their word tends to set fire
to the old for the new
I'm burning
because I'm passionately in love
with life
I'm a wormhole
which leads the material inside from a black hole
to and out of a white hole
from nothing to everything
from destruction to creation
from death to new births

Megan Alexandra Dersnah, Women in Political and Public Life, Global Report for the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice

Professor of Physics, specialized in Space Physics, candidate Doctor in Education.  Prized by the Ministry of Education in Greece. Elected in the Municipality of her hometown. Published in Greek and English in over 20 Anthologies, internet magazines and two personal books. Activist for Peace. World Poetry Canada and International Ambassador to Greece 2014-2016 for Peace. 100TPC events organizer. More than 3000 poems on her blogs. She also writes in French and German

We sincerely thank you for your time and hope we shall have your continued support.

Aparajita Sen:
Editor, Songsoptok.)


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