[MGSA-L] Greek Women Try to Soften the Blow of Austerity

June Samaras june.samaras at gmail.com
Wed Jun 8 17:33:38 PDT 2011

Greek Women Try to Soften the Blow of Austerity

Eirini Vourloumis for the New York Times
Natalia Papapetrou is a 36-year-old architect who has been out of work
for five months. Though vastly overqualified, she has even tried
applying for a job as a cashier at her local supermarket in Athens.
Published: June 6, 2011


ATHENS — As the debt crisis in Greece hits male-dominated sectors like
construction and thousands of men lose their jobs or suffer from
salary cuts, Greek women are making a brave effort to become the
breadwinners. Few are finding any joy.

In a series of articles, columns and multimedia reports, The
International Herald Tribune examines where women stand in the early
21st century.
Previous Articles in the Series »
Follow the The Female Factor on Facebook »
“It’s an attempted defense against the crisis,” said Maria Karamesini,
an associate professor of economics at Panteion University who briefs
the European Commission on gender equality issues. “As joblessness
rises among men, a growing pool of women are seeking to offset losses
in household income,” said Ms. Karamesini, 51, who has been supporting
her husband since early 2009 when he lost his job as an architect.
“Most aren’t finding work, of course.”

Natalia Papapetrou, a 36-year-old architect who speaks three
languages, never expected to apply for work as a cashier at her local
supermarket in Athens. But five months after losing her job as an
administrative assistant to a state-run organization, and 18 months
after her husband lost his, the responsibility of feeding two children
weighed heavily.

The couple moved their elder daughter from a private school to a state
school, and their parents are helping with mortgage repayments. With
virtually no money coming in, finding work has become a pressing

“I’m willing to do anything,” said Mrs. Papapetrou, who has applied
for dozens of positions in stores and offices, but has yet to get a
single offer.

Government statistics show that unemployment among Greek women rose 4
percent in the last quarter of 2010, reaching 17.9 percent, compared
with an average of 9.7 percent in the 27-member European Union. For
Greek women aged 29 and under, the rate stood at 33 percent.
Joblessness among men increased by about the same rate, reaching 11.5
percent compared to an E.U. average of 9.5 percent.

The spike in male unemployment reflects months of layoffs that have
fueled frequent angry protests in Athens. But there have been no mass
redundancies in female-dominated areas like the public sector and the
service industry — at least not yet. So the main reason for the rise
in women’s unemployment would appear to be the unsuccessful search for

Economists at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development in Paris are drawing the same conclusion. According to the
agency, the labor force participation rate among Greek women (those
either employed or actively looking for a job) increased 2.9 percent
over the past three years — nearly triple the 1 percent E.U. average.
But the employment rate for Greek women fell 0.8 percent in the

“This shows that Greek women ventured into the labor market in a bid
to cushion the impact of the recession on their family’s income but
often failed to find a job, at least one that is reported to the
government,” said Paul Swaim, principal labor economist at the
O.E.C.D. Mr. Swaim noted that in Spain, where unemployment among women
is above 20 percent, there had been a similar reaction. In Ireland,
also weathering a tough recession, discouraged women tended to give up
the job search.

In the 1990s, after the fall of communism, many women in former Soviet
and East European countries became the main breadwinners — or tried to
— after their husbands lost their jobs in the transition to a market
economy. Many women also lost jobs after the closure of Soviet-era
factories and plants. Some resorted to menial work, often being paid
under the table, while caring for children and trying to console
unemployed spouses who lapsed into apathy, alcohol abuse or violence.
A handful managed to open small businesses. Others, failing to find
jobs, moved abroad.

Oxana Ovseenko, for example, came to Athens in 1997 from Ukraine. She
has worked ever since as a cleaner in the offices of a shipping
company, sending money to her husband and son who earn a pittance as
security guards back home. “In my country, all women work and they
have to keep the family together, too,” said Ms. Ovseenko, 50, who was
a textile factory worker back home.

Although the Greek economy is very different to the post-Soviet one,
Greek women face similar challenges — and the same lack of options.

Both private and public sectors are contracting. Tourism is virtually
the only sector driving the Greek economy, and even it has been hit by
the crisis, though there are signs of a recovery this year as unrest
in the Middle East diverts visitors to Greece from places like Egypt,
Tunisia and Morocco.

In a series of articles, columns and multimedia reports, The
International Herald Tribune examines where women stand in the early
21st century.
Previous Articles in the Series »
Follow the The Female Factor on Facebook »
The prospects for female entrepreneurs are also slim as small
businesses, which constitute 96 percent of all enterprises in Greece,
are closing at a rate of one in four.

A new law, foreseeing just one hiring for every five departures in the
civil service, will affect women more than men. Of Greece’s female
university graduates, up to 60 percent traditionally enter the public
sector, according to Ms. Karamesini, of Panteion University.

“The state used to represent a guaranteed source of employment for
women and had boosted gender equality,” she said. “This is a big step

A tough austerity program leaves the government little scope for
initiative. In a statement in April, Greece’s labor minister, Louka
Katseli, heralded two new programs aimed at integrating women into the
job market and encouraging them to start their own businesses.

But she also recognized the hurdles. “Women who have lost their jobs
or who were not working due to external factors now face great
difficulties in reentering the market,” she noted.

With full-time jobs increasingly elusive, many women are settling for
part-time work like waiting on tables in cafes and restaurants where
employers often do not pay social security contributions. As these
jobs are not recorded, there are no statistics, but anecdotal evidence
suggests a trend.

Anna Stylianou, 29, lives in the northern port of Salonika where
unemployment among women is above 20 percent. A qualified nurse unable
to find work, she took a part-time job at a cafe in February when her
husband’s salary at a construction firm was cut in half. With a total
monthly income of €1,200, or $1,750, and rumors of layoffs at the
company, the couple’s childbearing plans are on hold. “We can’t have a
baby with all this uncertainty,” Ms. Stylianou said.

Some mothers in low-income groups have been overwhelmed by the cost of
raising children. SOS Children’s Villages, a charity organization that
provides housing for children in several cities, including Athens and
Salonika, reported a 45 percent increase in applications from single
mothers last year.

Although traditionally tight family bonds mean many Greek women
benefit from relatives that help with childcare, others must employ
babysitters. As cutbacks close state daycare centers, more women will
be obliged to hire domestic workers, but dwindling salaries will mean
a struggle to pay the help. “This is an expense that fewer and fewer
women will be able to afford,” said Maria Stratigaki, head of the
government’s general secretariat for gender equality.

Her office has recently created a phone line for victims of domestic
violence. She said such violence did not show up in statistics, but
seemed to be rising. “Open a newspaper any day and you’ll see at least
one report about a killing or beating in the home,” she said.

Violence in the home often rises when money worries add to tension,
Mrs. Karamesini said.

“I don’t know of a household that is free of tension right now,” she
said. She is worried that juggling motherhood with working life will
become increasingly unaffordable, and that the already plummeting
birth rate of 1.3 children per woman may fall still further.

“How are women going to have children in such a difficult job market?”
she asked. “It’s a lost generation.”


June Samaras
2020 Old Station Rd
Canada L5M 2V1
Tel : 905-542-1877
E-mail : june.samaras at gmail.com

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