ATHENS, GREECE – Efforts to combat domestic violence in Greece lag far behind those of other European countries, with deep-seated prejudices often leaving victims afraid to seek help, say experts and battered women themselves.
Maria, a civil servant in her 30s, said she was told at an Athens police station after her then boyfriend beat her up: “If you don’t file a complaint now, you deserve being beaten.”
In a side street near Athens’ city hall, Agapi Gyrichidi offers psychological and legal help to battered women.
In Greece the stereotypes are still great
“In Greece, the stereotypes are still great,” she said in the sober office of the Research Centre on Gender Equality (KETHI).
“Women think they have to be patient, that things will get better, that they will be bad mothers if they leave the home,” she told AFP.
“We try to give them the confidence to press ahead despite their fears.”
Maria, who declined to give her family name, said she hesitated for more than a year before denouncing her boyfriend.
The last straw came when he beat her up in an Athens street, leaving her with a black eye. While the police intervened, she had to make her way to the station unaccompanied and on foot.
At the police station, one officer “didn’t understand why my boyfriend was so violent, asking me: ‘what did you do to him?'”
Maria also told of negative comments aimed at her by neighbours.
“Lots of people think women are to blame for men’s behaviour, that this kind of violence… belongs to the private sphere and people shouldn’t get involved,” she added.
There was no compensation
Her ex-boyfriend was convicted but for other crimes — and there was no compensation.
In Greece’s patriarchal society, women are often cloaked in a blanket of silence and violence against them usually stays within the family, says Maria Stratigaki, a professor of social policy at Athens’ Panteion University.
“It is considered a private matter, the state doesn’t get involved,” added Stratigaki, who specialises in gender equality.
“The mentality is also fed by the influential Orthodox Church, which advocates a traditional image of the family where the man is the boss.”
Greece did not see its first centres for abused women until 2011 — “30 years after other European countries” — Stratigaki noted.
And they are financed with EU funds.
Greece is ranked last in the 27-member bloc in terms of gender-parity
“The state has not yet spent a single cent to support women,” said feminist Sissy Vovou, adding that Greece is ranked last in the 27-member bloc in terms of gender parity.
“Behind those closed doors… we struggle to have a precise idea of the violence done to women in Greece because statistics are unreliable,” said KETHI’s president, Theodosia Tantarou-Kriggou. “Many women do not lodge complaints.”
- At home 24/7 –
Greece’s State Secretariat for Gender Equality, with 62 centres including 20 shelters across the country, is trying to turn things around.
But in villages far from the capital, abused women hesitate to go to the shelters because they tend to be close to their homes, Vovou noted, adding that her group helps the women get to shelters further away.
Phone or video link
With Greece under lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, most consultations at the Athens centre are by phone or video link.
“Women have a greater need to talk,” Gyrichidi said. “They often feel like prisoners at home 24/7 with their mates.”
Emergency calls involving gender-based violence have surged 35 percent this year.
Maria Syreggela, Greece’s secretary of state for gender equality, said many women were encouraged to come forward by a government campaign with the slogan: “We stay home but we don’t stay silent.”
Professor Stratigaki added however: “A lot remains to be done to break the taboo.”