Recent legislative developments in equal opportunities

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The second half of 2000 and first half of 2001 saw a number of changes to the legislative framework on equal opportunities for women and men in Greece. A new law has introduced a quota system in public sector governing councils, administrative boards and collective bodies, while the Constitution has been amended to allow for positive measures to promote equality between women and men.

Two recent changes to Greece's existing legislative framework are aimed at promoting equality of opportunities between women and men, both in society and at work. Law 2839/2000 introduces, among other provisions, a quota system in governing councils, administrative boards and collective bodies in the public sector, and Article 116 of the Constitution has been amended to allow for positive measures to promote equality between women and men. Below, we set out the new provisions in detail, together with the basic reasoning behind their introduction.

Law 2839/2000

In September 2000, with the passage of Law 2839/2000 on the 'Regulation of matters regarding the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Public Administration and other provisions', a gender quota system was introduced for the first time in governing councils, administrative boards and collective bodies in the public sector.

Article 6 of the new law, on 'regulation of matters regarding the General Secretariat for Equality', specifies that in every governing council in the public authorities, in bodies corporate under public law and in local authorities, at least one third of those appointed by the relevant administration to the council must be members of each sex, providing that the number of employees in the said authority is sufficient and meets the legal conditions for appointment, and provided that the number of members appointed is more than one. Any fraction equal to or greater than one half is rounded up to the next whole number.

The same one-third quota holds for cases where members of administrative boards or other collective administrative bodies in public- or private-law bodies are appointed or recommended by the state, by public-law bodies or by local authorities. The provisions in such cases shall be applied to governing councils, administrative boards and collective administrative bodies set up after the present law has come into effect.

According to paragraph 2 of the same Article, by decision of the general secretary of the General Secretariat for Equality at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Public Administration and Decentralisation, a Regional Equality Commission shall be set up in every region. Such commissions will make recommendations and report to the competent bodies in the region, as well as to the General Secretariat for Equality, on whether the necessary actions have been taken and whether gender equality has been promoted and put into place in all sectors. In addition, the regional commissions will organise events and promote discussions, conferences and educational programmes aimed at achieving equality between the sexes in the region concerned. The commissions will examine at the regional level the structures and bodies which promote gender equality and promote links and coordination between local authorities, non-governmental organisations and social bodies in the region with regard to matters of equality between the sexes. The commissions will make recommendations to the regional councils in their region on the inclusion in the collective project decisions for the region of projects for the purpose of enacting equal opportunities for both sexes into law, and of raising awareness and providing information to citizens of the region on matters relating to gender equality.

According to the preamble to Law 2839/2000, it implements the EU Council Recommendation (96/694/EC) of 2 December 1996 on the balanced participation of women and men in the decision-making process. The preamble states that the new provisions seek to achieve balanced participation of men and women in decision-making processes in government and public- and private-law bodies in the public sector, as well as in the regions and the local authorities of the first and second degree, on the grounds that:

  • women continue to be underrepresented in decision-making bodies in the political, economic, social and cultural sectors;
  • balanced participation of men and women in the decision-making process is a necessity in a democracy;
  • poor representation of women in decision-making bodies is partly due to the fact that women have only recently achieved equality in civil and political rights, to the obstacles they face in achieving financial independence, and to the difficulties of reconciling work and family life;
  • women's minority representation in decision-making bodies is a loss for society as a whole, and may prevent the interests and needs of the whole population from being taken fully into account; and
  • the measures aimed at achieving balanced participation of women and men in decision-making processes in all sectors should go hand-in-hand with incorporation of equality of opportunity between women and men in all policies and actions. A balanced participation of women and men in the decision-making process is expected to help create different attitudes, values and behaviours, aimed at a fairer and more balanced world both for women and for men.

The revised Constitution

A further legislative measure relating to the promotion of equality of opportunity between women and men is the amendment of Article 116 of the current Greek Constitution, as agreed by the Revisionary Parliament of the Hellenes (the body responsible for revision of the Constitution) in April 2001. In the revised Constitution, paragraph 2 of Article 116 has been redrafted as follows: 'Positive measures for the promotion of equality between men and women do not constitute gender discrimination. The state shall ensure that inequalities which exist in practice, in particular those which are detrimental to women, are abolished.'

It should be noted that the amendment of Article 116 is in accordance with a recommendation regarding its wording submitted by Greece's women's organisations on 9 October 2000, though the clause does not include the term 'substantive' or 'real' equality as recommended by the women's organisations. According to the latter, the new clause in Article 116 is in accordance with:

  • the recent case law of the Greek Council of State, and in particular with decision No. 1933/1998, in which the Council of State ruled that 'positive measures', particularly when taken in favour of women to combat their 'social exclusion', are 'necessary' for the 'restoration of real equality between men and women';
  • European Community law and the case law of the European Court of Justice (particularly the Badeck decision of 28 March 2000 in case C-158/97), which deem 'positive measures', especially those in favour of women, to be necessary for achieving 'substantive equality between men and women'; and
  • the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which provides for positive measures in favour of women and the rapid achievement of real equality, and with other international human rights treaties.

Commentary

Without doubt, Law 2839/2000 and the amendment of Article 116 of the Constitution are steps forward in the effort to promote equality of opportunity between women and men in society and at work. In practice, however, women are lagging far behind men, both on the economic and on the institutional levels. That is why the principle of equality of opportunity between women and men must constitute a basic demand whose main objective is achieving real equality. This will require additional legislative measures, and inclusion of equality of opportunity between women and men in collective agreements and arbitration decisions, in the regulations of governmental and non-governmental bodies, in enterprises and in general in every act which is not a law or a regulatory administrative act in the strict sense of the term. (Eva Soumeli, INE/GSEE-ADEDY)

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