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The Greek elections: Are women sharing the parliamentary 'pie'?

The right to vote has been central in feminist politics since the movement’s first wave. Despite the fact that in most countries, nowadays, female suffrage exists in the political system, we must not overlook that women participate in a system made by and serving men’s interests. 

It is therefore interesting to observe how women fare as candidates in electoral processes: particularly the upcoming general elections in Greece, due on June 25th

What to expect in the Greek general elections?

Two features define the upcoming Greek elections.

First, since the recession and the game-shifting it caused in the political scene, we have the conservative New Democracy (ND), and on the other hand, the “Coalition for the Radical Left” (SYRIZA). This results in the two major parties defining the opposing ends of the political charter. 

Second, these elections will be a second round to the last elections that took place earlier this year, on 21 May 2023. These saw the victory of ND with an astonishingly high percentage (40%), compared to SYRIZA (20%). However, since the last elections took place with a proportional electoral system introduced by SYRIZA, when it held the majority, ND was unable to win parliamentary majority. Since the majority is what ND wants, in addition to no opposition party agreeing to form a minority government, a second round of elections was announced and is due on June 25th

In terms of the electoral system, the upcoming elections will take place with a majority system. This was introduced by the ND government in 2019. What, however, is more interesting is the two major parties’ position on the role of women in parliament. 

In the context of these particular elections, SYRIZA has introduced a 50-50 gender quota in its candidatures. In general, quotas are specific criteria ensuring the election of a percentage of candidates from a particular demographic, such as women. The legislative reforms SYRIZA proposed when it held the majority are also significant. Civil partnership for same-sex couples and recognising the right to gender identity of every person over the age of 15 and without the requirements of parental consent or surgery, were among the most significant and radical legislation issued at the time. Moreover, SYRIZA proposed during the 2019 constitutional amendment for a general prohibition of all forms of discrimination based on gender (among others). 

The number of women ministers in the SYRIZA cabinet was significantly high for Greek standards, with women being appointed in ministries traditionally viewed as “male”. Effie Achtsioglu as Minister of Labour and Olga Gerovasili as Minister of Civil Protection are examples of such appointments.

On the contrary, the current ND government has an almost entirely male cabinet. After his party’s election, in 2019, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis stated that women are generally hesitant to go into politics. 

The few female ministers that are in the ND cabinet, as a rule, hold traditionally “feminine” posts. They also largely promote the party’s conservative agenda which, in no way, can be viewed as feminist. Minister of Education, Niki Kerameus, for instance, is known for her religious beliefs and, during her tenure, conservative think tanks associated with the Church of Greece tried promoting anti-abortion agendas in the school curriculum.

It must also not be forgotten that the ND government has passed one of the most conservative laws on child custody, as it imposes a system of obligatory shared custody between divorced parents, overlooking whether the parents’ divorce resulted from domestic or intimate partner violence. 

With the victory of ND in the upcoming election being near-certain, another four years of an ultra-conservative government is a bad omen for feminist politics. Despite increased the number of Greek women voting and actively participating in the elections as candidates (and even being elected), there is still a long way to go for Greece to achieve an equal representation of women in Parliament.

Quotas and proportional electoral systems may make the election of women easier, although they are not the only means for achieving equal representation in government. In the end, as the position of women within the two major parties indicates, it is not only the number of women represented but also the ideas they represent and how these are taken onboard that are of equal importance.