It then took more than twenty years for the principle of gender equality to be established writing, in the Constitution of 1975. Almost seventy years later, a judge, Katerina Sakellaropoulou became the first ever female President of Greece in 2020.
Sakellaropoulou described her nomination for a five-year term as “honoring both justice and the modern Greek woman.”
Fight for equality
The woman who initiated the struggle of Greek women to earn equal rights, Kallirhoe Parren (1861–1940) is considered the first feminist in the country. Establishing the first newspaper for women, Efimeris ton Kyrion (Women’s Journal) in 1887, Parren essentially launched the feminist movement in Greece. The first Greek feminist worked closely with European and American women’s movements for the establishment of equal rights for female citizens, including the right to vote.
Before 1930, the idea of Greek women voting was derided and in the newspapers of the time editorials spoke sarcastically against the right of women to vote. The notion of a woman casting a ballot was considered dangerous and to be avoided. The main argument against the practice was that women were hysterical, illogical and unpredictable when they had their period and since the menstrual cycle of all Greek women did not coincide, “what would the election date be?” as one editor wrote.
In 1930, Greek women were finally granted the right to vote — but only under two conditions: They had to be older than 30 years and they must have finished elementary school. The latter was actually a privilege that few women had at the time.
In the rest of Europe, women in Finland were granted the right to vote in 1906, in Norway in 1917, in Germany in 1919, and in Britain in 1928.
The first time that Greek women exercised their right to vote was in the municipal elections of February 11, 1934. However, the Athens voter rolls had only 2,655 ladies registered and only 439 of them actually went to the polls.
At the time, for many women of higher social class it was considered unladylike to vote. Prominent actress Marika Kotopouli did not want to vote because — as she said — voting was only “for ugly women and those who did not want to bear children.”
It was after World War II and the Greek Civil War that the issue of women’s rights once again came to the fore. Finally, the right for all women to vote in parliamentary elections — and the right to be elected — was granted on May 28, 1952. However, women did not go to the polls in November that year because the voter rolls had not been updated by that time.
In 1953, in a repeat election in Thessaloniki, the first female deputy was elected. It was Eleni Skoura of the Hellenic Alert party, who, along with Virginia Zanna of the Liberal Party, were the first women candidates for parliamentary posts.
In the next election, which took place on February 19, 1956, Lina Tsaldari of the National Radical Union (ERE) and Vaso Thanasekou of the Democratic Union were elected to the House.
Lina Tsaldari became the first female minister to take over the Ministry of Social Welfare in the Constantin Karamanlis government. In the same year, the first female mayor, Maria Desylla, was elected on the island of Corfu.
The Greek women’s movement unquestionably achieved its greatest victory when the principle of gender equality was established once and for all in the 1975 Constitution.