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Statements Special Procedures

End of mission statement by the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice to its visit to Greece

12 April 2019


Athens, 12 April 2019

During its official visit to Greece from 1 to 12 April 2019, the expert delegation, comprised of Elizabeth Broderick and Alda Facio, held meetings in Athens, Thessaloniki, and Lesvos. We also visited a school, a prison and a migrant and refugee camp. The experts shared their preliminary observations in the following statement:

We would like to extend our deep appreciation to the Government of Greece for inviting us to undertake this official visit and for its cooperation during the visit. We would also like to thank all our interlocutors: Government representatives, public officials, civil society organizations, school teachers, prison staff, camp management, individuals, and UN officials for their engagement and valuable insights.  In particular, we wish to thank those women prisoners and migrant and refugee women who shared their stories.

Context: A time of transition and opportunity

The prolonged period of austerity measures of the past years has impacted profoundly on every aspect of people’s lives in Greece.  Some 600,000 people, mostly young and educated, have emigrated and this, coupled with a low birthrate, has resulted in Greece losing 3% of its population between 2011 and 2016.  The arrival of unprecedented numbers of migrants and refugees since 2015, has added to the stress already imposed on the limited human and material resources.  We recognise that the challenges are many.

Due to deep-rooted stereotypes about the role of women in the family and in society, the austerity measures have disproportionately impacted on women. According to the Gender Equality Index among European Union (EU) countries, Greece is at the lowest end.

Our visit took place at a moment of optimism as the country emerges from this period and embarks on a new path of economic recovery.  We believe Greece now has a unique opportunity to simultaneously drive progress on gender equality and women’s human rights and strengthen its economy. The full and equal participation of women in the country’s recovery is essential and must be a priority. As we heard during our visit, “Gender equality is not a luxury for better times”.

These preliminary observations do not cover all issues of gender inequality but rather focus on the key issues drawn to our attention by the interlocutors we met during the visit. 

Legal and institutional frameworks are in place, but a greater focus on implementation and monitoring is needed, along with adequate resourcing

Legal frameworks

Greece has ratified nearly all the core international human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol enabling individual complaints. It has still not ratified the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families. Greece took the important step in June 2018 to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention), the first legally-binding instrument providing a comprehensive prevention, protection, prosecution and support framework to combating gender-based violence against women.

Greece has strong constitutional guarantees for equality between men and women and the right to equal pay for work of equal value. The Constitution requires the State to undertake positive measures to promote gender equality, including through affirmative actions. Marriage, family, motherhood and childhood are explicitly protected by the Constitution.

Further, an equal treatment legislative framework covering a range of areas has been established transposing and implementing EU Directives. We welcome the adoption on 26 March 2019 of the new Law No. 4604/2019 on the "Enhancement of Substantive Gender Equality, Prevention and Combating of Gender Based Violence". While the text is not yet available in English for full review, on the basis of discussions with relevant stakeholders, we welcome a comprehensive legal framework on substantive gender equality which goes beyond the concept of equal treatment to focus on equality of outcomes across all spheres of women’s lives.  We are pleased the framework focusses on multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, including sexual orientation and gender identities. Addressing gender-based violence and mainstreaming gender across the public administration through the establishment of equality bodies at the regional and local levels are integral parts of the law. Importantly, the law also includes combatting gender stereotypes in the education system and in the media. There is also a provision for a quota of 40% of candidates from each political party running for elections, which represents an increase from the current 33% quota.

Although a comprehensive legal framework for the protection and promotion of women’s human rights is in place, implementation lags behind.  This was pointed out by many of our interlocutors throughout the visit with one commenting “Our legislative framework is good, but when it comes to the application of the law we face serious challenges due to the obstacles of the old mindset and the old practices”. The lack of available data and strong monitoring capacity is also a key challenge that impedes progress.

Institutional mechanisms

The General Secretariat of Gender Equality (GSGE), located within the Ministry of Interior, is a governmental body dedicated to gender equality with a broad mandate of designing, implementing and monitoring the implementation of gender equality policies in all areas.  It runs an observatory on gender equality issues, providing a publicly available online platform which tracks and analyzes statistical data from different sources on a broad range of policy areas. The observatory is a useful tool for identifying progress or regression, thus providing a basis for advocacy and policy making. A challenge for the GSGE is its inadequate human and financial resources which limits its influence and capacity to achieve its full potential.

There is no dedicated independent national institution for monitoring and eliminating discrimination against women. Gender equality is included in the mandate of the Ombudsman’s Office, a national body with a dedicated department for equal treatment which includes gender equality, among several other grounds. The Ombudsman’s Office monitors discrimination mostly in the field of employment in both the public and the private sectors. Complaints on gender-based discrimination have increased from 40% in 2017 to 57% in 20181 and represent by far the largest number of all complaints handled by the Ombudsmen. There is limited jurisprudence on discrimination against women.  We believe that the Ombudsman should be able to seek leave to act as amicus curiae before the court on discrimination cases to provide expert opinion. We are pleased to learn that the Ombudsman’s office is working on ways to increase its visibility and raise awareness in the general public. Further investment in outreach is essential to ensure effective access to this important complaints mechanism by the most marginalized women.  

The Greek National Commission for Human Rights (GNCHR), a consultative and advisory body to the State, is an important independent voice on human rights, with ‘A-list’ accreditation.  The GNCHR does not have a dedicated focus on monitoring and eliminating discrimination against women embedded in its structure but addresses the issue in a crosscutting manner in different areas of its work. As an independent national human rights institution, GNCHR has a critical role in the monitoring of women’s rights and needs to be adequately resourced and able to function independently and effectively.

Women’s employment outcomes continue to be disproportionately impacted by the economic crisis and austerity measures

Women’s labor force participation

Despite the adoption of Law 3896/2010 concerning equality of opportunity and treatment, the deregulation of the labor market due to the growing financial crisis and the consecutive austerity measures continue to affect women negatively in the labor market, rendering them more vulnerable to poverty. This has been recognised by several international and regional monitoring bodies2.

In recognition of the adverse impact of the austerity measures on women’s employment, the National Action Plan for Gender Equality 2016-2020 sets out a number of targeted initiatives to strengthen efforts to enhance women’s access to economic opportunities and to reduce women’s unemployment and underemployment. Increasing women’s workforce participation will require economic and social policies to build women’s equal access to the labor market and deliver improved pay and conditions at work. 

Greece has always had low women’s labor force participation and one of the lowest rates of women’s employment in the EU.  One serious impact of the financial crisis and austerity measures is the high level of women’s unemployment and underemployment. In 2018, 23.7% of women in the active population were unemployed, compared to 14.7% of men. The data shows that the gender gap in unemployment has been prevalent for many years and in the period 2013 – 2018, the largest difference appeared in December 2017 (with 26% of women unemployed vs. 16.7% of men)3. This is a significantly larger gap than the EU average (0.5%)4

There is limited data on the size of the informal labor market. It is estimated that the magnitude of undeclared work is equivalent of 24% of GDP, which puts Greece among the countries with one of the largest undeclared economies in Europe. Informal forms of work include domestic work, cleaning, care for elderly and children, tutoring for students, employment in the hospitality sector, all sectors which have a higher share of female workers. The informal sector appears to be an under-studied sector requiring further attention by the Government.

Women’s employment in the private sector

We were unable to obtain meaningful sex-disaggregated data about women’s employment and representation in the private sector.  However, discussions held during the country visit reveal that discrimination against women whilst present in the public sector is also evident in the private sector and contributes to a national mindset that women should exit paid work earlier than men. Women’s representation on the top 50 publicly listed company boards has marginally increased from 7% in 2005 to 9% in 2017.  In the same period the EU average has increased from 15% in 2005 to 26.7% 2017.  The new law on substantive gender equality encourages the development of equality plans by both the public and private sector to prevent all forms of discrimination against women and to ensure their promotion to senior roles.  However these plans are voluntary in the private sector,  with the incentive of an “equality medal” to drive progress. Our Expert Group’s research reveals that mandatory and not voluntary interventions are the most effective way to increase the number of women at decision making level5. The requirement to regularly report and publish data on women’s leadership is another effective strategy.

We heard that in recent years, the economic context has meant that women have increasingly been employed in part-time or casual employment with reduced pay, conditions and security, as well as employment in precarious work. In the private sector, the rapid growth of flexible forms of employment as well as the replacement of contracts of indefinite duration by fixed term contracts has led to a reduction in wages and created a context where women are more fearful to report workplace gender-based violence including sexual harassment.

Women’s unequal share of unpaid care and domestic work

In addition to the loss of jobs associated with the crisis, the unemployment and under-employment of women in the labor market is due in part to the unpaid care burden which falls largely on women.

A major issue of concern for gender equality is the severe reduction of state provided care services for children and dependent persons (aged and disability care). This intensifies women’s unpaid care work, limiting their ability to take up even low-paid forms of employment, so they can better balance their caring responsibilities. At the same time, rigid stereotypes perpetuate the idea that caring is largely if not exclusively the domain of women. In Greece, 85% of women do cooking and housework every day for at least 1 hour, compared to only 16% of men. Greece has very low rates of childcare compared with other European countries6.  Men’s time caring for children and grandchildren in Greece is amongst the lowest in the EU.

Childcare is costly in Greece, with 61% of households giving “economic difficulty” as a reason for not using childcare7. School timetables do not correspond to normal working hours, which necessitates parents working less or relying on family members, usually women, to provide care. The Government is partially addressing these concerns though a “Harmonisation of Family and Work Life” funding programme. Additional policy measures and the better implementation of current measures are necessary to encourage higher rates of childcare and pre-school education. This will support parents, particularly women, to better balance paid work and care.

Prioritizing investments in social protection and public services is critical for ensuring that women benefit equally from the economic recovery. This includes investments in accessible, affordable and high-quality child-care, aged and disability care services to reduce the unpaid care workload for women and enable their economic participation. Further, resources are urgently needed to close the gaps in the social protection system, particularly those benefits that lift women and their families out of poverty. A key priority also is the introduction of measures to support more equal sharing of caring responsibilities between women and men, helped by increasing the entitlement of paid leave specifically for fathers which is low by EU and OECD standards.  This will require shifting the stereotype that caring is the domain of women.

Maternity protection

Women’s access to the labor market is also hampered by the lack of protection provided to employees who have been absent from work due to maternity or parental leave. As documented by the Greek Ombudsman, access to maternity leave is not uniform but rather differs based on employment status and employment sector, public and private.  Women who return to work following maternity leave, are legally entitled to return to the same job or an equivalent one, with no less favorable working terms and conditions, while benefitting from any improvement of their working conditions that they would have been entitled to, during their absence. However, in practice, a serious deficiency is observed in the application of the law for these matters, particularly in relation to women in high-rank positions8. Some working women face strict restrictions including the refusal to count the maternity leave period in the total length of service, negatively impacting their career development. In some cases, women are totally excluded from exercising their rights relating to maternity, wrongful dismissals from employment and changes in work terms, such as reduced hours, imposed by employers due to pregnancy and caring responsibilities. There are also gaps in regard to maternity protections for self-employed persons.

One of our interlocutors told us:

“Three times in job interviews I was told you’re a woman, you’re going to get pregnant, this will bring us a difficult situation so we cannot hire you”.

Sexual harassment in the workplace

Sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited under Greek law but there is no national data collected about its prevalence.  There is complaints data from the independent Ombudsman but it is likely that the number of incidents of sexual harassment that occur is much higher than those reported. Individuals are fearful to report such behaviour because they fear reprisals, stigmatization, losing their jobs or facing judicial counter measures9. We were told:

“Due to the financial crisis, acceptance of sexual harassment has increased.  The women need to keep their jobs”.

Stronger regulatory measures and accountability mechanisms in the public and private sector will be critical to progress change. The administration of a national survey to measure the prevalence of sexual harassment and discrimination related to pregnancy and return to work from parental leave is also recommended.

Education and the media hold potential to shift gender stereotypes


We are pleased to note the high level of educational attainment for girls at all levels, with 53.2% of those finishing secondary education being women and 52.7% of graduates from university female (GSGE). Women dominate in the arts and humanities, and health-related subjects, and are also in the majority in business and law subjects. They are the minority however in science and engineering-related subjects, signaling that more attention is needed in these areas.

Women’s achievement in education does not translate into their progression in the economic sphere or ensure their career advancement. Even in educational institutions women hold a lower percentage of senior leadership roles.  For example, whilst women make up two thirds of educational personnel in public high schools, they hold only 40% of director level positions, although this is improving over time.

In addition to enabling women and girls to achieve their potential, education can be a key site to shift rigid gender norms and stereotypes. Education on gender equality and gender norms starts in the family, continues at school, in the workplace and through society at large.  Many interlocutors considered that an increased focus on gender equality in education was a significant preventative measure to address the deeply held gender stereotypes that were inhibiting the ability of women to enjoy their rights fully.

In relation to gender equality education in the school curriculum, whilst we were pleased to learn from the Ministry for Education that there are three streams of gender equality, sexual orientation and gender identity content within the school curriculum, other interlocutors described the content as limited and on occasions piecemeal. Firstly, gender equality content is included in the “democratic citizenship” subjects which are mainstreamed throughout the school curriculum; secondly, there is a small amount of gender equality content built into religious instruction which involves asking students to reflect on the place of women in religion and finally gender equality and gender identity is included as one subject choice for the thematic week conducted in every school once a year.  However, in the thematic week gender equality is one choice among many and whilst there is no data, we were told it is a theme that is not often selected. Additionally there appears to be a gap in the teaching of comprehensive sexuality education.

When we asked about the effectiveness of school-based education to combat gender based stereotypes we heard “gender equality education is sporadic, is not consistent, not developed and not really part of young people’s lives”.  Given this prevailing narrative we believe it would be valuable for the government to evaluate the effectiveness of the current curriculum with a view to strengthening it so it is delivered in a systematized manner.

Promising practices observed in other countries include a ‘whole school approach’ where gender equality is embedded into the main curriculum throughout all subjects.  Gender equality is prioritized as a core value of the educational institution and guidance is provided to teachers on the mandatory teaching of gender equality issues. The objectives of the course work are to present a realistic picture of the status of women and men in society; demonstrate that gender stereotypes are damaging for everyone; help children critically analyse cultural gender constructs; foster positive norms of respectful and equal relationships; and importantly, raise awareness and encourage action on women’s rights. Gender equality education as part of human rights education, is indispensable for shifting problematic gender stereotypes which hold back both women and men and also for addressing the problem of gender-based violence, including harassment and sexual harassment.


In 2016, the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Information entered into a memorandum of cooperation with the GSGE to identify and eliminate gender stereotypes in the media. Research identified that some 31% of 1,500 print articles reviewed, reproduced gender stereotypes.  In only 9.5% of these articles are women presented as experts. Recognizing this problem, the new law on substantive gender equality requires the mass media (print, electronic and advertising) to promote gender equality by not reinforcing adverse gender stereotypes.  This requirement is implemented through the codes of conduct and self-regulation mechanisms for public communication entities, and data will be collected by the GSGE.  We welcome this positive development given the prevalence of gender stereotyping in the media and the influential role of the media.  The National Radio and Television Council plays an important role in issuing guidelines and monitoring compliance. To be truly effective, the Council should undertake proactive measures and be adequately resourced.

Women remain under-represented in political and public life

Political and Public Life

Women’s participation in the political life of the country lags behind at every level – national, regional, local and European. Although there has been gradual progress over the years, change has been too slow.

At the national level, since the first women entered the Hellenic Parliament in 1952 when women in Greece obtained the right to vote and to stand for elections, women’s representation has increased gradually over the past decades but remains very low. Currently, with 18.7% women parliamentarians, Greece ranks 112 out of 191 globally and stands towards the bottom of all EU countries10. The current Government Cabinet has 13 women (5 ministers, 1 deputy minister, and 7 vice ministers) out of a total of 52 members, which amounts to 25% of the cabinet11.  The rate of women ministers is even lower at 21% (5 out of 24 ministers).

At the regional level, two out of 13 regional governors are women (15.4%), which is an improvement from the 0% in 2010. The representation of women in the regional councils at 19.5% is somewhat better. At the municipal level, merely 4.9% of the majors are women and the municipal councils have 18.1% women12.

There has been regression in Greek women’s representation in the European Parliament from 32% in 2009 to 28% in 2014, despite the introduction of the one-third quota system.

Women are well represented in the justice sector generally. In 2011, the first woman president was appointed to the Supreme Court. There has been a consistent increase of women judges in the Supreme Court from 2% in 2004 to 31% in 2014. 

In public administration women are generally well represented including at senior levels. Some areas of the public service remain male dominated. The Foreign Service now has 34.3% female diplomats although the number of women has been increasing over the last decade.  At the level of heads of missions and heads of directorates in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the rate is lower, at 27.5% and 30.6% respectively. 

The picture of women’s participation in the country’s political and public life calls for further actions, including reviewing the effectiveness of the quota system in the context of the current electoral system (focused on candidate selection rather than elected representatives). Additional measures should be adopted to encourage and support women to run for public office and support women candidates to have a better chance of success.

Non-Government Organisations and the Women’s Movement

We met with members of civil society who are actively engaged in working on issues relevant to women’s rights. Many of them work on the frontline assisting the needs of migrant and refugee women. These individuals and organizations have played an important role in the country’s response to the flow of migrants and refugees. Most are project based and face sustainability challenges. They have developed valuable experience and expertise and should continue to play a role in the current efforts of integration of refugees in the Greek society including through the implementation of the recently developed national integration strategy.

Non-governmental organizations working on broad issues of women’s rights and gender equality rely on committed volunteers and are in need of support and sustainable funding to play a transformative role in society for women’s empowerment and gender equality. They should be able to benefit from public funding aimed at strengthening civil society through a transparent and efficient process. Strategic collaboration and solidarity among women’s organizations will be essential in energizing the women’s movement for equality.

More measures to combat gender-based violence are needed

According to data collated by the EIGE, around 1 in 4 women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner at least once since the age of 15. Further, 5.8% of women reported physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in the last 12 months. 21 % of women who had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by any perpetrator in the past 12 months had not told anyone (8 percentage points higher than the EU average of 13 %)13.  

Responding to gender-based violence against women

We commend Greece for complying with the Istanbul Convention by including the prevention, prosecution and elimination of gender-based violence in law 4604/2019 and for amending Law No 3500/2006 on domestic violence to expand the scope of its application to cover members of the extended family (such as life partners and their children) and allowing injunctive orders to be issued against the perpetrator.

We are very concerned about the current proposed amendments to provisions in the Greek Criminal Code relating to rape.  They appear to be inconsistent with international legal obligations under the Istanbul Convention as they fail to introduce a consent-based definition and restrict further the circumstances in which the crime of rape can be established. We urge the government to ensure that the amended Criminal Code incorporates a consent-based definition of rape and are encouraged by reassurances from government interlocutors that the government will abide by its obligations under international law. We believe that the proposed reform of the Criminal Code provides an opportunity to have a wider social conversation on the stigma and stereotypes that surround sexual violence in general and rape in particular.

We were informed by government interlocutors that whilst mediation may not be mandatory under Greek law, it is routinely suggested to women victims of domestic and family violence. This is contrary to the Istanbul Convention which explicitly states that mandatory mediation should be prohibited.  The prevailing social norms in Greece related to the importance of the family unit and preservation of family unity, can present a significant barrier for women who wish to leave abusive relationships.

We are also concerned about the lack of gender disaggregated data in relation to crimes which would enable the tracking of femicide and domestic violence as mandated by the Istanbul Convention and General Recommendation 35 of the CEDAW Committee. Sex-disaggregated data on all forms of gender-based violence against women is essential to understanding its prevalence and tailoring response and prevention efforts.

Although we acknowledge that the constrained financial situation in Greece makes it more difficult to ensure a high level of services for victims of violence against women, we are concerned that there is uneven coordination of support services for victims of different forms of gender-based violence as well as programmes for perpetrators. There are currently 21 shelters for victims of gender-based violence across the country.  Demand on shelters has increased dramatically with the flow of migrant and refugee women.  There are insufficient shelters and emergency accommodation and inconsistent coordination of the different services. 

We welcome specific training for judges, prosecutors, police officers, health-service providers, journalists and teaching staff to increase awareness of all forms of violence against women and girls and, to ensure these actors are able to provide adequate gender-sensitive support to victims. We welcome the recent decision by the Police to establish dedicated domestic violence units with a view to enhancing their capacity to address gender-based violence sensitively and effectively.  We recommend that these units be established throughout the country as quickly as possible.

Preventing gender-based violence against women

As part of Greece’s efforts to prevent gender-based violence against women, we welcome efforts by the Prosecutor´s office, the GSGE and other state entities, to raise public awareness through the media and educational programmes. However, a more strategic approach to prevention is needed, including targeted and long-term education and awareness-raising on the causes and consequences of gender-based violence, particularly in rural areas.  Prevention efforts must also consider the diversity of women in Greece and their specific needs, especially those facing intersectional forms of discrimination or those in more vulnerable situations, such as minority, migrant and refugee women, women with disabilities, as well as older women and lesbian, transgender and intersex women. 

Marginalized groups of women experience greater vulnerability and exclusion

Migrant and refugee women

The Government, local authorities and people in Greece, as a first line reception country, have faced the challenge of receiving unprecedented numbers of migrants and refugees since 2015. New arrivals are still occurring daily. This has placed additional pressures on government resources, services and infrastructures. In close coordination with UNHCR, other international organisations and with support from civil society institutions, the Government has committed to upholding the principle of universal human rights such as access to education for all children and universal medical care to all including undocumented migrants and asylum seekers, and protection against GBV against women. However, in practice there are serious challenges and gaps.

We spoke with women migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Athens, Thessaloniki and Lesvos and visited women’s centres run by NGOs and Moria camp in Lesvos. We were struck by their stories of resilience and strength and their hope for a better future. We were impressed with the work of civil society organisations including those which provide space and support for women and their children. These organisations enable women to build confidence, empowerment and agency and we were fortunate to see this first hand at the Melissa centre in Athens and the Bashira centre in Lesvos.

There are a number of positive developments to support refugee women including the 2018 law 45/31 giving “undocumented persons” the right to report GBV without fear of deportation. Despite the law, survivors of GBV continue to lack access to support and safety. In some instances, women are unable to report their cases because of the lack of trained staff at police stations or their unwillingness to take the case considering it a “family matter”. The lack of interpretation at hospitals was systematically reported to us as a key concern directly affecting the ability of women to receive the medical care they need.

We learned that the overwhelming majority of the women in Moria Camp are considered vulnerable, from multiple points of view. Many have been victims of human rights violations in their countries and endured further suffering on their journeys including in the hands of human traffickers and smugglers. Many stakeholders pointed out that the current migration policy of containment of asylum seekers in camps exacerbates women’s vulnerability, as they have no options other than living in the difficult conditions in the camps while waiting for the processing of their asylum applications. We are pleased to learn that the authorities have revised the protocol guidelines for the transfer of vulnerable women.

In Moria camp, we witnessed women’s vulnerable situation, despite the efforts employed by the authorities to provide separate spaces for single women with and without kids. Women we met told us that they do not feel safe and experience harassment, especially during nights and when accessing toilets in common spaces.

We learned of concerns about the poor health conditions of some women in the camp and the difficulty accessing medical care. When it comes to exposure to GBV including domestic violence, within the confines of the camp, the available solutions are not working in practice, often breaching the requirement of confidentiality and making the victim an easily identifiable target to all including the perpetrator. There is limited availability to the shelter, a lack of awareness by police of the need for a gender sensitive response, and a need for more female police. Interpretation capacity at hospitals and police stations needs to be increased.

Women’s health and safety conditions should be regularly monitored and reviewed. Refugee women should be involved in decision making on matters affecting their lives in the camp and must be treated with dignity and respect.  The migrant and refugee women with whom we spoke, expressed a strong desire to have educational opportunities for themselves and their children. They want to become a positive asset to enrich and contribute to the economy and cultural development of the country.

Satisfactory system wide solutions for women refugees can only be found with the improvement of overall institutional procedures, processes and culture.  The reliance on the good will of individuals is insufficient.  A systemic response which holds institutions accountable is what is required.  External donors including the EU should ensure that their support addresses the needs of women migrants and refugees.

Roma women

Despite efforts by the Government to improve outcomes for Roma women and girls including through the 2012-2020 National Strategy for the Social Inclusion of Roma, high levels of discrimination, exclusion and stereotypes persist. 

Roma women encounter serious obstacles in gaining access to basic social services, such as housing, employment, education and health care, including the persistence of instances of educational barriers and poor living conditions. They reportedly continue to be disproportionately subjected to arbitrary arrests by the police and other law enforcement officials. Roma women make up one third of the detained female population in Greece despite making up a very small percentage of the Greek population.

Roma women have very limited access to employment and economic opportunities, due to early marriage and high rates of school drop-out for Roma girls.  During our visit we were inspired by individual school principals who were working with families to support Roma girls to stay in school.

We met with Roma women who shared with us their stories and concerns. “We have a lot of problems but there are no ears that can listen to us, can hear us. We have been trying for years to live better lives.”

The lack of statistical data on the enjoyment of human rights by Roma people including women is concerning. In 2016, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) recommended that Greece diversify its data collection activities, on the basis of anonymity and self-identification of persons and groups, to provide an adequate empirical basis for policies to enhance the equal enjoyment by all of the rights enshrined in the Convention. The Committee noted that reliable, detailed socioeconomic information is necessary for the monitoring and evaluation of policies in favour of minorities and for assessing the implementation of the Convention.  We reiterate this recommendation.

We welcome positive steps taken by the Greek authorities in recent years to improve the situation of Roma women, including the creation of the Special Secretariat for the Inclusion of Roma. A focus on implementation and monitoring will be critical to ensure it delivers on its objectives.

Women in prison

We visited the largest women’s prison in Greece and were pleased by efforts to uphold women’s human rights in detention including through the provision of primary, secondary and higher education and rehabilitation programmes. Childcare is available at the prison, and children can stay with their mothers until the age of 3 years.  In certain circumstances, women with children under the age of 8 years are entitled to alternative forms of detention. However, some inmates we spoke to shared concerns regarding the judicial system and barriers to accessing justice.


Our visit to Greece has revealed a number of key challenges but also, as the State transitions, immense opportunities.

There is a comprehensive legal and policy framework in place but it requires much stronger implementation.  The persistence of discriminatory norms and stereotypes and the lingering impacts of the crisis and austerity measures, means that women in Greece are lagging behind their counterparts in the EU on women’s rights. The situation for marginalized groups of women, such as migrant and Roma women, is even worse.

Greece now has a significant opportunity to ensure that women’s right to equality in all spheres of life is central to the country’s economic and social renewal.

To harness this opportunity, the General Secretariat of Gender Equality will need to play a pivotal and transformative role under the new law 4604/2019 on Substantive Gender Equality ensuring its position as a significantly strengthened centrally placed governmental body on gender equality.

Our conclusions and recommendations will be more fully developed in a report to be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2020.


1. Provided at the meeting during the visit

2. Greece: progress in combating racism, but concerns remain about the impact of austerity (visit to greece) (2016)

3. General Secretariat for Gender Equality “Women’s Unemployment”, Table 3 Unemployment rates by gender 2013-2018.

4. EIGE database EU - 28 for 2017

5. A/HRC/26/39

6. General Secretariat on Gender Equality, Love as Labor, pg 4, Figure 2

7. General Secretariat on Gender Equality, Love as Labor, pg 6, Table 3

8. Equal Treatment, Special Report 2017, Greek Ombudsman’s report pg 30

9. Equal Treatment, Special Report 2017, Greek Ombudsman’s report, pg 36

10. IPU figures as of January 2019.



13. 2012 data, EU average is 4.2%