Ladies and Gentlemen,
Firstly, let me congratulate the Associations of the Regions of Greece on taking the initiative to organize today's event in view of the celebrations of the International Women's Day, on Sunday.
Indeed, it is a fine initiative, which highlights the role of the Association of the Regions of Greece.
A role which should not be restricted to the mere management of regional issues, nor their technocratic approach.
On the contrary, it touches the heart of complex social issues, as today's event on the presence of women in public life.
I choose deliberately the term "public life' to be interpreted as "civil society", as referred to by Aristotle, in the form of superior social coexistence aspiring to defend the interest of all citizens.
Therefore, the presence of women in public life, civil society (in the sense of an organized state possessing freedom, autonomy, self-sufficiency, institutions and a political system), can be seen from two angles:
A quantitative and a qualitative one.
From the 'quantitative' viewpoint, we can observe a certain improvement in the number of women involved in public life. This percentage increase is mainly due to legal arrangements.
However this numerical progress is far from marking a real, profound cultural change in the ratio of women in public life and their relation with civil society.
This is so for two reasons.
Firstly, the number of women involved in civil society remains limited compared to other countries.
Secondly, their qualitative presence is rather poor.
I shall explain myself, by further elaborating the second viewpoint I referred to earlier— the 'qualitative' one.
This small increase in the presence of women in civil society is a 'forced' evolution, i.e. it is ordered by law, and therefore it does not constitute a reversal of the gender status quo.
It is rather a confirmation of it, in so far as and to the extent that it does not overturn a proven unreliable political system. In other words, today in our country the choice of women to public offices is an option to perpetuate gender stereotypes referring to outdated perceptions in relation to the role of women as 'housewives', 'prudent' and 'wise' ones.
Such character properties attributed to women allegedly derive from nature, while they actually form attributes of a character which is built in a conscious and deliberate manner.
That is what Simone de Beauvoir quoted nearly half a century ago: "One is not born a woman, but becomes one."
And that is what contemporary gender theorists, like Judith Butler describe as a changing variable, depending on the social context and the period of time. In other words, gender is perceived as "a link between socially constructed subjects within specific contexts".
In this light, the emergence of women in positions of responsibility in politics is linked to wider, deeper and more substantial changes in society. Changes that seek to overturn the stereotypes of the woman in public office being either a "bitch" or a "bimbo". I say this in the sense that when a woman makes a strong, serious public presence is forthwith characterized as "tough", "bitch", "mean". In the opposite case, being a woman of low profile in the public sphere is interpreted as weakness, submissiveness, briefly, as proof of all gender stereotypes such as the 'weaker sex' who has certainly used other means of attaining a public office, apart from her capacities, and so on.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The presence of women in civil society should not be regarded as special or unique, but as self-evident.
For that reason the presence of women in the public sphere may be consolidated in the presence of Law, yet it will only be established in society through profound changes.
Changes that will not relate exclusively to women but to all structures of society.
Changes that will not be limited nor concern a regulatory approach through quotas or similar measures, but would be bound to mark a new chapter in collective behaviour.
A new chapter on how the role of women is perceived.
A new chapter on how the society views the participation of women in the public sphere.
A participation which is not a priori positive or negative, on the sole basis of gender.
A participation leading to the normalisation of the presence of women in the public sphere, as agents for ensuring democracy and equal rights in society.
Though easily announced, this is difficult to be implemented. Especially in the current context, in which the economic crisis has lead to the crisis of democracy, tending to render social rights a luxury, a right of secondary importance in relation to the economic objectives.
However, social rights in general, and women's rights in particular are indeed crucial preconditions, not only for a country like Greece, currently savaged by the economic crisis, but for all countries, developed or not, as they will determine the degree of the country's actual, social and political growth.
For, financial figures, however vigorous they may be, leave no doubt about the social regression.
This is explicitly depicted in the position of women at all levels of governance. Or, to be more precise, it is explicitly depicted in the values promoting gender equality as a necessary condition for achieving collective progress against obsolete patriarchal models, or against still existing approaches of the past.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We still have a long way to go. A difficult one. Yet, we have no choice. We must take it. Not only because we owe it to future generations. But because, first and foremost, we women owe it to ourselves.
We ought to struggle daily against major but mostly minor things creating either an atmosphere of growth or social regression.
Today, perhaps more than ever, we need to look to the future, yet reflecting on the current situation.
The current situation is revealing and has to do with the stereotypes, the ease of criticism on the external appearance, the propagation of sexist remarks.
However, we can draw forces and inspiration not just from great, famous female personalities, but also from the women next door. These women do not have a voice, unlike politicians who benefit from public discourse. Those women face discrimination, depreciation, violence, at a rate that is several times the average, without being able to react in public.
These women are and will be our shield and our weapon.
The rights of all these "next door" women, mothers, sisters, girlfriends, unemployed women, working women are the raison d'être for us.
Their struggle is our struggle.
A universal fight to women's leadership and political participation.
So as to eventually make the proclamation of the famous French journalist and author Françoise Giroud 32 years ago, "Women will be truly equal to men the day an incompetent woman is given a high-level job", a reality.