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  Nr. 136 - May 2010
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Three Parian groups attend women’s conference in Mykonos

by Lena Yacoumopoulou
­­They came from all over the Cyclades — sixteen women’s groups from twelve islands. The Parian delegation included myself on behalf of the International Women of Paros (IWOP), Anna Polycandriotis, who spoke on behalf of the Naoussa Women’s Association, and Dimitra Afendaki, who spoke on behalf of the Marpissa Women’s Association.

It’s not every day we get to meet and brainstorm with women from Amorgos, Andros, Kea, Mylos, Mykonos, Mytilini, Santorini, Serifos, Sifnos, Syros and Tinos. The occasion was the third Pancycladic Conference of Women’s Associations, the first two having been held in Paros in 2006 and 2009. After the Women’s Association of Naoussa came up with the idea for the conference, the Mykonos women suggested that it take place every year.

This year’s theme was “The Development of the Cyclades from the Eighteenth Century to Today: Women’s Contribution,” and an impressive academic panel addressed the subject on the first day. Jelina Harlafti from the Ionian University; Lida Papastefanaki from the University of Ioannina; Katerina Korre-Zografou from the University of Athens; Despina Niazou and Paris Tsartas from University of the Aegean; and Vasilis Margaras from the University of Loughborough in the U.K.

The professors expanded on women’s work in the Cyclades. Because of the many wars and the shipping industry, women were frequently left to their own devices to raise families and bring in income. Women gradually shifted from agricultural work to factory and domestic work in places such as Egypt, Constantinople and Smyrni, with marked discrimination in the wages of women versus men, while others opened their own shops, tavernas and bakeries as early as the nineteenth century. In the absence of doctors in remote islands, there was a surge of midwives, often earning more income than doctors on the mainland.
In the nineeteen-fifties, women began to play a big role in the tourism industry, which has been the main source of income since then.

Our host was the Cultural Folklore Womens’ Association of Mykonos, led by the super-organized and charming Anna Kammi, with the support of the General Secretariat of Gender Equality, the Mayor of Mykonos and the Prefecture of the Cyclades (nomarhia aftothiikisi kyklathon).

Women’s groups took the floor on the second day to discuss their goals and work. In the last year, they focused mostly on maintaining island traditions, charity work, tourism industry – its pros and cons, the future generation and the environment.

On behalf of IWOP, I explained in broken Greek that IWOP is an important source for newcomers on the island, where they can meet like-minded women and also receive an introduction to the local traditions and mentality — and that we organize talks in English. Speaking as an individual, I asked why the women’s groups represented don’t include women’s rights in their work, and noted that there was a big dichotomy in the subject matter of the academic presentation and that of the women’s groups.

Maria Stratigaki, the Secretary General for Gender Equality, announced at the conference that the government plans to open centres to address violence against women in the capitals of all thirteen prefectures, offering counseling on domestic abuse as well as general guidance on equality issues. She also informed the conference that the Secretariat had been moved from the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Justice, and that all the ministries would play a relevant role in the move towards equality.

The Mykonos group proposed the establishment of a Union of Cycladic Womens’ Groups with one person appointed from each group to form the new association. Its first order of work will be the drafting of a resolution on health in the Cyclades (proposed by women from Sifnos) and the creation of the Union’s Web site.

We were accommodated in the charming Villa Penelope, Fresh Hotel and Elena in the centre of town and offered meals at the Philippi, Madoupa and Kathena. There was even time for a tour of Ano Mera, the Monastery of Panayias Tourlianis and the Folklore Museum. The conference took place in the state of the art Gryparion Cultural Centre, where the Mayor of Mykonos presented each group with a copy of “Orts ala banda,” Panayiotis Kousathanas’ book on old Mykonos, and the artist Marina Petri’s “The Contemporary Greek Karagiozis.” The last offering was a buffet at the Centre with music by the Mykoniates “sampounierithes” as the women made their way dancing to the port.

Women’s groups were eager to host future conferences and the next three years have already been booked: Kea (Tzia) in 2011, Santorini in 2012 and Tinos in 2013. Mark your calendars!

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