Political Development

Party Affiliation

Profession/ Current priorities

Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments




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[ European Commission, DG V ]

© Jan 2001

European Database: Women in Decision-Making

Asimina Xirotiri-Aikaterinari

Political Development

1. What made you decide to go into politics?
I would not define it as entering into politics, rather as being actively involved with political developments and particularly the needs of Greek society. I come from a family that had always been politically conscious and active in left wing politics. Since I can remember, there have always been very important political developments in my country: the turmoil after the civil war, the period of the dictatorship, and the time after the fall of the junta. I was involved in all of these developments, which were political in essence. Then I decided to enter into politics, in order to stand for election to certain organisations. In the past, I had run for the Parliament, as this time that I was elected. I consider the rest of the posts that I had held until now, whether these had been in various unions or the Local Government, also as political posts. To a large extent, they contributed towards my election to the Parliament.

2. Do/did you have a role model?
Not any specific person. Naturally one would say that a woman politician does have other women politicians as role models. These models should combine a lot of qualities such as to be able, patient, and experienced, in order to advance in an environment such as the politics, that is purely dominated by men. In our country, like in others, in the Left there were few women that were widely known. My role models had been anonymous women, fighters of the Left, who waged their smaller or greater political and social struggles and contributed a lot towards the strengthening of the presence of women at all levels.

3. Is there a tradition of political involvement/policy - making in your family?
My parents were not 'political people', under the current sense of this term. Yet they were consistently involved in the political developments, my father was a union member in his profession, and was concerned with the social problems of that era. In the period after the civil war (of 1947-49), a deep political ideology was generated by participation in the various movements, and by individual views. This ideology had a decisive influence upon the family environment. For many years I had been etched by this ideology and the contradictions that tormented Greece. This was good since it brought me into contact with political issues and global ideas, yet it led me to deal with people and political groups in a subjective manner. Naturally this stance changed, yet I keep the fundamental things, the memories, and in general whatever is conveyed by my environment, that I still can reconcile, co-operate with other persons, and promote democracy and progress in Greece through this ideology.

4. Have you been engaged in political grassroots activities before your involvement in party politics - e.g. in a citizens' parents or other initiatives? What were important experiences you made?
The period of the dictatorship had been a very important landmark for me. It was then when with a fellow student, and later my husband, we participated in the student movement against the dictatorship, since we both came from politically conscious family environments. In the period that followed, for many years I was active in the Union of Civil Servants, particularly those involved in the production of public projects. I was involved both in the effort to deal with the problems of the working people in my sector, and also in the effort to deal with the more general problems regarding the development of the country. Those issues related to the decentralisation, the transparency of the various institutions, and issues of the Administration and local Administration. After my term as the Prefect of Thessaloniki (1989-90), a period during which we fought to establish the 2nd Level of Local Government, I looked deeper into the issues of decentralised administration. In 1993, I decided to run for the Parliament since I had accumulated experience, and my work was well accepted by the people of Thessaloniki. In 1997, four years later, I ran for the Parliament again, but I was not elected. This is due to the fact that under the current electoral law, it is not certain for the small parties, like that of the Coalition of the Left, in what constituency they can elect members for the Parliament. Anyway, this time since I was first in votes in the ballot, the Coalition of the Left gained one seat in the Parliament in the district of Thessaloniki. I was the candidate that was elected and was going to represent my Party in the Parliament. Now that I have entered the major political scene, I have no intention whatsoever to neglect the problems of the regions. I think that any politician who might overlook this aspect is gradually alienated from the problems of the society and the citizens themselves. So I will try to avoid something like this happening to me, though it remains to be seen how I am going to manage it.

5. Where there disruptions in your political career or in your personal life that have/had an impact?
When my husband became ill and then passed away 25 years ago was a hard period for my family. My children were very young at that time, and the problems I was confronted with were so vast that I could not be involved in any kind of political or unionist activity. I tried to safeguard an environment of love and protection for my children after their father passed away. This I successfully achieved within a relatively short period, with the assistance of my family, and after about 4 years I returned to my previous activities.

6. How and why did your political objectives change during your political career?
I wouldn't say that I have changed my political objectives. I remain in the domain of the broader democratic new Left that is Europe oriented, with all its concerns, problems, changes and reforms. The fact that I have always been able to combine harmoniously my political and professional work helped me to be consistent and not change objectives.

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Party Affiliation

1. Motivation for joining a political party?
There was not an exceptional event to motivate me. I have always lived in a politically sensitive environment, my parents have always been members of a Party, and I was born believing that I am a member of a Party. This is how I went on with my life. I don't know if this was the best way, if it contributed towards the development of a more objective way of thinking, or if some inhibitions that I had were inherited from the past and had their influence. In any case I considered it as given, that this is the way things should be carried out.

2. Which party and when?
I have been a member of the Coalition of the Left and Progress since it was established 10 years ago.

3. Does your party have equal opportunity regulations?
I would say that it has a pioneer position in the Greek society in relation to equality issues. Our Party started the famous quotas regulation at a time when it did not exist in the rest of the Parties, not even as an idea. It was adopted at the first Congress of my Party, and it is implemented in all its levels and bodies, the Prefectural committees and the Central Political Committee. The percentage for the Central Political Committee depends of the participation of women in the Congress and is around 35%. The Coalition of the Left went on to institutionalise - in a social and not legislative manner since this Party has never been in Government - in relation to this issue, and gradually the rest of the Parties adopted this regulation. Also, although the electoral law does not impose it, the Coalition of the Left does take great care on how to form the ballot papers for the municipal, prefectural and national elections so that as many as possible women are been promoted. After all, although we are a small Party, 1/3 of our Members in the Parliament have always been women. Our view on the issue is that yes, the constitutional and legal framework in Greece does establish equality, yet the relevant regulations that will actually establish it in practice are still missing. As an example, let me mention the efforts of the Coalition of the Left. We posed proposals according to which in the previous Parliament there should not be a majority over 65% by any gender in the councils that are appointed by the government, or in the various committees Yet, even if we disregard the various criteria based on merit and objective conditions, there are committees where the presence of women is imperative, due to the very nature of these committees. However, they are still absolutely dominated by men. The Parties of PASOK and ND rejected this proposal, while they could at least modify the quota, in spite of the fact that the majority of their voters are women. They have quite competent women cadres in their ranks, and it is obvious that in the Greek society there is a great deficiency related to the participation of women. Also the women members of the Coalition of the Left participate in the big women's organisations, for example in the co-ordinating body for the women's organisations in Thessaloniki, through which a series of events were organised during the war in Yugoslavia. We do not underestimate the presence of other parties, we think that we alone cannot change things, and for this reason we promote co-operations such as those with the women's departments of other Parties.

4. Which office/function did you hold in your party at the beginning? How long after joining? How did you get into running for office?
In the beginning and for many years, I had been a simple party member. I believe that the union movement and the Local Administration should be independent. I would not like my activities in these two fields to depend on some strict Party procedures. Still I have been an active member of broader left-oriented union functions, such as that of the engineers in the Technical Chamber of Greece, through which I was elected to various posts.

5. Did you have mentors within your party?
No, we did not have mentors in our Party. However the older members of the Left are indeed considered as sacred and it seems that they influence and guide the younger members who respect their view and past struggles.

6. Have you ever changed party affiliation?
No, yet the new Left, where I have always belonged, changed and resulted in the creation of the Coalition of the Left. The CPE (Interior), where initially I was a member, does not exist any more.

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Profession/ Current priorities

1. How does your profession relate to your political work?
I have always managed to combine my professional and political activities very well, and that helped me to become a more balanced person. In the past, I would dedicate my afternoons and weekends to union activities (a lot of unions make sure that their meetings take place in the weekends so that the working people will be able to attend them) and then to the meetings of the Central Political Committee or to other activities such as visits to the broader region. Thus I have always managed to keep up with my professional work, and also to always be involved in the field of politics. Naturally there was not much time to rest or spend with my family. I have been working very long hours, and if I were to make an account of my life, I am not certain that I will regard my life as pleasant, but instead as interesting, which it definitely has been. Considering the way I perceive my capacity as the Member of the Parliament, today it is very difficult to reconcile my professional and political work. I am the only member of the Parliament of the Coalition of the Left from Northern Greece, hence besides the issues of the central political scene, and those concerning my constituency, I have to look into all the issues regarding Northern Greece. Therefore, my capacity as a Member of the Parliament has to come first, and then what the people who voted for me expect me to do.

2. What kind of qualifications do you have?
I am a civil Engineer, and graduated from the Polytechnic School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. I started my post-graduate studies in France and then returned and earned my PhD Degree from the Polytechnic School. I am specialised on geotechnical subjects and the technical supervision of large projects.

3. In what kind of jobs did you work?
I worked for the State for 22 years in a regional service based in Thessaloniki, responsible for Public Works, under the Ministry for the Environment, Zoning and Public Works. In the course of my career, I have had various responsibilities. During the last years of my career there, I was the Head of the Directorate dealing with the technical and quality supervision of the large projects in the region. I gave up my post in the Public Sector when I was appointed to the post of the Prefect. After my term of office finished, I did not return. Instead, I worked self-employed to establish a technical consultancy that studies the way technical projects are founded and constructed. It also provides technical consulting services to the public or the private sector. This is the company I run now.

4. Are you currently linking both your professional and your political career?
No, however I think that proper scientist should be updated in relation to the developments of his or her science, and promote it. If this person keeps updating and following the developments and new needs of the society as politician, then yes, these two can be reconciled properly, and the person can be quite balanced and function satisfactorily. I believe in neither those who are politically inactive, nor in the professionals who have no political thoughts or activities.

5. In what areas do you see your special competencies?
I have been accustomed to working a lot and in a systematic way. I would say that I have developed special abilities related to issues of organisation and completion of any task I might undertake. I like to leave nothing uncompleted. Another ability of mine, which could be tiring at times, is that I go into depth in everything I do. I try to search all the parameters both in my professional or political work. That is I try to penetrate and approach things globally, in order to achieve a better approach and build a more objective view on what I am working on.

6. What are your political priorities?
It is the social cohesion and equal opportunities both for the citizens of the centre of the country and those who live in the regions, both for men and women. This should be combined to the general development and progress of Greece. There cannot be progress and growth when the members of the society do not operate within an environment of equal treatment, equal opportunities, or when they do not feel the security of the social rehabilitation. Everyone, according to their abilities, will contribute to this progress and growth.

7. Main fields of action?
Effectiveness, progress, the transparency of the institutions and the modernisation of the Public Administration and the decentralisation of its operations. This last issue is directly linked to issues regarding Local Administration. My political action is focussed on the products of the institutions, including the organisations of the private sector, that are active in the regions, and how this can be combined with the essential development of the country.

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Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments

1. Do equal opportunities strategies in your opinion have an impact in your country in the promotion of women in decision-making- please specify?
There are a lot of programmes from the EU aimed to support, disseminate and establish such strategies, yet they have not been introduced as yet in the society of Greece. We have implemented them in the organisation of the Coalition of the Left, and try to promote them in the Parliament and the society at large. I guess that something has started to move, and in the last general elections, the percentage of the women deputies increased from 6.3 to 10.3%. This is an important percentage and I hope that the rest of my women colleagues in the Parliament, all of them capable and important, will try and we will manage to promote some real changes. I feel optimistic that during this four-year parliamentary period, some substantial work will be done.

2. Did you benefit from those strategies?
I would not say that I benefited to a great extent. Working in a male dominated field as engineering, I succeeded in been promoted to important posts in the union, without such regulations. I was reluctant when such procedures started in the various organisations of the parties, since I was not certain that women would be judged on the basis of their merits. Still these very procedures and the decisions that were then made, helped me a lot to realise that some women, like me were then just the exception to the rule, and we had gone through many difficulties. Had these quota regulations been passed earlier in our party and the society, we would have discovered many more important and capable women. The recognition of our own contribution would had been done in a much better way, that is this whole thing helped me also from a theoretical point of view. It made me think about people who do not enjoy equal opportunities, and also the introduction of measures towards this direction is indeed a democratic approach. Sometimes we say, "If I've made it, she could make it as well", I do not think like this any more.

3. Do you see direct or indirect discrimination in "conventional" policy making? What is it that keeps women from committing themselves to politics?
They treat this whole existing environment with suspicion. A lot of women will not even dare to start because they believe that they will get very tired of offering too much without the slightest recognition. There are still a lot of inertia forces among the female population. This is a factor that could be largely dealt with if the regulations we referred to are promoted. Still there are also the objective factors. Indeed women have predominately the task to manage the family issues, and the social infrastructures are not sufficient - neither for the working woman, nor the woman who would want to enter into politics. Therefore there are a lot of objective factors that prevent Greek women from becoming involved in politics.

4. What are the major obstacles that women need to overcome in their endeavour to participate in political decision-making?
You know, there are a lot of women who still think that we live 50 years ago. They are not aware of the fact that equality has been established. First they should realise that they have to fight so that this very nice legal framework on equality we have will be put into practice. Gone is the time when the feminist movement had to struggle for the institutionalisation of equality. Today this movement has to fight in order to convince people, above all women themselves that there is another environment, and unless women enter dynamically into this environment and assume action and responsibilities, in spite of the difficulties, they won't be able to change things. The struggles today are milder in intensity, yet far more complex, more penetrating, and the women's movement should disseminate its activities to many different levels in order to embrace all the sectors of social life and strengthen its presence there.

5. What obstacles have you had to overcome in your own career?
There is the obstacle that is known and widely referred to, and according to this obstacle a woman irrespective of her good qualifications cannot have the same time available as any man can. Men take their free time for granted. Another issue was that I had to prove that I could perform equally well in politics, even if I had less time available, since I had developed better organising abilities and the capacity to work harder. Even from the household economy that women have to manage, they learn how to make better use of their time, much better than men. What I am trying to say is that in the beginning, there is always this attitude of colleagues or comrades in the Party. However, when you show them that you can make it, this attitude changes. In addition, the quota we had in my Party created a positive environment. Therefore concerning my political career, it would be unfair to say that I had other obstacles. Furthermore I would say that we should not blame some invisible forces striving to downgrade women. I think that there are difficulties, but on the other hand women now have a lot of potential. They should work hard in order to utilise their qualifications and abilities. Any woman who does not want to enter into public affairs in general has a large part of the responsibility for this decision.

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