#MeToo in Greece: An Ongoing Movement for Social Justice
Eleni Siapikoudi, member of the Writers’ Team of Libertas
In Greece, only a limited number of people were truly aware of the international MeToo Movement before Sofia Bekatorou, an Olympic, World and European sailing champion, spoke openly about her experience as a victim of sexual abuse, first, to a magazine and later to an online event. Speaking courageously, she said that she was harassed from a senior member of Greece’s Sailing Federation (HSF) when she was 21. These allegations triggered nothing short of a domino effect in Greek society, causing athletes, actors and other members of society to break their silence and share their own experiences of abuse and harassment, sometimes accusing highly respected and well-established individuals in the arts, sports and entertainment industries.
Bekatorou, today a mother of two children, is one of the countless women (and men) who have been abused by those in power, in sports federations, universities, political organizations, and private companies, mostly men who refuse to take “no” for an answer. The case of Bekatorou has highlighted another aspect of the scandal: the aggressors’ confidence was based on a sense of impunity, due to their connection with political and financial agents.
Bekatorou said that speaking out was not easy. She remained silent for years out of the fear of social stigma. A few months after her revelation, however, women and men have begun to talk: an outpouring of allegations which cast a troubling light on the abuse of power by artists, journalists, university professors, state officials, politicians and other public figures. If it took only one person, to mobilize such a movement, then it is the right time for the Greek society to speak up and put an end to this violence.
Even before the dust of Bekatorou’s allegations has settled, new allegations have emerged to rock the political landscape. The artistic director of the National Theater, Dimitris Lignadis, has been accused of sexual abuse and rape against minors. The Minister of Culture and close associate of the Prime Minister Lina Mendoni defended Lignadis at first place. However, as more information about the allegations was made public, she quickly changed her position, calling him “a very dangerous person” who “deceived” her, because he was a good actor. Lignadis resigned and soon after was arrested but the world of art was not satisfied, and went on to launch a social media campaign calling for Mendoni’s resignation.
A European-wide survey for the violence against women shows that almost 13 million women have experienced violent behavior in the last 12 months and almost 3,7 million women have experienced sexual abuse. The general results are incredibly disappointing with 1 out of 3 women being a victim of physical or sexual abuse after the age of 15.
#MeToo is necessary today, more than ever. Greece, like the rest of Europe, faces severe challenges vis-à-vis gender equality. This movement has two dimensions: first, it is a decisive step for women and men to start speaking. A new culture of zero-tolerance is now calling for a substantial reformation of our judicial system and the way it deals with allegations of former or current abuse. After all, the victims have to deal with a traumatic experience during the (several) testimonies they are called to give. Second, the psychological effects, namely societal prejudice and bias, affect the victims to an exhausting degree. The time for radical improvements has come.
At this time of year, with so much focus on International Women’s Day and the challenges faced by women in society, it is an especially good opportunity to all citizens and involved parties what women (and vulnerable groups) have to deal with frequently. Europe needs to promote an open and liberalized society, with equality and inclusion, in which women will be equally treated and represented. Education is important: it is vital to educate women and girls about their right to be treated equally, and their need to fight for justice. At the same time, it is just as important to educate and work with boys from early age to find ways to prevent violence against women and men and promote respectful relationships
As liberals, respect for human rights across the world is one of our core values. We must act and we must do it now.
About the author:
Eleni Siapikoudi is the President of Young Liberals Greece. She has a Bachelor in Balkan, Slavic and Oriental Studies and Master in International Politics and Politics & Economics of Southeastern Europe. She is especially interested in political developments in Southeastern Europe, reconciliation in post-conflict societies, and women and youth empowerment.