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Women's dowries, equality, and jobs face trials in 1982

The ancient Aristophanes play "Ecclesiazusae," which fictionalizes women seizing power and establishing common ownership of property, had a sellout audience during an Athens summer revival this year.

One reason was a lively debate in Parliament over women's role in society and the business world. The Constitution, rewritten after the fall of the military junta in 1974, includes a provision that all laws that allow inequality between the sexes be wiped off the books by the end of 1982.

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Lawmakers failed to pass the corrective law, known as the family law bill, nor is a new government formed after the Oct. 18 elections expected to be able to achieve passage next year.

The result: All laws regarding divorce, property settlements, child custody, and economic settled case by case in the courts.

"It will be a total mess," says Virginia Tsouderos, a member of Parliament who is sponsoring the bill. To the feminists' advantage, Greek entry into the European Community this year allows political pressure placed on the government by the EC.

Greek conservatives, backed by the Greek Orthodox Church, protest strongly that the proposed family bill would eliminate men as the legal head of families. "How can a family exist without a head?" they ask. Feminists argue that the government should not interfere on such a question.

A new law took effect in 1981 that guarantees equal pay for women doing the same work as men. Greece's top export industries, textiles and tobacco, rely mainly on cheap female labor. since 1928, the proportion of women with paid jobs in Greece has remained relatively level. In some fields, such as hotel managers or, surprisingly, engineering, Greek women seem to excel. But the shift to an urban society has generally given women lesser jobs than those they had on the farms.

One change that's debated little is dowry reform. Unmarried women in Greece have always figured their future depended on a handsome dowry. Tradition dictates that fathers accumulate a dowry, usually a house, to attract the best suitor. In the last few years, despite more young people marrying for the sake of love and not the love of money, tax loopholes have made dowries even more attractive as an economic move.

"The institution is still a quite powerful force in Greece," says Haris Symeionidou-Alatopoulou, a social researcher. "And it seems to be increasing." Seamen's benefits, for instance, include $400 a year for a daughter's dowry.

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Dowry gives a commercial tone to marriage. Rising incomes in Greece allow parents to pass more wealth to a daughter. Some fathers of the groom go so far as to count out the gold bullion or other dowry goods during a marriage ceremony. Many weddings are called off at the last minute when negotiations break down between parents on the exact size of the dowry.

In the northern city of Thessaloniki, for instance, a young woman named Helen recently had her engagement broken off by her fiance who did not get what he wanted: a yearly stipend, a house (furnished), a car, and two apartments.

The new family code would allow transfer of property to either sons or daughters and revent husbands from renting out dowry property for their own income.

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