Status of Women

Cyprus Table of Contents

Postwar changes greatly affected Greek Cypriot women's place in society, especially changes which gave them expanded access to education and increased participation in the work force. At the beginning of the century, the proportion of girls to boys enrolled in primary education was one to three. By 1943, some 80 percent of girls attended primary school. When, in 1960, elementary education was made compulsory, the two sexes were equally enrolled. By the 1980s, girls made up 45 percent of those receiving secondary education. Only after the mid-1960s did women commonly leave Cyprus to receive higher education. In the 1980s, women made up about 32 percent of those studying abroad.

Cyprus had long had a high degree of female participation in the work force. In the period 1960-85, women's share of the work force rose only slightly, from 40.8 percent to 42.2 percent. However, there were great changes in where women worked. Women's share of the urban work force rose from 22 percent to 41 percent, while their share of the rural work force fell from 51 percent to 44.4 percent. The decline in rural areas stemmed from the overall shift away from agricultural work, where women's contribution had always been vital, to employment in urban occupations.

Cypriot women enjoyed the same rights to social welfare as men in such matters as social security payments, unemployment compensation, vacation time, and other common social provisions. In addition, after 1985 women benefited from special protective legislation that provided them with marriage grants and with maternity grants that, paid them 75 percent of their insurable earnings. Still, a large number of women, the self-employed and unpaid family workers on farms, were not covered by the Social Insurance Scheme. These women constituted 28 percent of the economically active female population.

In 1985 the Republic of Cyprus ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. Despite ratification of this agreement, as of late 1990 there was no legislation in the Republic of Cyprus that guaranteed the right to equal pay for work of equal value, nor the right of women to the same employment opportunities.

The occupational segregation of the sexes was still persistent in Cyprus at the beginning of the 1990s. Even though the participation of women in clerical jobs had more than doubled since the late 1970s, only one woman in fifteen was in an administrative or managerial position in 1985. Women's share of professional jobs increased to 39 percent by the mid-1980s, compared with 36 percent ten years earlier, but these jobs were concentrated in medicine and teaching, where women had traditionally found employment. In fields where men were dominant, women's share of professional positions amounted to only 11 percent, up from 8 percent in 1976. In the fields where women were dominant, men took just under half the professional positions.

Although most Cypriot women worked outside the home, they were expected to fulfill the traditional domestic roles of housewife and mother. They could expect little help from their spouses, for most Cypriot men were not ready to accept any domestic duties, and most women did not expect them to behave otherwise. Nonetheless, even women with full-time jobs were judged by the traditional standards of whether they kept a clean house and provided daily hot meals.

Moreover, even at the beginning of the 1990s, Cypriot women were still burdened with the expectation of safeguarding the honor of the family. According to tradition, a woman's duty was to protect herself against all criticism of sexual immodesty. A study carried out in a farming community in the mid-1970s found that women were still expected to avoid any social contact with men that could be construed to have a sexual content. An expressed desire for male society was seen to reflect poorly on a woman's honor, and virginity was seen by many villagers, both men and women, to be a precondition for marriage. The honor of a family, that is, the sense of dignity of its male members, depended on the sexual modesty and virtue of its women. These traditional attitudes have waned somewhat in recent decades, especially in urban areas, but were still prevalent in the early 1990s. Another indication of the conservative nature of Greek Cypriot society at the beginning of the 1990s was that the feminist movement in Cyprus was often the object of ridicule from both sexes. Nevertheless, women's increasing economic independence was a force for liberation in all sections of the population.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress