A six-year battle for civil law reform, pitting Greek feminists against the state and the conservative church, has reached a climax with submittal of a bill designed to bring statutes affecting the family in line with the constitutional guarantee of equality of the sexes.
The reform package, submitted last week, was in the making under the Justice Ministry since 1975. It is criticized by the conservative Greek Orthodox Church, which fears that emancipating women within the family will destroy the fabric of traditional Greek society.
Women's groups leading the reform drive have also reacted angrily to the bill, charging that it leaves the status quo "essentially unchallenged," as one put it, and that it panders unduly to church conservatism.
If the bill is passed, Greek women will be legally protected from the bridal dowry system -- the legally santioned tradition whereby a daughter must be endowed by her family with money and property if she is to secure a husband.
Passage would raise the female age of consent, now 14, to that for males, 18. It would give women the right to retain their family name after marriage and rephrase a contentious article of the current civil code that says the husband is the head of the family.
Feminists are unhappy that the bill does not provide for joint ownership of property acquired during marriage, a provision that many consider essential in a society where women have traditionally been expected not to seek work outside the family.
These critics also charge that the reforms once more bypass the issue of civil marriage, which is not recognized in Greece.
"The bill is fine, as far as it goes," says Iris Avdi-Kalkani, a lawyer and leading member of the Union for the Rights of Women, Greece's oldest women's organization. "But it can only be regarded as a first step. We still have a long way to go."
Discrepancies between the current civil code -- adapted from the Swiss and German codes of the 1930s -- and Article 4 of the Constitution, which guarantees Greek men and women "equal rights and responsibilities," first became a matter of government concern in 1975 following Greece's return to democracy.
A committee was appointed by the Justice Ministry under Athens University law Prof. Andreas Gazis to propose reforms. Throughout the drafting of the so-called Gazis plan that forms the basis for the current bill, proposals repeatedly drew the fire of the Greek Orthodox Church, still a powerful social and political force in this newest member of the European Common Market.
Last November, Premier George Rallis let the feminist groups understand that they had little hope of being backed by the church against the state. In an address to the Holy Synod, he asserted that "church and state have always been united . . . and their separation would be exceedingly harmful for Greece." At the same time, he reassured the Synod that the state remained opposed to civil marriage and another thing that is anathema to the Greek church, divorce by mutual consent.
The women's groups point to Greece's joining the Common Market in January and to the imminent general elections as two major factors prompting the government to usher in a reform package of some kind before the legislature's summer recess