Mount Athos and Human Rights



Member of the European Parliament, Chairperson of the Committee on Women's Rights and Equal Opportunities


06. 02. 2003


It is a fact. The European Parliament has been called for addressing the issue of the ban of women from Athos and not with other more important issues. Whoever has the curiosity will certainly discover that in the text of the famous resolution of 15 January 2003, adopted at the plenary in Strasbourg, Athos issue takes up only one paragraph out of the total of 155, related to fundamental human rights in the E.U., inter alia: the right to life (abolition of death penalty), prohibition of torture and degrading treatment to others, freedom of thought, conscience, religion, self expression and information, the right to private life, the protection of personal data, the right to asylum, the policy on eliminating inequalities  against homosexuals, children rights, the protection against age discrimination, handicap's rights, freedom of movement, citizenship, right to a fair trial, the International Criminal Court etc.


Overall, the European Parliament has produced its most comprehensive report on human rights, drafted by the Socialist MEP Ms Swiebel and was widely supported by the political groups of the socialists, liberals, greens and the united left.


The Conservative Party, as known, is not so much concerned by human rights. The marginal majority for the report  ( 274 in favour/ 269 against) and the division of public opinion in relation to the issue of Mount Athos (the relevant paragraph was approved by 277 in favour and 269 against) can not diminish the significance of the political decision taken by an important European democratic institution, even if the decision is not legally binding.


Nobody, of course, expects that a tradition of over 1000 years can be reversed from one day to the other. Now is reoccurring what has happened with all the bans that had existed for centuries and the majority of which were abolished during the last century. The bans to education, to science, to art, to literature, to paid work  'opened their gates' under the beneficial influence of the movement of enlightenment, the intellectual movement of the 18th century that aimed to free humanity from superstitions and dogmas and to spread the scientific knowledge coupled with the development of rationalism. Women's ban from politics was only abolished in Greece 50 years ago. In other european countries, this ban was abolished during the first decades of the 20th century, after harsh struggles by the few educated women of that time.


The ban on women entering Mount Athos, based on a decision taken by the monks 1000 years ago, today it is neither of logic nor of morality or democratic or even religious reasoning; since the christian teaching excludes any discrimination on the basis of sex ( citation from the Bible: "there can be neither male nor female..."). However, the church defends religious discrimination against women on the basis of a tradition argument. The Prof. C. Georgiou has written in the Greek newspaper "Vima" that "the church does not recognise in the person of women the required moral standing to preach, to enter the temple's sanctuary, or the Mount Athos. It does not allow the Bishops to marry....Even a baby girl is considered as potentially immoral from birth, so the priest gives his blessing for a baby girl outside the temple's sanctuary but inside the sanctum when he is blessing a baby boy. Finally, it is worth wondering whether human laws are fairer and more equitable."


But let us see, what are the arguments supporting the ban that emerged from the public dialogue?


1. The ban has been consolidated by the article 105 of the Greek Constitution and by the Accession treaty of Greece to the EU. The truth is that there is no reference to the ban and the exclusion of women but both texts expressively refer only to the right of local self-governance, the duty and tax privileges and the granting of Greek citizenship to the monks under the most favourable conditions. On the other hand, our constitution explicitly mentions equality of rights and obligations for women and men, as well as the E.U. treaties.


2.The mount Athos is not part of the  Greek state territory, but it is the private domain of the monks that have the rights to take care of their internal affairs.....If this is the case and the mount Athos is not a self governed region of the Greek state and a place of cultural treasures and national relics, then on what legal basis has been funded so generously by the European taxpayers?


3.There are intentions to turn mount Athos into Mykonos island as is argued by some fanatics, does concern any woman, since we already propose that there should be a strict set of rules governing visiting hours and limiting their number to once or twice a week for both sexes, as to exactly protect Mount Athos, since it is known that already some male tourists do not show any concern and respect for our cultural inheritance and for the monks needs for meditation and prayer.


4. Arguments about a women-ban at the Vatican are totally unfounded since every one knows that women access is not fettered in any way, although they are prohibited from the ordination as exactly happens with the Christian Orthodox Church. The total prohibition of women with entering mount Athos, even for the monks mothers, women theologists and nuns, is a unique phenomenon worldwide which constitutes a clear violation of rights and can not be compared with the situation of 'male' and 'female' monasteries. Some people, of course, believe that gender equality can only be applied to selected areas. The European Parliament, anyway, has, many times given the opinion that no tradition and no cultural particularity can be placed above the rule of law and the respect of rights and dignity for the half of humanity's population.



Anna Karamanou, MEP

Chairperson of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Equal Opportunities

Member of the Bureau of the Socialist Group

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