It’s not about prostitutes, it’s about a healthy society – sign this petition

Just a few days before Greece’s snap parliamentary elections in April, Greek police published the names and photos of over 12 prostitutes arrested for being HIV positive, in a disgraceful violation of their human dignity and a terrible example for society.

Sign the change.org petition below to tell the Greek Ministry of Justice and other authorities involved or complacent in these actions – including the Greek police, the Ministry of Health and the Citizens Protection Ministry – that it is not acceptable to disregard basic human rights and promote negative and harmful mentalities and behaviors in society.

A 22-year old Russian prostitute was arrested in an unlicensed brothel, and a health examination determined that she was HIV positive. Many more women, some Greek, were arrested in continuing raids ahead of the election. Some of them are still in prison.

Prostitution is legal in Greece, and some brothels are licensed, but there are many unlicensed ones operating in Athens and throughout the country. There is no evidence that these women knew they were infected, and some of them may be drug addicts that worked on the streets, not in brothels.

The police, the prosecutor and the health ministry claim that the identities and photos were published to alert the clients of these women, urge them to get tested, and protect their “wives and families”.

This is not about prostitutes. It is about a healthy and fair society. Greek authorities are working against both in this case.

The message that authorities are sending society is this: it is ok if you are reckless and engage in paid, unprotected sex with prostitutes or other vulnerable women (some sources suggest that clients at brothels actually pay extra to go unprotected), the state will trample the human rights of some people (namely vulnerable people) so that you know it is time to get tested.

If the Health Ministry wants to address the spread of HIV in Greece, it seems to me that the message to the public should be: any one of you out there that pays for sex, despite all the awareness campaigns that many of these women are trafficked, should now get tested. It could be any one of you. And also, stop it.

The Health Ministry claims to be concerned with the wives of Greek men that visit brothels. Has the ministry asked these wives which of these message they are more comfortable with? “Keep visiting prostitutes, we’ll arrest and humiliate the HIV positive ones” or “Prostitution is a symptom of crime, trafficking and social suffering. Now everybody is at risk and should get tested and change their behavior.”

The public safety excuses of Greek authorities for their actions do not hold up – not through their own logic, and not through any examination of best practices around the world for engaging in effective prevention and education.

From the Irish Times:

“I find it very strange that the government has only now recognised this public health danger, days before the elections. I can’t be but suspicious at the motives,” said George Tzogopoulos, of the Eliamep think tank. “We need continuity in disease prevention, not fireworks.”

International and Greek rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the local office of humanitarian medical aid group Médecins Sans Frontières, denounced the breach of medical confidentiality and the endangerment of the women’s safety as a violation of human rights. Police even published the addresses of some of the women, though a few are homeless, so I guess the police can’t direct any crazy people to their doorstep.

  • Press release by the European Aids Treatment Center, signed by several organizations: here.
  • The Greek Ombudsman, in a May 10, 2012 press release (in Greek), declared that publishing the photos and identities of the HIV+ women is a violation of human dignity.
  • The General Secretariat for Gender Equality also denounced these actions.

Please sign this change.org petition to make your voice heard that this is not acceptable: Greek Ministry of Justice: DEMAND THE RELEASE AND MEDICAL TREATMENT OF HIV POSITIVE WOMEN

The petition is directed to the Greek Ministry of Justice and demands the release and medical treatment of these women.

To the Greek authorities:
These are not solutions.
You should know better. You have reputable local and international organizations to consult and examples around the world to look at. You have no excuses.

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Innovation: “In With the New” Without “Out With the Old”

This past January, the New York Times ran an article highlighting the struggle of a Greek entrepreneur to get a Greek beer onto the Greek market, and to convince the government to repeal an outdated law preventing his brewery from producing mountain tea – or anything other than beer. Timely article. Currently there is a heightened focus on the need to reform laws and regulations that impact (read: hinder) business, entrepreneurship and innovation in Greece. According to the World Bank Group’s Doing Business 2010 report, the country’s business regulation environment placed it in a ranking of 109 out of 183 economies on the ease of doing business.

To address these challenges, the current administration is passing new legislation and courting large international investors, particularly in the Greek diaspora communities, and turning to its own new and potential entrepreneurs. In a speech at the 75th Thessaloniki International Fair in September, Prime Minister George Papandreou announced that: “Over the forthcoming months we will create an Investments Council with top investors and businessmen from abroad and with Managing Directors from the best companies in the world, especially of course from the Greek Diaspora so that they can contribute to drawing up a new investment effort and give us their credibility when talking to the investment community.” More recently, at a Regional Development and Competitiveness Ministry event, the Prime Minister reiterated the administration’s focus on encouraging and facilitating innovation and business.

In addition to going after large international investors, the Greek government is looking to its young entrepreneurs. As Kostas Mallios pointed out in his presentation at the TEDxAcademy in Athens last year, young people are an excellent source of innovation and creativity. Many of our most recognized inventors – Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Bill Gates – were in their 20s when they made their big discoveries or creations.  In January, the Greek parliament passed a new investment law that includes incentives for young entrepreneurs (see a discussion, in Greek, of the new law on the Generation 700 euros blog here).  On October 20, 2010, the Regional Development and Competitiveness Ministry organized a gathering of about 100 young entrepreneurs. Much of the news coverage missed the significance of this event, covering mainly the comments of Prime Minister and Minister Michalis Chryssohoidis. What I found more interesting was that through this process, the prime minister invited comments and suggestions from participants, and responded to their input. Key feedback included the need for less bureaucracy and more regulatory and financial support for entrepreneurs and startups, recognition of the importance of failure, and facilitation of relationships between universities and entrepreneurship. Search “#younginnovGR” on YouTube to see videos of participant comments.

As part of this initiative, the government, in collaboration with young entrepreneurs, launched StartUpGreece, an online networking and collaboration platform where members (currently 2,163) can meet and exchange ideas. The site also hosts information on starting a venture or obtaining government funding. Further, the new investment law, passed in January 2011 and launched April 13, includes incentives for young entrepreneurs. In March, the Regional Development and Competitiveness Ministry announced the New Innovative Entrepreneurship, a program to offer incentives, including financial support, for innovative new enterprises or products.

While innovation may open up new job opportunities and attract foreign investment, the country’s population faces a range of hardships, such as layoffs, loss of small businesses, decreasing social welfare services, increasing taxes and fees for services no longer provided by the government. Any approach to economic development must also address how to ensure the impact reaches the broader population, from the middle and lower classes to marginalized communities. The administration must work with the private sector and citizens to address declining industries, in addition to creating new jobs. Given the specific context of Greece, investment professional and economic sociologist Aristos Doxiadis emphasizes that economic development in Greece should include a focus on the small scale economy, including small and household- or family- owned businesses and the informal rules and institutions which many of these observe.

Most importantly, the government and private sector in Greece will have to focus on developing a national strategy. As Steve Blank argues in a discussion on Startup America, a White House Initiative announced in February 2011, “an entrepreneurship initiative needs to be an integral part of both a coherent economic policy and a national innovation policy,” and must recognize and support different types of entrepreneurship. While the economic crisis is weighing on policy leaders in Greece right now and many pressing reforms need to be made, this is a desperately needed opportunity to develop a new, strategic and inclusive approach to helping both new and existing industries or businesses grow. Just as importantly, as the Greek diaspora community joins the discussion and mobilizes to support the efforts of Greek entrepreneurs or to invest in Greece, it should also consider how its efforts contribute to or impact a national growth and innovation strategy.

Digital Civil Society

The 7th issue of the e-Civil Society newsletter is out.  This electronic newsletter is the digital edition of Paremvassi’s printed magazine on civil society.  Paremvassi puts together an interesting collection of articles,  in both Greek and English, written by regular contributors or gathered from Greek and international media.   This edition focuses on journalism in a digital age.   Earlier editions focused on e-government, virtual volunteerism, privacy and social networking.  They are available online and by email subscription.

Paremvassi or Citizen’s Union Intervention, founded in 1995, encourages progress and modernization through the strengthening of civil society, promotion of electronic governance and civic participation, and promotion of corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship.

Check out this edition’s English articles to read about, among other things:

  • how media is evolving and changing our culture and etiquette of communication
  • how to balance the increasing openness of the Internet with security and national or corporate interests
  • different views on Wikileaks, and
  • how public policy might support declining newspapers.

Check out the Greek articles to read about, among other things:

  • a proposal by Paremvassi’s VP on how ERT, Greek national television, can serve as a tool to help Greece out of the crisis
  • the impact of the increase in blogs on traditional media
  • how the law applies to blogs
  • a code of ethics for blogs proposed by a Greek lawyer focusing on digital media, and
  • young people pursuing innovative business rather than the public sector.

This last article, based on the results of a survey conducted on behalf of the Thessaloniki Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is pleasantly surprising. Despite the odds being stacked against an entrepreneur in Greece thanks to a myriad of obstacles, young Greeks are innovating.  The article spotlights OpenFund (invests in and supports businesses in emerging technologies), kapou.gr (an online photomapping service), the second method (develops educational software), Total Eclipse (a leading company in computer games), and novo1 (an educational robot currently under development).  Interestingly enough, this TED talk, Let’s Raise Kids to Be Entrepreneurs, was posted online around the same time this article was published in Kathimerini – June 2010.  But I digress…and reveal my favorites.

Take a look at the newsletter and choose your favorite articles.