Relatives of female army sergeants announced on Monday they are planning a demonstration to protest gender-based discrimination in the National Guard, a claim backed up by a recent report by ombudswoman Maria Stylianou-Lottides, which highlighted discrepancies in the hiring process.

The ombudswoman’s report concluded that the women were “victims of forbidden gender-based discrimination, both in terms of access to work and professional development”.

The report was responding to a complaint filed by Giorgos Karapatakis, a lawyer representing a group of 195 women who joined the National Guard as volunteers in 1993, 1995 and 1997 but remain in lower ranks than they are qualified for.

Compared to male colleagues hired during the same period, the female officers did not climb up the ranks as quickly or as easily despite being more qualified or experienced, the lawyer had argued.

The women now hold the rank of staff sergeant while their male colleagues are master sergeants and warrant officers, outranking them.

Some of the female officers have since been promoted to the rank of master sergeant but are still outranked by their male colleagues.

Initially, women who enlisted in the army earned a promotion after two years of service, which was later expanded to six years.

On the contrary men were promoted instantly, as they had already completed two years of army service.

Karapatakis argued that this made sense, but what didn’t was the extension of the experience requirement for women from two to six years.

In her report, the ombudswoman said she had previously investigated gender-based discrimination in the army after another complaint in May 2021, where female officers said they were being systematically passed up for promotions despite qualifying.

The women had complained that in 2004 the defence ministry filled all of its 120 free staff sergeant positions with male officers, even though 100 female officers qualified for promotion that year.

The same happened in 2005 and 2006, while “during the years 1992, 1993 and 1994, women were excluded from the process as only men were accepted for promotion”.

As a result, the women only became staff sergeants in 2008 and 2010 and remain in that rank, while men who enlisted at the same time (between 1991 and 1992) are now warrant officers.

Legislation changes in 2016 and 2017 scrapped the differences in experience requirements, which, according to the ombudswoman “was recognition that women were being discriminated against, but other than that not a single measure was taken to reverse the injustice”.

Stylianou-Lottides said that she previously raised the issue with the defence ministry, suggesting it examine the possibility of retroactively promoting the female officers, something that happened within the police force after a cabinet decision.

The ministry had retorted that even if women qualified for promotion through the existing process, that didn’t mean they would be chosen for a promotion, she said.

The ombudswoman argued that this was beside the point as “the principle of equality does not guarantee the equality of the result, but the equality of the opportunities”.

The demonstration will take place at 10.30am on Sunday, outside the Presidential Palace, to demand immediate action from the government to solve the issues caused by gender-based discrimination.

Protesters will demand that the women are promoted retroactively to the ranks they could have been promoted to if the criteria had been equal, and paid the salaries they would have been entitled to.

The female non-commissioned officers demand an immediate solution to the problem as most of them will soon retire, while seven of them have already been discharged.

The organisers have told local media that the protest will be supported by MPs, MEPs, and several women’s groups including Pogo, the Green Party’s women’s movement and gender equality foundation Hypatia.