GERMAINE Greer, the outspoken academic who has championed feminism for more than 40 years, yesterday called on women in Yorkshire to accumulate political power and challenge the Government.
Speaking at the International Women’s Day Conference in Leeds, organised by women’s networking organisation Forward Ladies, Ms Greer encouraged women to “bang on their desks” and make themselves heard.
“I need you to be tough,” she told the business audience at the Leeds Club. “I need you to think in terms of accumulating political power so that when you speak, the people who hold the power grow pale.”
Referring to the time when then Prime Minister Tony Blair was heckled and jeered at by 10,000 delegates at the Women’s Institute’s national conference in 2000, Ms Greer said: “I’m not interested in jam and Jerusalem but I am interested in a point at which you can put pressure on the political system because every week that passes gives me bad news about women.”
Ms Greer said that women should not rely on their looks to gain respect from their male counterparts. “Young women, as long as they look reasonably young, will be treated with a certain amount of gallantry. But as they get older, the gallantry stops dead,” she said.
She added: “One of the things we have to think about in order to gain authority and power in society is how to attain seniority. Seniority is practically blocked out for women. Once you have become senior, you have had it.
“If we can’t achieve seniority then we can’t achieve authority and we can’t achieve power.”
Ms Greer said women had to stand together and challenge the Government. “We’re used to being silent and putting up with things and not making a fuss,” she said. “But at a certain point what you need to do is exert pressure and this is what we don’t know how to do. We don’t know how to bargain.”
Ms Greer said one of the biggest scandals facing the community was the treatment of elderly people. “It’s one of the enduring scandals of our society,” she said. “If you look at the care home population it’s 75 per cent female.”
She added: “Any time we look around at any industry that is involved with women at whatever level, we have the same questions to ask. Why is this so sloppy? Why is it below standard? Why do you get away with cutting its funding? They are cutting the funding for age care at the same time as the number of aged people is rising all the time.”
“We have to find ways for ageing to give us gravity, power and inert weight to put pressure on the political system. They (the Government) should not be able to just walk away and leave us to struggle.”
Ms Greer was the headline speaker at the lunchtime event. She was joined by Karyn McCluskey, co-director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit who gave a powerful presentation on how to tackle violent crime and change the lives of children born into that environment.
Ms McCluskey has worked for police forces in Sussex, Lancashire, and West Mercia.
In 2004 she co-wrote a report on Violence Reduction for Strathclyde police, proposing a different way of addressing serious violent crime in Scotland, and setting up a dedicated violence reduction team, which subsequently become a national unit.
She has developed injury surveillance, and introduced interventions based on Boston Ceasefire, (gang-centered, neighbourhood-based, repeat-offending youth). She was also instrumental in achieving changes to the Lord Advocates guidelines relating to custody for knife carriers. She supports the Medics Against Violence charity in Scotland, set up with the violence reduction unit, where doctors visit schools to talk to children about violence reduction and keeping safe.
She said: “You need to aspire. For me, I have to imagine that things can be different. I’m seeing babies and children and I want their lives to be better. I need their dads to go out to work and I need social mobility.”
Journalist and author Lady Kishwar Desai also spoke at the event, which was held in partnership with the Yorkshire Asian Business Association.
Mrs Desai, who won the Costa Book Award in 2010 for Best First Novel, has written books on the systematic murder of Asian baby girls, surrogacy and gang rape in India.
She said: “Education and the poor legal system are areas that need to be addressed.”
Linda Barlow, managing director of Forward Ladies, added: “Forward Ladies has never been afraid to tackle issues which affect women in the workplace. We have three very successful women from very different backgrounds who have championed the role of professional women, each in their own way.”