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Women's conference to tackle media stereotypes

2 March 2009

The NUJ's women's conference has called on the union to do more to encourage women to get involved in its decision making.

More than 50 women crowded into the NUJ's London headquarters on Saturday for the union's annual women's conference, which looked at the portrayal of women in the media, as well as how the union could encourage more women to come forward for election to union bodies.

Media sexism

This year's conference theme, "Images of Women", was taken from the union's iconic 1975 publication of the same name. The publication was produced by the forerunner of today's Equality Council, the Equality Working Party.

The question posed by the conference – has media sexism been spiked once for all – was confronted by five speakers and an audience debate. The answer: a firm and unequivocal 'no'.

Speakers included Narmadha Thirangama, TUC Women's Officer, who spoke about her own experiences as a Black woman graduate and Kat Banyard, who heads up the Fawcett Society's campaign Sexism and the City. Kat Banyard talked about the way media images affect the way women are treated in the workplace, illustrating her speech with examples of discrimination in the City of London's financial institutions.

The conference also looked at parallels between journalism and acting, when Max Beckmann, Equity's Equality Officer, spoke about the way gender stereotyping impacts on employment opportunities and the earning capabilities of women actors. The stark realities were summed up in one response to a Europe-wide survey on the subject, in which a casting director said:

"Men have more character, women need to be good-looking."

The lack of representation of women across the media was addressed by Sue Tate and Jenny Rintoul from Bristol Fawcett and the Bristol Feminist Network. They identified a real need for more "active" portrayals of women and of women holding leadership positions.

Equality in the NUJ

The second part of the conference, chaired by Mindy Ran, the NUJ's Equality Council chair, looked at how we ensure the NUJ itself started to reflect the fact that 48 per cent of the membership is made up of women.

In a debate which featured Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ Deputy General Secretary, and Megan Dobney, Regional Secretary of the South East TUC, the session looked at identifying why more women don't come forward to stand for positions in the union's democratic structures.

It was clear that the reasons were varied and complex. The conference called on the union to do more to promote the fact that it can help with childcare costs to members who might like to get involved, but bear the brunt of caring responsibilities. It also called on any women interested in standing for union positions to contact the union's Equality Officer.

The conference agreed the union needed to be more proactive to ensure that women who want to become active are not confronted by a "closed door" when they try to put themselves forward.

The conference passed a wide-ranging and hard hitting motion, to be taken by the Equality Council to the union's annual conference, on steps to ensure that the ruling bodies of the union reflect the diversity of the membership it serves.e

NUJ Equality Officer, Lena Calvert, said:

"This is likely to be one of the most controversial motions taken to annual conference in recent years and conveys the impatience that many women members feel about the lack of progress on gender balance in the NUJ.
"It is not an attack on hard-working male activists on the NEC, but the union's leading body must reflect the number of women in the union and their views. It will be interesting to see how some members, who feel their power base is under attack, will respond."

Tags: , nuj women's conference, stereotypes, women in the nuj, women, equality, gender, representation, fawcett society, tuc, sexism, bristol feminist network, equality council