Women’s TUC 2024

  • 13 Mar 2024

NUJ motions on the risks posed to women by AI and the dangers of “unisex” protective wear which do not fit the female form, were passed by conference.

Ann Coltart, Raj Ford, Cristina Lago, Ann Galpin, Mariam Elsayeh & Natasha Hirst

The NUJ’s delegates, Natasha Hirst, Ann Galpin, Raj Ford, Mariam Elsayeh and Ann Coltart, also spoke to motions on sexual stereotyping in the arts and media, menopause in the workplace and contributed questions to the TUC general secretary, Paul Nowak, shadow women’s secretary, Anneliese Dodds, and other panel sessions. Natasha Hirst, NUJ president, took part in a TUCG fringe event with colleagues from a variety of unions at London’s Congress House.

Paul Nowak told conference: “Our first priority this year is to secure political change in this country by getting rid of the most extreme, most right-wing, most anti-union government in history … Everyone in this room knows women are still enduring discrimination at work, in our economy and in broader society.

“Austerity, the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis – all have disproportionately hit women and widened Britain’s already huge gender inequalities.”

Attending the Women’s TUC can be a depressing yet uplifting experience.

Depressing because the same issues of discrimination, misogyny and violence against women and girls are revisited year after year – they are still part of the delegates’ lives and their experience at work.

Uplifting because of the feeling of solidarity and the friendly buzz among the tables of the packed Congress Hall. Women know they can expect a sympathetic ear and can share their stories. All the delegates were giving up their time because they wanted to make a difference to people’s lives, especially women’s.

During the conference, on International Women's Day, the delegates launched a Equality Council campaign #ShowUstheMoney to increase pay transparency and make job recruitment fairer.

Violence and online abuse

Conference heard that more than one in four women had been raped or sexually assaulted as an adult and that just 1.3 per cent of rape cases recorded by police resulted in charge or a summons.

As many as 58 per cent of women experienced at least three incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace, with many reporting its detrimental impact on their mental health.

In 2021, research found that a third of women in the UK had experienced online abuse.

Behind these stubborn statistics are shattered lives and careers destroyed by violence and abuse. Responses from the police and internet companies were sadly lacking and the actual experience of reporting the abuse could often be almost as stressful as the act itself, said NUJ delegate Raj Ford. “About 2.5m threatening posts were directed at two women, Nobel laureate and Filipina journalist, Maria Ressa, and Carole Cadwalladr, a UK reporter,” Raj told conference. “In Northern Ireland, journalist Patricia Devlin received multiple death threats. She lodged an official complaint against the police for a complete failure to properly investigate a threat to rape her baby.”

 She said the NUJ, as a member of the government’s National Committee for the Safety of Journalists, lobbied for the authorities to take this horrific abuse seriously “and to tackle the tech companies who are clearly doing so little to police the toxicity on their platforms”.

Employers had to take responsibility by reporting incidents to the police and issuing cease and desist letters, she added. “Action must be taken to protect journalism and the women engaged in it. It’s time to stop online abuse in its tracks.”

Artificial Intelligence

Natasha Hirst warned delegates about the perils posed by the fast-developing AI phenomenon. “AI is already violating women’s privacy and dignity by making it incredibly easy to generate fake pornographic images and videos of women and girls,” she said.

Women would be exposed to the data produced by AI learning machines which merely regurgitated the biases, discrimination, hatred and disinformation in its algorithms.

“AI is already breaching creators’ rights, stealing their words, images and likenesses,” she warned. “Dangerously, AI-generated images, footage and articles erode the trust and confidence of all encountering photography and journalism, and the spread of disinformation and misinformation during an election year here, and across many counties, is a serious risk.”

She concluded: “The ability of AI as a tool for good is tremendous, but the implications for journalism, democracy and all of our human rights in a world where people do not trust anything that is in front of them is terrifying.” The motion, passed unanimously, instructed the Women’s Committee to raise awareness of the effects of AI on women and called for regulation to protect creators’ rights from being breached.

For more information, go to the NUJ’s Journalism before Algorithms campaign page.

Protective clothing in war zones

“Will I fit” was the title a of a poem written by Prospect’s Kate Hawley, whose dream job in forestry was somewhat tempered by kit that never fitted. Her star turn at conference was as seconder to the NUJ’s motion about the problems women journalists working in war zones had with their PPE, called “unisex” but actually designed for the standard Caucasian male.

While women in a variety of industries had to make do, the gaps and loose fittings could be a matter of life and death if bullets are flying or fire fighters were working in dangerous conditions.

NUJ delegate Cristina Lago said latest reports revealed 13 women journalists died while working in Gaza and four more lost their lives covering the war in Ukraine.

While employers had to ensure they were sourcing the right PPE for staff, it could be even more challenging for freelances who feared losing commissions if they asked for good-quality PPE.

“This is not a fashion show,” said Cristina. “It’s about doing your job safely and to the best of your ability. It’s about being able to go back home at the end of the day.”

Gaza statement

Introducing a panel session on the situation in Gaza, Debbie Reay, chair of ASLEF's women's committee, said: “I would also like to pay tribute to the many journalists who risk their lives to report on horrors of war and to mourn those who have died just doing their job.” Annette Mansell-Green, chair of the TUC Women’s Committee, said: “In line with the TUC General Council statement, we support the UN call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the Middle East.” She said the TUC had written to Foreign Secretary, Lord Cameron, highlighting the impact of the violence meted out to workers, women and children and insisting that Israel complied in full with the International Court of Justice, ensuring it was not complicit in war crimes. The TUC Women’s Committee will continue to send messages of support to workers in the region, including women journalists.

Menopause at work

Raj Ford told conference: “There is a recognition that women over 50 are the fastest-growing segment of the workforce and that efforts need to be made to retain this talent … tell that to male colleagues and managers!” 

Speaking to a motion which noted that “most working women aged 40-60 have experienced menopause-related symptoms, over half have been unable to go into work at some point as a result” and “only 24 per cent of women say their organisation has a stated menopause policy” at least unions were leading the way, she said.

The NUJ had launched its new menopause guide and a new policy, Supporting Working Lives, at the BBC was spearheaded by the unions which recognised the physical and psychological symptoms of menopause and encouraged confidential conversations with team leaders.

“This kind of policy is exactly what’s needed across the board – it’s time this debilitating condition is properly recognised and addressed,” said Raj.

Anneliese Dodds said a Labour government would require large employers to publish menopause action plans, and would provide guidance for smaller companies on supporting women experiencing menopause at work.

She said: “Labour would enact the provision already in the Equality Act to prevent discrimination on more than one protected characteristic.

“At present, women experiencing discrimination because of menopause are forced to bring separate claims on the basis of age and sex, or even have to bring a claim based on disability. This is a simple change that will make a huge impact on those women and for every woman that faces discrimination at work because, whatever their race, religion or disability, this measure will protect all women from discrimination.”


Last year a motion was brought to WTUC about the need for the trade union movement to get its own house in order on sexual harassment. This conference, Annette Mansell-Green said: “The working party will be bringing a statement of commitment for every general secretary to sign up to, to ensure they are publicly stating they are committed to tackling preventing sexual harassment within our own movement.”

She added: “it’s not good enough just to sign it, they have got to mean it” and the committee was “developing a tracker so that we can actually monitor what is being done in the different affiliates – not to name and shame – but to encourage and educate unions”.

Paul Nowak said he would be undertaking precisely the same exercise with his own staff. “As a senior man in our movement, I want every woman to feel like their union is a safe and inclusive place,” he said.

“That means acting now to tackle sexual harassment or bullying. It means addressing the cultures that enables sexual harassment and bullying. It means believing, empowering the victims and survivors of abuse.”

Last month, The Guardian published results of a report showing nearly a third of female firefighters had experienced sexual harassment at events related to union activity. The Fire Brigades Union commissioned the report after sexual harassment scandals were revealed in unions such as the GMB, TSSA and Royal College of Nursing.

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