IRELAND’S youngest female elected politician, Lisa Marie Sheehy, has called for an improved environment for female councillors, after revealing that she was subjected to “sexist” comments during her first year as councillor.
The 21-year-old Sinn Féin councillor said that, while she has been met with positivity since she was elected in May 2014, comments made about her by some councillors have been “most offensive” and “inappropriate”.
Cllr Sheehy described to the Limerick Leader about how she became “instantly very uncomfortable” after comments were made by a particular councillor about her clothing.
“Some councillors – which I won’t name – have had this sexist attitude that I have felt. And comments have been made, not to me but to other people, about my clothing, which I do not personally think is inappropriate. I am not wearing belly tops or anything like that. The comments were basically, ‘How can you concentrate when people are dressed like that?’
“Now, I must say, that day I literally had a blazer on – I was wearing tights, I was wearing heels, I was wearing shorts. I was not wearing a skirt, a mini skirt of any sort. I was wearing shorts and jet black tights. I was covered top to toe,” she explained.
She said that when she approached the person in question regarding the comment, he apologised. However, she said she is “not letting it go”.
“That was probably one of the most disgusting comments that I have heard about me. This was said, as far as I am aware – it was a group councillors that were huddled and this guy said it, and I think it was met with shock from the other councillors.
“But this was said, and no, it’s not good enough. We have to do something about it in the council. I still talk to the person. I do genuinely think it was an inappropriate slip of the tongue, and I think he regretted it the second he said it. He knew what he had said.”
When asked if there were other incidents, Cllr Sheehy, who represents the Cappamore-Kilmallock district, said one councillor remarked that “Women are only in politics to make tea”.
“This is said as a joke to me, and clearly laughing and stuff like that. I didn’t find it funny, I find it most offensive. I think it is so offensive. Again, more comments about what I am wearing, like ‘Oh, you’re very colourful today,’ or ‘That looks like your pyjamas’ and different things like that. I’m not your friend; I’m your colleague. There is no need. Like, I am not going to comment on your sense of dress, so don’t comment on mine. Because it has nothing to do with how I do my job,” she said.
She added that if they want to encourage more women coming into the council, they need to stop these incidents from happening.
“If you’re going to have this carry-on with older men saying these kind of things, thinking that they’re joking, that’s not a place that a woman feels comfortable to be.
“We need to become more aware of what we are saying. Even examples in the council like, I hear a lot of ‘layman’s terms’, ‘manpower’ and ‘him’ as examples. Now, I do see a lot more councillors making efforts with that, to include both genders and stuff like that.
“We need to improve that kind of environment. Otherwise, how are we supposed to get other women involved?”
Cllr Sheehy, who is going into her final year of Government at UCC, added that she has received “negativity” about her age from particular councillors also.
“Young people got a great vote all over the country, and women as well. So if we want to do that, we have to address these issues. We can’t just let people say what they want to say when it is offending people,” she said.