UCD faces sexism charge: Women’s Studies Society to take legal action against College over the societies’ posters

Originally published in Volume I, Issue 9 on 1st March 1995 by Sinead Ingoldsby and Pat Leahy .

 

The Women’s Studies Society is planning to take legal action against UCD. The society claims that certain posters advertising events run by student societies constitute sexual harassment and has taken legal advice from the Employment Equality Agency.

According to informed sources, the society believes that under the Employment Equality Act, 1977, UCD may be liable if the posters are judged to constitute sexual harassment. The Employment Equality Agency confirmed that they had offered advice to the Women’s Studies Society but refuse to comment on the substance of the allegations.

There are six posters in particular that the society has brought to the attention of the College authorities. Two are advertisements for L&H debates, two for the Commerce and Economics Society and one each for the Engineering Ball and the Sailing Colours Ball. It is claimed that they constitute sexual harassment because they portrayed women as “sexual objects” and showed “ images of violence” against women. The posters, three of which are reproduced on page 2, were displayed around the College.

The L&H posters, which advertised debates held by that society during the first term are cartoons based on the topic of the debates. One of the C&E postersin question was also advertising a debate, and was the subject of complaints to the Student Consultative Forum and the Registrar before Christmas. The poster for the Engineering Ball was also a cartoon. The remaining posters were low-quality reproductions of photos of semi-clad women. One, advertising the Sailing Club’s Colours Ball, read “She’s dressed for the Sailing Colours Ball. Are You?” The other, also a C&E poster, showed a woman disrobing with the caption “Discover the C&E.”

The Action Committee on Sexual Harassment of the Women’s Studies Society has been pursuing complaints against the societies in question since before Christmas. They initially complained to the Registrar, Dr Caroline Hussey, who referred the complaint to Societies’ Officer, Paddy O’Flynn. Members of the Women’s Studies Society are believed to be incensed at Mr O’Flynn’s handling the affair. They see the College’s response to their complaints as totally inadequate and it is because of this that they have sought to take legal action on the matter. According to sources in the Centre for Women’s Studies, any attempts to raise the matter with the College were “stonewalled”.

Speaking to the University Observer, Paddy O’Flynn denied this, saying that the complaint was currently being processed by the Students Consultative Forum. “There is a due process to be observed here. I have written to the societies in question and their replies will be considered by the Recognition Committee which will decide what action to take. This is how we operate, rather than the summary justice of a College officer handing down a fine.”

“I have no difficulty with the fact that legal action is being taken. It’s their right to do so, but it won’t inhibit our course of action.”

The Governing Body of UCD are due to consider a draft document on sexual harassment. It is intended that UCD will adopt a policy on the matter, as no explicit policy now exists. The document, a draft of which has been seen by the University Observer, contains no mention of society posters.

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