Under the Hijab: Discrimination against Muslim Women

Islam is Ireland’s fastest growing religion with a population of 48,130 and their numbers are expected to reach 100,000 by 2020 . It is estimated that about 500 Irish people convert to Islam every year, with more women converting than men.

In November 2013, a vicious hate letter was sent to various Islamic institutions and mosques around Dublin threatening to attack any Muslim man, woman or child that entered a mosque. The letter was an example of intolerance towards the Muslim community and it also claimed to represent ‘the Irish people’.

Photo captured by Neils Photography [Flickr]
Photo captured by Neil Liddle [Flickr]

Although many organisations, such as The Irish Anti-War Movement who said it was ‘an insult to the Irish people’ and The Immigration Council of Ireland, were outraged and insisted these were the feelings of a minority of intolerant people, it does not change the fact that there is discrimination against the Muslim community, and in particular against Muslim women wearing the hijab. The hijab is a head covering that many Muslim women wear while in public, which conceals the hair and the neck from view.

Bilkis Sulaimom, although born a Muslim, only started wearing the hijab last year. She explains how important the hijab is to her by saying, “It’s an obligation for every believing woman in Islam. My personal reason for wearing it is that I think it expresses my religion. I want people to know I’m a Muslim, it’s my identity and a form of modesty.”

According to ‘Muslims in Ireland: Adaption and Integration’ , Islamic dress, the hijab in particular, often means that Muslims are easily identified. This sometimes leads to Muslims being singled out and discriminated either in public places or in terms of employment.

A Muslim convert who prefers to remain anonymous, so she’ll be called Diana for clarity’s sake, shared her experience with discrimination. “I work in a restaurant,” Diana said, “If I asked to wear the scarf, [my boss] wouldn’t allow it; it’s very complicated to go to an employer and say I want to do it, but I’d be judged. You would be judged.”
Diana explained how she felt uncomfortable leaving in CVs while wearing the hijab, as she felt she didn’t have as good a chance at getting it if employers knew she was a Muslim.
“I tried [finding another job] recently while wearing hijab and the woman looked at me like I was an alien or something. She looked at me very strange when I gave her my CV. You know how hard it is to find a job in Ireland, imagine how hard it is to look for one with a hijab. It is ten times worse.”

A journal called ‘Measuring Islamophobia’ shows that the growth of discrimination against Muslims has been identified as a new, worrying trend in racial intolerance with members of Europe’s Islamic communities the target of unacceptable behaviour and discrimination that can take many forms, including violence.

Photo captured by Zharif Hussein [Flickr]
Photo captured by Zharif Hussein [Flickr]

After speaking with Dr Yazid Said, an Islamic Studies professor at Mater Dei Institute for Higher Education, about whether it would be wiser to not wear the hijab to avoid discrimination, he said, “If people face persecution for such things then you know they’re standing up for what is essential to their identity and they have to choose whether they compromise their dignity or not. I would never, as a Christian, stand up and say I’m compromising my traditions because in public it’s embarrassing. I see reality in a particular way and I have the right to express that.”

Dr Said explained that Islam has many faces; what the hijab means in Saudi Arabia could be a totally different answer in Bosnia or Egypt or Indonesia. He says that people care about their religious identity and he believes that part of the Irish tradition has always been welcoming, hospitable and down to earth towards all sorts of people.

“I think the public sphere is not supposed to be a neutral space where we ought to water down our traditions or withdraw from expressing it publicly,” he continued, “It should be a civic space where people can engage one another’s traditions honestly and to a full, without a sense of fear, so a Christian can be a Christian and a Muslim can be a Muslim and a Buddhist can be a Buddhist. A sign of maturity is that we are able to engage one another from the depths of tradition.”

According to ‘The Experience of Discrimination in Ireland Analysis’ in 2008, non-Catholic groups tend to report higher rates of discrimination compared to Catholics. Muslims record the highest ‘raw’ rate of discrimination.

The National Women’s Council of Ireland and National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism published a study called ‘Making our Voices Heard: The stories of Muslim women in Ireland’ about the lives of sixteen Muslim women in Ireland. The stories of these women show their experience of discrimination with Irish people due to their Muslim religion and the fact that they wear the hijab, which makes them into a ‘visible minority’. One of the women featured, Lorraine O’Connor from Coolock in Dublin said, “It dawned on me that even though I was Irish, as soon as I put on the hijab, I became a foreigner in my own country.”

Sarah Rashid, born into a Muslim family, has a different view of the hijab and its function.  She said, “I wanted to wear the hijab when I turned seven because I thought it was a cool fashion thing as all the women were wearing it. My dad told me to wait for the age where it’s appropriate to decide if you want to wear it or not. Then I just didn’t think it was necessary because I wasn’t that religious in that aspect and was just a hypocrite if I wore it. My friends and sisters didn’t wear it and they’re Muslims as well; it’s not a necessity. People mistake the hijab [as being] very heavily engraved in the religion. Where I grew up, and what I have learned from women where I am from in Bahrain, it’s more traditional and cultural.”

Photo captured by Zharif Hussein [Flickr]
Photo captured by Zharif Hussein [Flickr]

New Jersey native Leila Rodriguez, an ex-Christian and Muslim convert, spoke about her experience after converting. “Some cannot wear hijab at work, some cannot even find work because of it,” she said, “One sister I know who I met on Twitter used to always have her picture up where she wore hijab. One day I noticed she didn’t have it on so I messaged her because I was genuinely concerned. She told me that she had been attacked coming out of a mall at night on her way to the parking lot. They screamed racial slurs at her. After that, she did not want to wear the hijab. I felt really sad about it and I still do.”

Discrimination and judgment from others may stem from the idea that the hijab is oppressing women, and their stares could be a form of silent protest about that. Leila debunks this by saying, “Hijab is not just a head covering; I also have a brain. I’m allowed to think for myself. I am not oppressed because Allah is against the oppressors, this is very clear in the Quran. Women have many rights due to Islam. It may not seem that way in other countries so I’m here to tell you it’s wrong. If women are being oppressed because of culture and tradition, it is not Islam. People often confuse Islam with culture and they don’t mix.”
After engaging with several Muslim women about what the hijab means to them and what reactions they have received as a result of wearing it, I decided to get some first hand experience. I bought a hijab from an Islamic clothing store and decided to spend three hours walking around Dublin city doing things I would normally do to see what reaction I would receive. In short, I didn’t last the three hours I had intended spending in the city.
The hijab I wore for the investigation. Photo captured by Mary McFadden
The hijab I wore for the investigation. Photo captured by Mary McFadden

From the moment I left my house I was stared at and it made me very uncomfortable, as I am not used to so many people looking at me. I also experienced several angry looks, all from women, as I passed them.

I only spent an hour and a half around the city but it got to the point where I was near tears and wanted to go home. I had experienced snide comments, a woman peeking under my umbrella as if to verify that I was wearing a hijab and outright stares from people. The worst part of my experience was when I was exiting a retail store and a group of teenage boys who had been at the front of the shop came rushing past me and one of them said, “Bomb!” and ran off. It was very shocking.

It was an eye opening experience, but not one that I would rush to participate in again. I spent some time during my experience with the hijab off, after removing it in a department store. I was wearing the same clothes and doing the same things and yet I

felt so much better without the hijab on. I didn’t feel like anybody was looking at me strangely or judging me anymore. To me, this confirms that the reaction I experienced was a direct result of wearing hijab.

My experience makes me question the level of tolerance and tact in Irish society. We are known worldwide as welcoming and friendly people but what does that matter if we do not treat our fellow citizens with the same tolerance as we do our guests, whatever religion they may identify with.

The hijab is obviously a garment that is highly important and innately spiritual to some Muslim women and there is clear discrimination and judgement apparent, which I witnessed firsthand during my short-lived experiment. After several interviews, it is obvious that some degree of judgement and discrimination exists in Irish society against Muslim women who wear hijab and although the interviewees found the majority of Irish people tolerant, there is a minority of people that need to start accepting others for who they are, and a majority of us who need to think twice before staring.

Kim Alaniz

The Diamond Engagement Ring Scam

Apparently diamonds are a girl’s best friend, or so I’m told. I can’t speak for everyone, but the closest I’ve come to a diamond is when my nose is pressed up against the glass at Tiffany’s, so evidently I have no best friends. At least not the shiny kind.

These coveted gems are usually found on a day to day basis on the ring finger of a woman in the form of an engagement ring. Possessing this ring gives women a cultural elevation above all the other ringless women, indicating that she is engaged to be married, which means she has ‘bagged herself a man’. This kind of thinking held more weight in the past, when women couldn’t work for themselves and were basically live-in baby makers dependent on their spouses. Society has changed a great deal since then, yet getting an engagement ring generally adorned with diamonds, has become a prerequisite for getting married.

Diamond ring on ring finger

The Knot Inc. conducted a survey in 2011 involving more than 10,000 U.S. brides and 1,000 U.S. grooms engaged or married in the past year. It found that the average cost of an engagement ring was $5,200, with 12% of couples actually spending more than $8,000. That’s not including the costs of the actual wedding rings, either. Evidently if you decide to get married you have to accept that you’re going to go broke.

Jewellery is a significant part of the wedding experience, but why is that so? Where did this phenomenon of exchanging polished gems come from? At one time it was believed that the ring finger contained a vein, the vena amoris, that led to the heart. This no doubt stroked the romantic sides of many people, leading to the custom of wearing the engagement ring on that particular finger. In fact, at my own parents’ wedding, my dad forgot which finger he was required to place the ring on and my mum had to subtly waggle it to give him a hint.

Hands forming heart shape

So how did diamond rings become popular? Well, in 1938 a diamond cartel called De Beers started a marketing strategy that had a massive impact on engagement rings. The price of diamonds collapsed during the Great Depression and at the time, market research discovered that engagement rings were out of style with the younger generation. A huge advertising campaign began in 1939 which boasted the slogan, ‘A Diamond is Forever’. De Beers persuaded consumers that an engagement ring was necessary and that a diamond was the only appropriate stone for such a ring. In 1939, only 10% of engagement rings had diamonds and by 1990, 80% did. This campaign completely duped consumers, and the effects of this campaign are still seen to this day.

The thing is, despite what the receipt says, diamonds have no real value. There are far more of them than we are led to believe, and they can’t be sold at even a fraction of their price. Before the De Beers discovered an untapped source of diamonds in South Africa, the gems were indeed as rare as they are currently advertised as. And yet in the public’s mind to this day, diamonds are linked to love and romance. The stark truth is that this ‘diamond = romance’ fantasy was created by the greed of a totalitarian conglomerate which dictated the price of diamonds for years and turned a blind eye to the slave driven people who mined them.

Diamond miners

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t get your spouse an engagement ring at all, just that perhaps you could consider gems other than diamonds. After all, there are so many other beautiful gem stones that one could use, including topaz, sapphires, rubies, opal etc. In fact, some really ‘alternative’ brides even go for grey or black unpolished gemstones with rough edges or engagement rings with no stone at all. There is something for everybody and if you’re really planning on spending several grand on a ring, it should be something you really love that suits you and not a ‘generic’ diamond that’s marketed to everybody.

Here is a video that humorously explains the scam:

Would you buy a diamond engagement ring or would you go for an alternative gem? Do you care? Leave any comments below!

Photo captured by 
Gabriel S. Delgado C. [Flickr]

Mental Health in Doctors

In our fast paced society, with the tolls and troubles of work (or the lack of it) it is no wonder people experience depression in their life. According to Aware, an organisation that assists those directly affected by mental illness, it is estimated that at any one time 280,000 people in Ireland suffer from depression. Judging by this information, anti-depressants could become an ever more common thing to see in medicine cabinets.

What is mental health anyway? How do we define it? The HSE states that mental health describes how we think and feel about ourselves and others and how we interpret events and activities in everyday life. It relates to our ability to deal with change, important events and the stresses of life. It refers to the emotional resilience to be able to enjoy life and the ability to survive through adversary. It covers pain, disappointment, sadness and it involves the level of belief in your own and others’ worth.

There are many helpful websites for those seeking treatment for mental health issues and in most cases they are effective for those that are brave enough to begin to tackle the problem. However, there is a group of people in our lives who we visit yearly, people who we wouldn’t think twice about and those who, for some reason, are viewed to be in perfect health just because of their profession. This group of people are doctors.

Photo captured by Military Health [Flickr]

For many doctors, there are some who take the dangerous route of self-diagnosis. The majority of those with depression either don’t recognise the symptoms to figure out what they have, or they don’t want to accept it.

Medical Independent writer Dr. Anthony O’Connor has said, “It’s really important to talk about mental health in general, but because of the culture of innocence, if you’re a doctor then you’re seen as a healer and you don’t want to be seen as weak.”

Junior hospital doctors, otherwise known as NCHDs, have claimed they are working under such pressure that it is affecting the quality of care for their patients. These professionals say they could have shifts as long as 36 hours and they sometimes work 71 hours a week or more.

Dr. O’Connor taught two undergraduate medical students who subsequently ended their lives. He said, “Suicide is rarely down to just one thing so I can’t say for definite what their reasons were. What I can say is that junior doctors in particular are not known for having good mental health. There are barriers to getting help for them as they could be working thirteen hours a day and wouldn’t have the time to go and see a GP for help. So I wouldn’t say that suicide is due to any one factor or work or stress that a person doesn’t see a way out of, it can be a number of factors. However, I don’t think the way that doctors work breeds good mental health, and it’s important to acknowledge that.”

The effects of these working conditions have been logged as stress, extreme exhaustion, depression and suicide. A 2004 EU directive said that workers in the EU should work ‘no more than 48 hours per week’. However there is evidence that this is largely being ignored.

NCHD Dr Niall Kelly said, “There’s been times I was driving home, felt fairly tired and had to pull in at the side of the road and nap so I didn’t crash, and this has happened a couple of times. I could even fall asleep before I get out to the hospital car park from just working flat out shifts.”

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has a role to represent doctors in Ireland and to provide them with all relevant services. It is committed to the development of a caring, efficient and effective Health Service.

Photo captured by Honor Kristo-Gothard [Flickr]

Shirley Coulter, representing the IMO said, “The key objectives of the current junior doctors campaign, a campaign borne out of NCHD’s absolute despair at the soul destroying hours they are required to work to the detriment of patient care, are to limit the maximum shift length to 24 hours, limit the weekly average to EWTD compliant 48 hours while protecting training time and the removal of NCHD-inappropriate tasks.”

Trying to research mental health among doctors with a quick Google search is quite fruitless as there is very little information on it. This was surprising as there are so many facilities and organisations that promote mental health in teenagerssingle parents and the elderly. They are also easy to find. On the contrary, the lack of information on services for doctors could make it difficult for them to find help.

Although Ireland has only recently started to notice the problem, Canada was among the first to acknowledge the constraints that stop doctors from seeking help for themselves. They set up aconfidential help service in 1987 and in 1994 Norway invested $1.3 million in programmes to improve physicians’ health and working conditions. Hopefully Ireland is not far behind.

Mental health issues have never been more recognised than they are today. In the past, citizens with these problems could be forcibly admitted to psychiatric units and were generally stigmatised by their communities as people simply didn’t understand their condition.

The Sick Doctors Scheme is accessible to all doctors from any medical discipline who may have a problem or are concerned about a substance misuse issue. The SDS provides medical assessment, appropriate referral, on-going monitoring and general support in the event of a problem being diagnosed. This is one of the few schemes of its kind that has the sole aim of helping doctors.

According to consultant psychiatrist Dr. Tony Sharkey, “I’ve seen quite a few sick doctors over my time. Doctors are harder to manage than the general population as there is a great deal of denial. A lot of the time problems arise due to the stress of not being able to deal with death. Personally, I was a clinical director for some time and the most difficult part of my job was to actually manage the doctors who became unwell, to approach my colleagues and get them to understand that they’re not coping. That was the hardest part for me.”

Doctors have to deal with a lot of very difficult issues that arise on a daily basis. These can include stress, exhaustion and the inability to accept death and all can lead to mental health problems. The EU directive has made an improvement but it may be a long time yet before it is implemented correctly, and many doctors could suffer in the process.

Doctors can be as vulnerable as the rest of us, if not more so, in their difficult jobs. They are remarkable people but they are not invincible, and it is important that this is acknowledged.

Junior doctors protesting outside Mercy Hospital in Cork:

Are you feeling depressed? Call the Samaritans, the 24 hour listening service, to talk to someone now if there’s something on your mind. Call 1850 60 90 90.

Trending… Terrifying Tales

Nothing says summer like lying by the pool with a good book in hand. It’s easy to be tempted by all the love stories that hit the shelves once the sun comes out but, seeing as the summer is coming to a close, how about changing it up with some more thrilling options. 


Newcomer K T Medina’s chilling first novel White Crocodile (Faber & Faber) follows Tess Hardy, a woman who travels to Cambodia after her violent husband, Luke, ends up dead. She takes a job at the same humanitarian land mine clearance charity that Luke had worked for and realises that she is surrounded by danger. Murder, mutilation and kidnappings ensue and Tess hears whispers and rumours about a feared White Crocodile, the harbinger of death. She gets caught in a web of secrets and lies that reaches across continents, from Cambodia to England; can Tess find out the truth before it’s too late?

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 16.12.16

From the best-selling author of The Killing Room and The Stolen Ones comes Richard Montanari’s thrilling new novel The Doll Maker (Sphere) which follows detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano and the chilling Mr Marseille and his lover Anabelle. When a murdered girl is discovered in strange circumstances, the detectives soon investigate the bizarre case. Two more victims are discovered in a similar setting, but with one difference: a delicate porcelain doll lies beside them. It’s a message, and a threat. Can the detectives find the link between the murders on time? With Marseille and Anabelle stalking the city, it might be too late for another innocent child.

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Kanae Minato’s explosive debut novel, Confessions (Hodder & Stoughton), is a dark thriller about love, despair and murder. When Yuko Moriguchi’s four year old daughter dies in the school where she teaches, everyone thought it was an accident. On Yuko’s last day of work, she tells her students that she has resigned because of what happened – but not for the reasons they think. Her daughter’s death was no accident. Before she leaves, she has one last lesson to teach, but revenge has a way of spinning out of control and Yuko’s last lecture is only the beginning. In this best-selling Japanese thriller, everyone has a confession to make.


Top 5 Life Hacks for Students

The stresses of daily life are hard to bear sometimes, particularly if you have an assignment coming up, but frustration can reach new levels when it comes to the tiny annoyances that shouldbe simple but aren’t. Here is a list of life hacks that can make your day easier:

1) How many times have you opened the microwave to be greeted with a spaghetti-crusted mess courtesy of the last person who used it? I’m sure it’s happened at least once, but if not, then the following advice will prepare you if (or when) it happens in the future. Stick a bowl of water in the dirty microwave for 3 minutes; this will cause steam to loosen up the particles and make cleaning much easier.

Photo captured by Mary McFadden
Photo captured by Mary McFadden

2) Laptops heating up is a bit of a pain in the ass, especially when you’re cosy in bed and don’t want to have to move during your Netflix marathon. Cooling units that strap on to the bottom of your laptop are relatively cheap, but if you don’t feel like splashing out on one there is a cheaper solution! Buying things in bulk is a smart idea for a cash-strapped student, so next time you’re at Tesco for the weekly shop, pick up a 24 pack of eggs. Spend the day making pancakes/ omelettes, eating the yolks Rocky-style and then place the empty egg pack under your laptop for a makeshift cooler. Simple!

Photo captured by Mary McFadden
Photo captured by Mary McFadden

3) There’s no disappointment quite like being told it’s your turn to bring the bins out. I don’t know about you, but random smelly juices have dripped on my shoes one too many times!  A great way to absorb food juices and act as a barrier is if you stick an old newspaper at the bottom of a new bag before anybody in your flat has a chance to throw rubbish away.

Photo captured by Mary McFadden
Photo captured by Mary McFadden

4) Trying to fill the kettle but there’s a sink full of dishes in the way? Get a dust pan, stick it under the water at the spade end and fill it that way. Alternatively, you could invest in a small plastic jug and use that to fill the kettle whenever you face obstructions.

Photo captured by Mary McFadden
Photo captured by Mary McFadden

5) There’s been many times when even the five alarms I set the night before can’t get me out of bed. Sometimes you just don’t hear it when you’re in the warm embrace of sleep! An easy way to amplify the sound of your alarm is to stick your phone in a glass and put it by your bed.

Photo captured by Mary McFadden
Photo captured by Mary McFadden

What are your best life hacks? Post them below!

Fruit snacks

Weight Loss: A Lifestyle Change

Problems with weight have plagued many people and you’re likely to have an issue with your weight at some point in your life. However, fad diets and ‘get thin quick’ schemes are not going to work. The thing about diets is that that many people start them thinking that they’re going to lose the weight and then they’ll be fine to relax a little. You could lose the weight but unless you’re going to keep up with the diet for life then you’re not going to be able to maintain the weight you’ve lost. Popular diets are usually extreme, and they are not viable long term solutions to a weight problem. If you are looking to lose weight, you need to make this a lifestyle change and view it as such, not as a diet.

Photo captured by Public Domain Pictures

A lot of diets are about people going cold-turkey and completely abandoning what they used to eat in favour of a selection of foods that they may have never touched before. This is a shock to your system and being extremely strict like this at the beginning is just asking for a binging session sooner or later. It’s best to begin slowly, giving yourself small goals and then rewards for meeting those goals; for example, switching from full fat milk to low fat milk or eating a banana as a snack instead of a chocolate bar. These things, although small, are little victories that will build up your confidence early and encourage you to make more bold choices with what you’re eating.

Photo captured by Agencja_PRide

This advice has helped me greatly with my own weight loss journey; every time I started a diet in the past I would be much too hard on myself, which inevitably led to failure after failure because I wasn’t tackling my relationship with food. I now realize that I am a pleasure-eater; I love the taste of food and I tend to munch when I’m bored. After realizing this, I was able to make a conscious decision not to open the fridge or the cupboard in search of food when I’m not even hungry. I’ve had little victories such as cutting out fizzy drinks and replacing them with fruit-infused water, eating breakfast whereas before I would have skipped it completely and eating things like fruit, rice cakes and popcorn instead of unhealthy junk food.
I know everybody is different with their progress, sure it took me years to even get to a point where I was willing to properly change the way I eat so I know how tough it is to get that motivation and keep it. The point is that you need to cut yourself some slack, being fit and healthy is a life long journey and of course you’re going to have ups and downs, you might have a Chinese one night or you could have a packet of crisps (or a few) one night. Nobody is perfect and everything should be in moderation, so if you have a slip-up don’t worry about it. Try again the next day!

I wish you good luck on your weight loss journey and leave you with my top 3 favourite healthy snacks for when the cravings come knocking:

Greek yogurt with honey and rasberries

Photo captured by Schwäbin

Greek yogurt has twice as much protein as other yogurts. As greek yogurt is a bit bland, you can mix in other foods to add flavor such as a spoonful of honey and mixing it with some fresh fruit, alternatively you could use a few drops of vanilla essence. This is a versatile little food as its composition is flexible enough to change flavours with whatever you add so that it doesn’t get boring!

Banana and dark chocolate

Photo captured by Derrick Coetzee

Bananas are nothng exciting, but they’re packed with potassium, they’re high in fiber and they stimulate the growth of friendly bacteria in the bowel. Bananas also produce digestive enzymes to help absorb nutrients so they’re multi-functional and delicious. Though sometimes the flavor can get a little hard to stick after days of eating them, so it’s a nice idea to slice it up into sections and drizzle some dark chocolate over them. Dark chocolate is packed with anti-oxidants and contains theobromine which has been shown to harden tooth enamel which lowers your risk of getting cavities.

Sweet potato chips

Photo captured by Albert Cahalan

Sweet potatoes are so tasty if you’re willing to give them a chance. We’re a potato-eating country so we might as well be open to the healthier versions! They contain almost twice as much fiber as other types of potatoes. They’re slow burning, so their caloric energy is used more slowly and efficiently than a low-fiber carbohydrate. You basically just cut them into slices, dust with pepper and stick in the oven for 20 minutes. Done!

What are your go-to healthy snacks? How is your weight loss journey going? Please post any comments below.

Photo captured by an Murphy [Flickr]

Irish Taxi Safety: ‘Driver Check’ App

A few weeks ago, a taxi driver who attacked a passenger with a meat cleaver was jailed for three years. The driver refused to give the victim change for his fare and began attacking him once the passenger reached for his ID to take down his name and licence number.

There have been several stories in the news about taxi drivers in the past few years that raised questions about passenger safety, such as a Meath driver being jailed this year for the sexual assault of a female passenger.

Recently, I was getting in a taxi at night time when two drivers got in a fight behind the car. One of them was an illegal driver and had snuck into the rank. Obviously the other driver wasn’t happy about that and the driver of the car I was in explained to me that the illegal drivers were ruining business.

He went on to talk about a few horror stories of some drivers locking doors on passengers when they wanted more money, sexual assault and hostile reactions with passengers who didn’t have enough money to pay the fare. He told me about ‘Driver Check’ which is an app by the government to ‘check’ the details of taxi drivers before getting in the car. You can download the app for free from the Apple store for iPhone and iPad, or Google Play store for Android devices.

A screenshot of the app

A screenshot of the app

The app allows you to check the licence details of taxis, hackneys or limousines and their drivers and report if details aren’t correct. You can also email the details of the taxi you’re in to a friend or family member. You can check this in several ways: Use the roof or door sign number on taxis, use the vehicle registration number, scan the QR code or use the driver identification number on the dashboard if you’ve already gotten inside the taxi.

After downloading the app, you will be asked to provide your name, email and a friend or family member’s email so that you can register. The app can be used in both rural and urban locations including Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. There is also a handy ‘history’ section that records all of your searches.

The app is extremely useful and stop many passengers feeling uneasy about their safety. Sometimes there are only a few taxis on the road, particularly at a very early hour, and at times you don’t really have an option but to take it to get home. However, safety is paramount and if you feel worried about getting in with a certain driver for whatever reason, you should check the licence details first.

A screenshot of the app

A screenshot of the app

The app also identifies illegal drivers so that they can be reported. Illegal drivers have been endangering the livelihoods of licenced drivers and plaguing them for years so it is important that the authorities are alerted whenever you come across one.

Here is a news report of the new app that gives more information and taxi drivers’ reactions:

Photo captured by Tiberiu Ana [Flickr]

Beer without the Fear: Guidelines for Drinking

Waking up in a puddle of your own vomit is almost a rite of passage for a student these days, sad as it is. I’m sure there have been plenty of times where you’ve denounced drink for what it is – pure evil. Though I’m guessing there have been many speeches of how you’ve gone off the drink for life, how you’re “deadly serious this time lads”, and then of course the next night out you’ll relent and have a ‘quiet one’ which inevitably turns into the scenario previously mentioned.

This doesn’t have to be the case though. Unfortunately with things like Freshers’ Week it’s hard not to go on the piss, particularly if you’re a naïve ickle first year who’s trying to make friends for the year ahead. There’s nothing wrong with that of course – it’s just depressing that the more alcohol you throw down your throat, the more popular you are.

Here is a guide on how to end a great night sober and hangover-free: 

Photo captured by Bernt Rostad [Flickr]

Photo captured by Bernt Rostad [Flickr]

1) Drink less than you’re used to. The thing is, you don’t need to cut out drinking altogether. Drinking is one of the biggest social activities in Ireland, probably the most popular. Some drinks taste great, like strawberry daiquiris, but then there’s pure poison like absinthe.

According to Drink Aware, people should not regularly drink more than the daily unit guidelines of 3 – 4 units of alcohol for men and 2 – 3 units of alcohol for women. ‘Regularly’ means drinking every day or most days of the week. Stick to your assigned units and you’ll be the only one wobbling down the street because of your bad dancing rather than a belly full of beer!

Photo captured by waferboard [Flickr]

Photo captured by waferboard [Flickr]

2) Drink plenty of water. Alcohol severely dehydrates you and even though men have a higher water to fat ratio than women so that alcohol is easier diluted, you’re still going to be feeling pretty rough by the end of the night and even worse the morning after. Sometimes it’s easy to think that you’re hydrating yourself while throwing back a vodka and coke because it quenches your thirst, but be careful about this, and make sure to have a pint of water now and again throughout the night and before you go to bed.

Photo captured by Dario Alvarez [Flickr]

Photo captured by Dario Alvarez [Flickr]

3) Fill up on food before going out. Order a large pizza, tuck into some sausage rolls or even just tackle a petit filous yogurt, because as long as there’s something in your tummy, you’ll be able to absorb alcohol better and as a result, won’t get drunk as quickly. I know there’s the traditional take away at the end of the night and that it tastes like heaven but you’re far better off to eat beforehand. Or better yet, both! Though this isn’t the healthiest option and may pack on the pounds!

Photo captured by Frances Berriman [Flickr]

Photo captured by Frances Berriman [Flickr]

4) Don’t let somebody force you into drinking more than you can handle. Pressure from your friends is a major factor. You could be reading this piece in a group and you’re all scoffing at the thought of anybody pressuring you into doing something you don’t want to do. However, I’m sure there’s been at least one time where you were out and felt that if you weren’t drinking then you weren’t being ‘fun’ and were subsequently ruining everyone else’s craic. Or worse yet, somebody told you! Plus if you say you’re not drinking for the night, you get the standard, “Are you on antibiotics or something?”Make sure to stand your ground and know your limits.

Do you have any personal guidelines to add? Please comment below.

Photo captured by Marc Cornelis [Flickr]

How to know if you’re in the Friend Zone

From the wise words of Ryan Reynolds in that film nobody remembers the name of, you are in the friend zone “when a girl decides that you’re her friend, you’re no longer a dating option. You become this complete non-sexual entity in her eyes, like her brother, or a lamp.”

It seems a bit harsh, but then again most true things are. Some guys are in the friend zone and don’t even know it, desperately clinging to the hope that he and that girl he’s had a crush on since forever will become an item.

To all those guys out there who don’t know whether they’re in the friend zone or not, there are a few signs to help you have that eye-opening moment when you realise. 

Photo captured by  epSos .de [Flickr]

Photo captured by epSos .de [Flickr]

1) You’re always told what a great boyfriend you’d be, for SOME LUCKY GIRL

This is the classic line. She could spend ages reassuring you that you’re the best guy she knows, that you’re a great listener and how attractive you are, but if you hint at a relationship between the two of you and she recoils in horror, it’s pretty obvious that you’re perfect, just not for her.

Photo captured by Mary-Frances Main [Flickr]

Photo captured by Mary-Frances Main [Flickr]

2) You participate in girly activities with her just to make her happy

I’m talking about things like letting her paint your nails, make pot pourri and gossip about what so-and-so did behind the bins with whomever. If you’re the kind of guy that likes that stuff then that’s fine, but if you’re not and you’re putting yourself through it just so she’s around you, then you have a bit of a problem.

Photo captured by Vic [Flickr]

Photo captured by Vic [Flickr]

3) She ignores you when you bluntly tell her your feelings

You could spontaneously go to her house with 12 dozen generic roses to surprise her or pull the moon with a lasso so that it sits just outside her window and it won’t matter. This girl will respond with “Oh who’s your friend?” if you dare to say, “I know someone that likes you…” You either get rejected by telling her your feelings, or you keep them hidden long enough to see yourself enter the friend zone.  

Photo captured by Holly Williams [Flickr]

Photo captured by Holly Williams [Flickr]

4) She says things like, “I love you like a brother”

Unless she’s into incest, you’re not going to have any luck with that one. If you don’t get that she isn’t into you after a line like that, then you need to allow a merciful friend of yours to slap some sense into you.

Photo captured by Magi Edos [Flickr]

Photo captured by Magi Edos [Flickr]

5) She talks about guys with you, and she is not doing it to make you jealous

By doing this, she is sending a clear message that she is interested in other men. The trouble is, you could be a great listener and you actively try to hear what she is saying in a bid to be ‘in the loop’ and work out what she’s thinking. But this could just reaffirm her notion of how much of a good friend you are. When you make other people’s feelings more important than yours then you’re accidentally letting people know that your feelings don’t matter. This could make it seem like you don’t have a high opinion of yourself, which is the opposite of confidence. And that’s just not sexy.

Photo captured by melabird [Flickr]

Photo captured by melabird [Flickr]

6) There’s no sexual tension

This is the crucial deal breaker. No matter how much you may look ideal on paper or how much you are crazy for her, if both of you don’t have chemistry then it’s never going to work. You should realise this now before getting so deep into the friend zone that you think something is wrong with you for not being accepted by her. Chances are there isn’t anything wrong with you (I’m going out on a limb with that!), it’s just that you’re not compatible and the sooner you accept that, the happier you will be.

Photo captured by Carlos Varela [Flickr]

Taboo Tattoos: A Thing of the Past

Gone are the days where it was a fearsome thing to behold if someone had a tattoo; plenty of assumptions in the past about the character of someone with such body art have all but disappeared. Tattoos are no longer the rebellious symbols of bikers and criminals, they have now become a fashion accessory of sorts and many people are desiring them and finding them more acceptable. This is especially true of the younger generation, who are being influenced by inked celebrities and popular reality shows highlighting the process and art of tattooing. 

Photo captured by mjtmail (tiggy) [Flickr]

Photo captured by mjtmail (tiggy) [Flickr]

Most people who get tattoos will say that they got it because it was meaningful in some way to them or perhaps was a memorial of a person they hold dear. However it is becoming increasingly common to get a tattoo just for the sake of it. Small tattoos are being favoured lately, such as little hearts, stars or words. Prices in tattoo shops generally have a starting price so no matter how small the tattoo is, you’d still have to pay around forty euro to get one. To some people, this seems a large sum of money for something so small. The artists themselves are the ones who benefit from this, as it lessens their work load with a smaller tattoo but also leaves them unchallenged as big, original pieces of artwork are few and far between.

Photo captured by Julian Tysoe [Flickr]

Photo captured by Julian Tysoe [Flickr]

For some people, tattoos allow people to feel different from others. If the popularity of this practice continues to grow, however, how unique will it be in the future? Will it be as common as going to get your nails done? Getting a tattoo because of a style or fad is not a good idea, it should be something well thought out because although there is access to laser tattoo removal, it’s a lengthy, painful and costly approach to something that didn’t have to be an issue if you had just taken a few months to really think about something that you could regret.

So if you’re thinking of delving into the world of tattoos, make sure to think it through first and avoid those ‘spur of the moment’ type scenarios – for some people, it would be safer to buy a nice sweater instead.

Photo captured by Jerry Huddleston [Flickr]

Oblivious Irish Eating: Calories on Menus

In 2012, Minister for Health Dr. James Reilly promised legislation would be brought in to include calorie information on restaurant menus. He has not kept this promise and it remains voluntary for restaurants to offer this service or, more usually, not.

Calorie menu labelling is a relatively new concept, and as such, evidence is still being analysed on the impact that this approach has on eating habits. Calorie menu labelling has the most impact on those who engage in it. Studies show that individuals who use calorie menu labelling purchase fewer calories.

A large study in 2011 by Dumanovsky reported on consumers who used the calorie information provided. The result was that 15% purchased 106 fewer calories on average compared to the 85% of consumers who didn’t use the information.

Photo captured by Edward Stojakovic [Flickr]

Photo captured by Edward Stojakovic [Flickr]

Another study by Bollinger in 2010 showed that, on average, 6% fewer calories were purchased by consumers in a coffee chain, though a reduction of up to 26% less calories was reported for some consumers. Very importantly, this reduction was sustained over the 10 month period of this particular study.

Paulette O’Reilly of the health department said, “Minister Reilly has indicated that he is still very much in favour that the programme of putting calories on menus in Ireland be introduced, but on a voluntary basis at first. The Minister requested the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) to carry out a national consultation, which found that over 95% of consumers in Ireland want calories on menus. Nevertheless, if a voluntary approach fails to make the desired impact then forced legislation will be introduced. The consultation showed that 92% of consumers and 88% of health professionals supported a mandatory approach for large food service businesses although only 58% of food businesses would support that approach.”

Photo captured by Department of Health [Flickr]

Photo captured by Department of Health [Flickr]

The principal function of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland aims to ensure that food complies with legal requirements, or where appropriate with recognised codes of good practice. 

Jane Ryder, a spokesperson of the FSAI, says, “There is no single approach which can successfully address the obesity crisis that plagues Ireland today. It is important to recognise that a small but continually positive change in the eating behaviours of a large number of individuals can have a huge effect on the obesity crisis; calorie menu labelling offers this potential.”

Apart from the minority of consumers who use the calorie menu information with immediate effect on their food purchases, there are other positive effects, which can be expected to increase the health benefits of food sold. These effects include consumer demand for smaller and more appropriate portion sizes for meals and snacks; and for healthier foods and beverages. Without the drive of consumer demand, food service businesses could not initiate these changes without risking a loss of revenue.

The current food environment is represented by excesses of energy-dense foods. Such foods strongly appeal to people’s innate preferences for sweet, salty and high-fat tastes. Such taste preferences, combined with the human tendency to eat when food is available and to eat more when more food is readily available, increases the risk of being overweight or obesity.

Approaches to change this environment are needed to protect the population against foods and eating patterns that add to these problems. There is no single approach which can successfully address the obesity epidemic – a varied approach involving all levels of society is required. Recent data from the FSAI shows that 18-64 year olds consume 24% of their total energy from food and drink outside the home. As such, the food service sector can play a very positive role in promoting public health. Calorie menu labelling is one approach to addressing the obesity crisis which benefits consumers who use the calorie information provided.

On the matter of forced legislation, Zack Gallagher of the Irish Food Guide, said, “I think the cost of implementing it is something restaurants have been thinking about for a while anyway. However it is quite a lot of work to find out the calorie count of a whole menu. The government made an announcement to make it mandatory before they thought about the implications; they should concentrate on a campaign that encourages restaurants to modify their menus rather than enforcing it.”

The Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) agrees. They feel that implementing forced legislation will cost the industry €110 million.  The planned changes to put calories onto menus have not been supported by owners of restaurants, who are currently finding it a struggle to get money from the banks. They won’t be able to afford the estimated €5,000 it will cost to give details of calories on their menus.  This would be a stretch for struggling independent businesses.

Chief Executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, Adrian Cummins, says that only a small amount of restaurants have decided to change their menus to include calorie counts. He says, “Any chef will tell you that menus in restaurants can vary every few days and therefore calorie counting would be highly inaccurate anyway. A common sense approach to healthy eating is what is needed in our society. Restaurants are not the cause of Ireland’s weight problems. People are rarely eating out in these bleak times. It’s a rare treat for them, and the last thing they want is to be made to feel guilty or conscious of enjoying a meal.”

Photo captured by eyeliam [Flickr]

Photo captured by eyeliam [Flickr]

The RAI have proposed that restaurants should include a ‘healthy option’ on menus and offer a universal ‘healthy options’ symbol that would help to curb the obesity problem we are faced with, while also being an inexpensive solution for those eating out.

Seeing as Minister James Reilly hasn’t forced legislation on businesses yet, it doesn’t seem likely that it is going to happen straight away. Although it may have some adverse effects on businesses cost-wise, calorie information on menus is what consumers want and that needs to be addressed by both food establishments and James Reilly himself.

Photo captured by Keith Kissel [Flickr]

Media Coverage of Female Political Figures

During her time as First Lady, Hillary Clinton became very involved in policy making and as a result, the media did not know how to report on a woman who was both career and family oriented, thus society also struggled with ways of accepting such a woman. Kathleen Hall Jamieson (1995) discussed how this double-bind was causing news media to depict female politicians as though they were occupying traditional female roles. The media did this by concentrating on their personal lives. The stories that did this did not give the women the chance to use their voices to explain their views on policy and issues, views that were important in getting political support. 

News media plays an integral role for campaigners. A 2010 study by the Pew Research Center showed that network evening news is still an important source of news for a huge number of Americans, even though more and more people are turning to the internet for their news. This example shows that it is an important factor for campaigners who are being portrayed and viewers who are soaking up the information.

Photo captured by Katie Elizabeth [Flickr]

Photo captured by Katie Elizabeth [Flickr]

While Clinton wanted to create an image of a non-traditional female knocking down barriers, the media presented her in a very different way. “Indeed the representations showed her as innovative, but in a pushy and aggressive way. These are two qualities often used when negatively describing successful women.” Furthermore, the news media constantly presented Clinton in gendered settings frequently in terms of relationships and family, also consistent with earlier portrayals of successful women. 

 Furthermore, the news media constantly presented Clinton in gendered settings frequently in terms of relationships and family, also consistent with earlier portrayals of successful women. 

Clinton’s Time as First Lady

Photo captured by Kate Wellington [Flickr]

Photo captured by Kate Wellington [Flickr]

Clinton took over an office in the White House, becoming the first First Lady to do so. This caused a stir, especially after she was appointed to chair a task force on health care reform. During the Lewinsky investigation, when her husband Bill was involved in a scandal about an affair with a White House intern, she was presented as a victim by the media. However, she was also shown as an innovator due to her blunt acceptance of the situation when she publicly stood by her husband and their marriage.

Fifty percent of the themes analysed in the ‘A Grounded Theory Analysis’ study contained the ‘voiceless’ category. As Clinton became the First Lady, all the major networks broadcasted a story about her, but none of them had an interview with her. The same happened after she became the head of the health care policy task force, but a 2 minute interview was held about her. Although the stories are positive, when it comes down to it, Clinton is voiceless. When Clinton was allowed to speak, it was in negative stories and gendered roles. When she spoke, it was to address her marriage and relationship issues. 

Photo captured by 4Neus [Flickr]

Photo captured by 4Neus [Flickr]

The 2008 Presidential Campaign

Once Clinton began her presidential campaign, the media continued with the innovativeness theme but supplemented it by focusing on gender in the 2008 presidential primaries, with four out of the fifteen stories in the study on the campaign mainly focusing on the fact that she is a woman.

She was questioned by a voter in New Hampshire about her ability ‘to do it all’, a question not asked of the men, and the networks reported that she had ‘an emotional moment’.  Even fellow Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards questioned Clinton’s ability to be ‘tough enough’ to be president. The network CBS used a graphic with the text ‘moved to tears’ in its story. This appeared at the beginning of the story and was actually pulled from a sound clip of a voter who was describing how Barack Obama had moved her to joyful tears the previous day. “Thus, the innovator that Clinton was in her excellent showing in the primary was gendered to a weakness.” 

Photo captured by Tony Fischer [Flickr]

Photo captured by Tony Fischer [Flickr]

There were several visuals of Clinton waving and smiling amongst a horde of voters with confetti raining down on her, and although the pictures were positive and victorious, the commentary that went with them questioned Clinton’s voter base. There is evidence that journalists clipped pieces from unrelated interviews so they could portray Clinton in a certain way, for instance an audio clip was taken of her saying to an entertainment reporter that in her spare time she liked to clean closets. “By including this from an unrelated interview, the reporter emphasized Clinton’s femininity which in turn emphasized that Clinton’s softness was a trait viewed as unsuitable to withstand the strain of public office”. 

Her innovativeness, although obviously positive, was overshadowed by traditional views of women and it painted a picture of her as being a traditional female stereotype who takes pleasure out of cleaning.

At the end of the campaign, Clinton had been criticised for not yielding the Democratic Party election to Barack Obama once it became apparent that she was not going to get enough votes to win the election. Political Director of The Huffington Post, Hillary Rosen, questioned why people were not admiring her. She said, “We should be applauding the woman who came in such a close second and instead we’re talking about, ‘what is she doing and why is she doing this?’’’. The original criticism could easily paint a picture in people’s minds of a selfish woman who doesn’t belong in politics.

Photo captured by Ian Ransley [Flickr]

Photo captured by Ian Ransley [Flickr]

Her voice on policies, issues, and her own experiences were sometimes silenced through horse race reporting. One hundred percent of the stories looked at during the 2008 presidential primary showed evidence of Horse Race reporting. With time being so precious in broadcast news, journalists usually used this valuable time to give the ‘who’s ahead, who’s behind’ updates, leaving very little time for interviews on policy and issues. This news revolution may have badly hurt Clinton’s campaign. It is a major concern to find out that a positive story about a female breaking through barriers at the top most level of American politics is portrayed as a negative story. It is treated like that in two ways: it is given a negative spin on lots of different stories, and not giving the innovator, in this case Clinton, a voice. “News stories are a result of a complex process of journalistic routines and practices. Journalists and all newsroom gatekeepers should always remember their practices have implications for the stories that are produced, and the stories have implications for the present and the future”. For instance, the stories stating that Clinton cried in New Hampshire, which were false as she did not cry, spread negative stereotypes of females. This was a crucial moment in the campaign and acted as a news hook which acquired the means of creating controversy over a non-traditional candidate. Journalists covering presidential election coverage in the future will need to give candidates a voice; they need to shelf the role of celebrity commentator and let the runners’ opinions on policies and issues be given priority. Also, ignoring the desires of viewers who encourage networks to provide more accurate coverage of candidates has lead to a consistent decrease of viewers and their trust. 

In October 2006, Clinton’s New York Senate race opponent, John Spencer, was said to have remarked on how much better Clinton looked now in comparison to the 1970s, and speculated that she had had cosmetic surgery. 

Michelle Obama and Sarah Palin: Bullied by the media

Photo captured by Official U.S. Navy Page [Flickr]

Photo captured by Official U.S. Navy Page [Flickr]

Clinton and former-Alaskan governor Sarah Palin were very different in the way they behaved on their campaign trails, with polar opposite ideologies, yet the media hounded them both. This shows that the media did not have a vendetta against one woman just because of her policies, but because of the simple fact that she was a woman. The same can be said of Michelle Obama too, as she received sexist backlash from a number of media outlets during her time campaigning with her husband for the presidency and also afterwards. An example of this is when a staff writer for The Washington Post, Andrea Billups, characterised the tone of a campaign Michelle Obama attended as “as much an oestrogenfest as it was a campaign rally” and she later goes on to say that, “Even Michigan Governor Jennifer M. Granholm got in on the girlie show as they campaigned together in struggling Pontiac, Michigan.” This kind of press is damaging as it paints the picture of two incompetent ‘gal pals’ when both women are very capable and are simply victims of gender biased reporting.

Photo captured by Bruce Tuten [Flickr]

Photo captured by Bruce Tuten [Flickr]

Sarah Palin was also the victim of a media that focused on her gender and many did not take her seriously as a political figure, demonstrated by the following example: “Almost as soon as she’d finished her breakthrough speech at the Republican National Convention, one columnist for the magazine Salon called Palin a ‘dominatrix’ and a ‘pinup queen’, referred to her ‘babaliciousness’ and described her convention address as having been charged with enough sexual energy to give the crowd a ‘collective woody’. Another Salon columnist described Palin as a ‘Christian Stepford wife in a ‘sexy librarian’ costume’ who was, for the most ideological Republicans, a ‘hard-core pornographic centerfold spread’.  This paints the picture of Sarah Palin as a sexual object who is being judged by how she looks rather than what she has to say. It trivialises her and humiliates her, both as a person and as a politician.

In conclusion, female political figures are portrayed in an overwhelmingly negative and shockingly sexist way and that the media mainly focuses on the personal lives of these women more than their political opinions and actions. In this way, the media paints a picture in people’s minds of incapable and unreliable female political figures whose main concerns are looking good and behaving in a passive, almost non-existent manner where they are not in charge of making important decisions. This reinforces already existent stereotypes in people’s minds of men being the better choice for being placed in a responsible, demanding public role, and cements female politicians’ fate to a lifetime of media criticism of their career for sexist reasons.