‘It’s scary and uncomfortable’: Schoolgirls seek end to catcalling

Group of transition-year students are shocked at the scale of the problem

Students at Maryfield College, Drumcondra, Jodie Sherlock, Elene Bujiashvili and Sobhie Ruddell. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

For the girls in transition year at Maryfield College in Drumcondra, Dublin, being catcalled is an everyday nuisance.

On the way to school. Going home. At breaktime. Even when they are running, cycling or walking in hoodies and training gear, they say they are regularly  subjected to unwanted comments.

So they decided to do something about it.

With the assistance of Amárach market research, which offered its services for free, they polled almost 100 women and girls under the age of 20 on their experiences of what might be termed “everyday” harassment.


They were surprised at the findings: some 60 per cent said they had been the subject of catcalling – such as whistling, jeering or sexual comments – during the previous week.

Of those, about half said it happened on multiple occasions during the week; 24 per cent said between two and five times, while 6 per cent said more than five times.

“We’ve all been catcalled, but we were shocked to see how much it is happening,” says transition year student Jodie Sherlock.

As part of a Young Social Innovators module, which encourages students to come up with solutions to real-world problems, the girls, supported by teacher Margaret McLoughlin, decided to examine ways of tackling a mostly hidden problem.

Student Elene Bujiashvili says part of their motivation behind the study was to let boys and men involved in this behaviour know that being catcalled is never a compliment and is always unwanted.

“It affects the way you navigate the world,” she says. “When you’re catcalled, you feel unsafe, especially if you’re on your own.”

“You feel you can’t respond to the boys. They think when they catcall you that they’re giving you a compliment, but you don’t feel confident at all in yourself or confident to walk home by yourself.”

Scared and embarrassed

These feelings were reflected in research: the most common words used among survey respondents to describe their feelings when being catcalled were “uncomfortable”, “scared” and “embarrassed”.

The girls were also struck by the estimated age of those doing the catcalling.

When asked to guess the age of the catcaller, respondents said a minority were teenage boys (24 per cent); most were in their early 20s (24 per cent) or older (31 per cent).

Although the issue appears to be widespread, the group has found there is no law against catcalling.

In response to a question asked on their behalf by local TD Sean Haughey, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee confirmed that the only legislation related to “more persistent targeted behaviour that could be classified as harassment”.

The students feel this is unacceptable, and that those involved should face consequences for their actions.

“There’s no legislation or way for people to report it, so there’s no way for people to know what is really happening,” says student Sophie Ruddell.

The class is planning to lobby TDs to explore the option of French-style laws – which have made catcalling an offence – and to see whether education around the issue can become part of social, personal and health education (SPHE) classes at second level.

At a minimum they hope their work will spark a conversation about an issue that, for all its prevalence, is rarely talked about.

“Hopefully, girls realise that they are not alone,” says Jodie. “Women want to be able to walk down the street and not have to pretend to ring someone or text someone when they get home.”