Claims by Arlene Foster that she was a victim of misogyny have been rubbished as “ludicrous” by Alliance leader Naomi Long.
The DUP leader said recently that calls for her to step aside pending an inquiry into the botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme were “misogynistic”.
“There’s a lot of it personal. There’s a lot of it, sadly, misogynistic as well, because I’m a female, the first female leader of Northern Ireland,” Mrs Foster said.
However, Mrs Long claimed that Mrs Foster has allowed sexism to go unchallenged within her own party.
“It is ludicrous. Only weeks before her party colleague Sammy Wilson had accused women who breast feed in public of being exhibitionists. That’s misogynistic behaviour.
“Where her own colleague Edwin Poots, congratulating her on becoming first minister, reminded her it was only her second most important job after being a wife or a mother. That’s sexist. He didn’t feel the need to remind Peter Robinson of his family responsibilities,” said Mrs Long.
She added: “Then Sammy Wilson in defence of her said it was amazing how she had kept all this going given all the other things she has to do as a wife and mum.
“So you have these bizarre comments coming from her own party which are clearly sexist, unchallenged by her in leadership, so the two things don’t stack up.”
Mrs Long said that to automatically say criticism is sexist “diminishes the respect people have for other women who very genuinely are battling in a sexist environment”.
“Have I met people who are sexist? Yes. Have I been a victim of sexism? Quite possibly, But I have always managed to deal with the issues that have been raised with me without recourse to saying ‘well that’s sexism’.
“Because at some point, if there is a sexist remark or there is a challenge which is clearly about my gender, I want when I make that claim for it to be seen as valid and just, and not simply playing a card because it takes the heat off,” she said.
The East Belfast MLA also refuted allegations of ageism and racism within the party by two councillors who resigned last week
The claims were made by Lisburn and Castlereagh councillors Geraldine Rice and Vasundhara Kamble.
Mrs Long said she did not believe it was about racism or ageism but “disappointment for not being selected for particular roles”.
“There’s no substance to the allegations but if somebody comes to me with evidence they can be reassured I would take it seriously, but I haven’t seen any evidence.”
Mrs Long said there is a lot of public anger, frustration and disappointment at the current political crisis.
“But it doesn’t necessarily mean people are going to be rushing out to vote. Unless people turn their anger into some kind of action at the ballot box it will never change, it will be more of the same.
“If we continue to vote the way we always voted we will get the same sort of politics. The only thing that will change at Stormont is the people who are elected making a difference,” she added.
She also said she was concerned about the political situation post-election.
“I don’t see over the last number of weeks any sense that Sinn Fein or the DUP are on anything other than diverging courses at this point. The discourse between them has become increasingly fractious. There is a real bitterness that has emerged.
“My fear would be that either they won’t be able to do a deal or if they do a deal it will be another patch repair. Is that the kind of politics we want? We need root and branch reform in terms of how parties engage with each other and how we do business in the Assembly.”