Ireland votes on scrapping 'sexist' language from constitution on International Women's Day

By Isaac M March 7, 2024

Ireland will hold a referendum on Friday – International Women’s Day – to delete references to a woman’s “duties in the home” from its constitution.

After years of pressure, the government agreed to hold two referendums, with the other seeking to expand the constitutional definition of a family from being based on marriage to “durable relationships” instead.

Article 41.2 of the Irish constitution, which dates from 1937, reads: “The state recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the state a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.

“The state shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

The government says that language is “sexist” and “outmoded” and should be deleted.

It would be replaced with the words: “The State recognises that the provision of care, by members of a family to one another by reason of the bonds that exist among them, gives to Society a support without which the common good cannot be achieved, and shall strive to support such provision.”

Pic sent by Stephen Murphy on 6/3/2024

Taoiseach [Irish prime minister] Leo Varadkar said that voting down the changes would merely “reaffirm” sexist language and fail to recognise family care in the constitution.

The National Women’s Council is campaigning for Yes, saying “sexist, stereotypical language has no place in our constitution and is representative of a time when women were treated like second-class citizens”.

Many family carers are hoping a Yes vote will improve state supports, while others feel the “strive” language falls far short of what is needed.

Pic sent by Stephen Murphy on 6/3/2024

Tracy Carroll, from Co Meath, is a full-time carer for her two children – seven-year-old Willow who has complex medical needs, and nine-year-old Noah, who is autistic.

“Women have been challenged their whole lives,” she said.

“Their place in society is seen as being in the home and looking after the children and our husbands, and we’ve moved from that, but the constitution hasn’t moved from that and a woman’s place is anywhere she wants it to be.”

Tracy Carroll says a woman's place is anywhere she wants it to be
Tracy Carroll says a woman’s place is anywhere she wants it to be

Campaigners for No are at pains to point out that, contrary to popular belief, the constitution doesn’t actually say a woman’s place is in the home, and instead offers recognition of the work women do there.

Brenda Power, a barrister and a member of the Lawyers For No group said the constitution “says the work women do in the home is fantastic… can’t argue with that”.

“And it says that no woman should be forced to work outside the home if she’d prefer to be at home with her children.

“There was a poll out last week in which 70% of women who are currently working outside the home said ‘yeah If I’d the option I’d stay at home’.”

“And that’s being portrayed as outdated and demeaning? I don’t consider the work women do in the home is demeaning, and the reality is that women are still the ones doing it.”

Brenda Power is backing No
Brenda Power is backing No

No campaigners also say the “durable relationship” language is “nebulous” and ill-defined and would lead to years of legal wrangling over issues regarding tax, inheritance and the family reunification claims of asylum seekers in Ireland, something Mr Varadkar dismissed as a “red herring”.

Many voters seem either apathetic, or simply confused. Polling suggests both referendums should pass, but more than a third of voters are still undecided.

That often favours the No side in referendums, as does a low turnout, which is also predicted.

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The government is undoubtedly worried it could lose a referendum seen as a sure thing when first mooted.

The result “hangs in the balance”, according to Mr Varadkar, although that rhetoric is to be expected as the government battles Yes voter complacency.

The outcome of the two referendums will be known sometime on Saturday, when the final results are announced at a central count centre in Dublin Castle.


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