Irish government moves to cut outdated gender stereotypes from constitution

By on 17/12/2023 | Updated on 15/12/2023
Photo by Marco Verch via Flickr

The Republic of Ireland is to hold two referendums next year on whether the country’s constitution should drop references to women’s role in the home.

The constitution, drafted in 1937 in consultation with Roman Catholic leaders, declares that the state should “endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home” and describes the “common good” as dependent on defending women’s “life within the home”.

The article has been criticised for perpetuating gender stereotypes, referring to women’s traditional domestic role as her core occupation and the foundation of society, and suggesting that women do not require the same freedom of choice as men.  

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The twin referendums, which the government committed to in 2016, are set to take place on International Women’s Day (8 March) 2024.

Voters will be asked to consider two proposed amendments to the family values section of the constitution, centring on use of gender-neutral language. These comprise replacing the clause limiting women’s place to the home with a new state commitment to value the work of all family carers, regardless of gender; and broadening the definition of the family to include those in “durable relationships” as well as couples who are married.

‘A modern, inclusive nation’

Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, who leads a coalition of three parties, said the constitution was “not truly reflective of the Ireland we live in today”.

He said the proposed amendments “reinforce the fact that Ireland is a modern, inclusive nation that strives to treat and care for all its people equally”.  

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On announcing the date of the referendums, Roderic O’Gorman, minister for integration, described the relevant articles of the constitution as “archaic” and said that “a woman’s place is where ever she wants it to be”.

“This referendum will offer another opportunity to move away from the Ireland of 1937 to continue that journey to becoming a kinder and more inclusive society and one that acknowledges and respects the needs of all citizens,” he added.

Additional gender equality provision dismissed

Against the recommendations of an all-party parliamentary committee, the government decided not to try to add another new gender equality provision to the constitution. Varadkar said the coalition had decided that the state is already bound by a “an all-encompassing commitment to equality”.

It is thought the government decided not to pursue additional amendments on gender over fears that it would stir fierce debate over transgender rights.

“We believe by elevating any particular category, for example that of sex-based discrimination, it could unwittingly downgrade others, such as those relating to disability, race or ethnicity,” Varadkar said.

If citizens vote “yes” to changes to the family values articles in March, they will be the latest of several amendments to the constitution since it was enacted. The legalisation of divorce was added in 1995, and the legalisation of same-sex marriage was included in 2015, following a referendum in which 62% of voters approved.

History: Many European countries including Ireland had in place a ‘marriage bar’ which prevented women from working in certain roles after they were married. In Ireland’s case, this bar – which extended to women in certain public service jobs – was in place from the 1920s until 1973.   

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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