Ireland’s constitution still refers to women’s ‘duties in the home’. That could soon change

Ireland’s constitution still refers to women’s ‘duties in the home’. That could soon change


In Ireland’s constitution, written 84 years ago, one Article refers to the support that a “woman gives to the State” by tending to her home and basking in the fact that the State shall “endeavour to ensure” that mothers don’t have to “engage in labor to the neglect of their duties in the home”. 

A bit outdated, we agree. As do the Irish Government’s Joint Committee on Gender Equality, who have recommended that a referendum take place in 2023 on the “woman in the home” section of the Constitution. 

The Government Committee’s Interim Report on Constitutional Change (written by The Citizens’ Assembly) hopes the referendum will also amend a number of outdated, sexist clauses

The committee want to see Article 41.2 deleted and replaced with language that is not gender-specific. Currently, Article 41.2 declares that “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 committee also want the State to take reasonable measures to support care both inside the home and in the wider community. 

Two further constitutional changes were suggested. Firstly, to make the definition of “family” more inclusive in Article 41 (at the moment, it is defined as “the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society”) and secondly, to refer explicitly to gender equality in the equality guarantee of Article 40.1; currently, it states, “All citizens shall as human persons be held equal before the law. This shall not be held to mean that the State shall not in its enactments have due regard to differences of capacity, physical, and moral and of social function.”

The committee have recommended that article be changed to: “All persons shall be held equal before the law without discrimination on any ground such as gender, race, colour, national, ethical or social origin, association with a national minority, sexual orientation, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, property, birth, disability, age, or other status.”

The Committee have urged the Irish Government to do the necessary preparatory work and agree on the wording of the proposed amendments. 

The Committee’s chairperson, Ivana Bacik believes that gender stereotypes should not belong in the Irish Constitution. 

“It has long been agreed that the way in which women and mothers are referred to in Article 41 is based on outdated gender stereotypes and should have no place in a constitutional text,” Bacik said

“In addition, the definition of family in the same Article has long been criticized for being insufficiently inclusive of diverse family forms in contemporary Ireland.”

“The Committee, therefore, recommends that a constitutional referendum be held in 2023 to give effect to the Citizens’ Assembly recommendations on constitutional change.”

She noted that many alternative options for wording are set out in the report, and that the Committee have sought the response of the government on the proposals put forward. Bacik, who is also the country’s Labour leader, concluded that a final report would be published at the end of the Committee’s term, later this year.

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