Constitution must reflect reality of life for women
The much-maligned constitutional convention, which meets for the first time on Saturday, has been asked to consider how the clause on women in the home might be amended as part of a wider series of potential constitutional reforms.
The convention has been criticised for its limited and uninspiring remit. It has been asked to prioritise whether the voting age should be reduced to 17 and the president’s term from seven years to five. As has been noted elsewhere, these are hardly weighty matters in the grand scheme of things, yet they must be reported on within two months. But the opportunity to contribute towards the evolution of the Constitution to increase its relevance and reflect important changes in Irish family life within 12 months should not be downgraded by negative comment.
The convention has also been criticised because its 66 citizen members will be allowed to remain anonymous. What we do know about the “faceless 66” is that half of them will be women.
Unfortunately the gender balance on the convention will be skewed by those members who are politicians. Individual parties have made a reasonable attempt to put forward women members, but fewer than half of the 33 parliamentarians from the Republic and Northern Ireland will be women.
Ironically, the convention is also tasked with reporting to Government on methods of encouraging greater participation of women in public life. The recently published Ipsos MRBI 50th anniversary poll revealed a two-to-one split in favour of removing the outdated reference to the position of women in the home. Interestingly, there was no gender difference in the responses, with men just as likely as women to support a removal.
But the most striking figure thrown up by the poll was the number of people with no opinion (40 per cent) on whether the clause should be deleted. Academic experts have suggested this may have been because respondents were not aware of what the Constitution actually says.
If this is the case, women would be well advised to investigate the document that defines our nation. Reactions may vary from humour to horror.
Unnecessary tinkering with the Constitution would be ill-advised and dangerous for the Government when the electorate is clearly not in the mood to do what it is told. The Constitution should be a living, breathing document, however, reflecting Ireland as she is today. Let us not be too precious about the text drawn up by the founding fathers.