Convention favours gender equality and change to ‘women in home’ clause

Mon, Feb 18, 2013, 00:00

The constitutional convention has narrowly rejected a proposal to amend the Constitution to ensure the State takes action to enhance women’s participation in politics and public life.

However, suggested measures to introduce “gender-neutral” language into the Constitution, and to alter the clause on women in the home, received strong support from participants who met in Malahide, Co Dublin, at the weekend.

The 100-strong convention has been asked to make recommendations to Government on a series of proposed constitutional changes. The Coalition must respond to each decision made within four months.

The participants are 66 citizens selected by age, sex, geography and social status, and 33 politicians from the Republic and Northern Ireland. Concern outgoing chief executive Tom Arnold is chairman.

Politicians hold floor

The politician members tended to dominate Saturday’s proceedings in terms of their contributions from the floor, but citizen members told The Irish Times they were happy with how the convention was proceeding.

Yesterday participants were asked if the Constitution should place a duty on the State to take positive action to enhance women’s participation in politics and public life. Half voted No, 49 per cent Yes and 1 per cent had no opinion on the matter.

However, 97 per cent voted Yes when asked a second question: “Leaving aside the Constitution, would you like to see more government action to encourage greater participation of women in politics and public life?” Only 3 per cent said No.

A total of 89 per cent thought the Constitution should be amended to include “gender-inclusive” language, with 9 per cent voting against this and 1 per cent voicing no opinion.

When asked if the Constitution should be changed to include an “explicit provision on gender equality”, 62 per cent said Yes and 37 per cent No, with 1 per cent of no opinion.

The convention members also discussed amending the clause on women in the home. Article 41.2.1 says the State recognises that by her life within the home, a woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.

Article 41.2.2 says 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 home.

Asked if the clause should be left as it was, 88 per cent said No, 11 per cent Yes, and 1 per cent had no opinion. In response to a separate question, 88 per cent said the clause should be modified and 12 per cent proposed its deletion. Some 98 per cent said it should be made “gender-neutral” to include other carers in the home; 2 per cent disagreed.

On Saturday the convention heard presentations from advocacy groups for gender equality in Irish politics, Women for Election and 50:50, as well as the National Women’s Council of Ireland and Cúram, a group seeking recognition and support for the unremunerated work of parents and carers.

‘Collectively representative’

After it emerged that a couple and two neighbours are among those selected by a polling firm to sit on the convention, a spokesman said: “Considerable effort has been devoted to assembling the panel and, in the circumstances, we are satisfied that they are collectively representative of society generally.”

The next topic on the agenda is the possibility of amending the Constitution to make provision for same-sex marriage.

Last month the convention voted to lower the voting age but rejected the reduction of the presidential term of office from seven years to five.

Convention voices: Inisde views

John Crotty, Dublin

“I think it’s good. I find it very interesting, all the different views and opinions. If we come up with a few recommendations, I just hope that the Government does something about it.”

Deirdre Donaghy, Cork

“It’s hugely interesting to be involved in and it’s been set up very well. Some people maybe don’t like to take the microphone and speak, but the people who do are making a conscious effort to represent everyone’s views.”

Brian McLoughlin, Dublin

“On the first day people were shy. People are a bit more comfortable now they’ve got to know each other. Even if you don’t want to speak, you tell your group facilitator your opinion.”