Language on women in Constitution perpetuates ‘stereotypical attitudes’

Oireachtas committee on gender equality examines recommendations of Citizens’ Assembly

The language used in the Irish Constitution “continues to perpetuate stereotypical attitudes towards the role of women” in society, the Irish human rights watchdog has said.

A Citizens’ Assembly on gender equality last year issued 45 recommendations for a programme for reform, the centrepiece of which would be a referendum to delete and replace Article 41.2 of the Constitution, which speaks about a mother’s “duties in the home”.

Speaking at a meeting of the newly formed Oireachtas committee on gender equality on Thursday, Sinead Gibney, chief commissioner at the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), supported the Citizens' Assembly's recommendations.

“We hold the view that Article 41.2 is not compatible with Ireland’s international human rights obligations,” she said.

“The language used in article 41.2 of Bunreacht na hÉireann continues to perpetuate stereotypical attitudes towards the role of women in Irish society and should be amended to make it gender neutral.”

Ms Gibney said it was important that the Constitution supported and recognised the work of carers, which has evolved in recent years.

“It is beyond time to have a referendum to have our Constitution reflect our lived realities.”

Speaking on a personal level, Ms Gibney said she has felt these Articles are “blind to the situation of my own family”.

“I raised my daughter as a lone parent, I worked outside the home to support her and I worked inside the home to care for her - a reality that is anomalous to [article] 41.2. There was no marriage in our little family, so we are not a family as defined by [article]41.3,” she said.

“I am very proud of my daughter as a wonderful young woman making her way in the world. I am proud of my parents for supporting us and I am proud of myself for going it alone.”

She added: “But I am not proud of this Constitution that is supposed to represent me because in this very important regard it does not.”

Speaking at the same meeting, Orla O'Connor, from the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI), said the wording of the new article "needs to be inclusive in its recognition of care".

“In our view, from the National Women’s Council, the wording should assert the caring for each other and care work that is essential for the good of everyone in our society. It must be gender neutral,” she said.

“It must recognise to receive, support and/or care and to live with autonomy and dignity. It must recognise care work done inside the home in families as well as within the broader community.”