Momentum to remove ‘women in the home’ from Constitution ‘lost’

Trinity conference debates whether Article 41.2 should be deleted or reworded

‘Real equality for many women remains only an aspiration,’ Senator Ivana Bacik told a conference at Trinity College Dublin on Friday. File photograph: Tom Honan

‘Real equality for many women remains only an aspiration,’ Senator Ivana Bacik told a conference at Trinity College Dublin on Friday. File photograph: Tom Honan


Postponing the referendum around Article 41.2 of the Constitution, which states the woman’s place is in the home, was “a missed opportunity” and has left the country with “no immediate prospect of deleting the sexist language”, Labour Senator Ivana Bacik has said.

The senator highlighted that the referendum bill had not been listed on the Government’s priority legislative programme for the 2019 spring term and that the “political momentum has now been lost”.

“I think we should have been given the chance to vote on deletion of the inarguably sexist language in Article 41.2 in the year that we commemorated the centenary of women’s suffrage,” Ms Bacik told attendees at the Working for the Home: Past and Present conference at Trinity College Dublin on Friday.

“Real equality for many women remains only an aspiration,” she said, adding that women are still “thrust into roles of motherhood by the state and remain disproportionately likely to remain in poverty”.

According to Article 41.2,“the State recognises that by her life in the home the mother gives to the State a support, without which the common good could not be achieved”.

Ms Bacik supported the complete deletion of the article despite opposition from the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) who called for a public discussion around care work before holding the referendum.

Care work

Jennifer McCarthy Flynn from the NWCI says that while the current article embodies the idea “of women being subjected to duties decided upon by men”, it’s the only place care work is explicitly mentioned in the Constitution.

She argued that the State “continues to entrench our place as primary carers” and that men’s uptake of work in the home was still extremely low.

“Until men are expected to work the same way as women do that cultural change is not going to happen.”

She noted that the lack of childcare options remained the most significant barrier to closing the gender pay gap and that increasingly working mothers were becoming dependent on the exploitation of other women, particularly migrant women, to oversee homecare duties.

Maggie Ronayne from NUI Galway agreed that article 41.2 must be reassessed rather than deleted in recognition of care work in the home.

“It recognises that the common good cannot be achieved without this vital but invisible work,” she said. “Since women went out to work in large numbers we have ended up with a double day; forced to squeeze in the caring work when we can and punished for it in our pay package. If we value caring, women will get the time to do it and so will men.”

She added that as long as the work that mothers and others do in the family remains unrecognised, and the many skills that it requires are dismissed, then the waged job of caring outside the home would “continue to be devalued”.*

Linda Connolly from NUI Maynooth agreed that work in the home continues to be undervalued, highly gendered and until it is regarded as “real economically productive work”, would continue to be undertaken primarily by women. What she described as the “second part of the revolution” in securing gender equality has stalled.

“The revolution was supposed to happen in the home and if women were outside the home men would have to do more. But that hasn’t happened,” she said.

*This article was amended on Sunday, February 17th, 2019