Women’s place in home line in Constitution an ‘embarrassment’

Oireachtas committee told it ‘diminished women’ rather than recognising unpaid work

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said he was disappointed that the proposal to remove the article, which he described as a “fundamental element of women’s equality”, would not be put to the voters on the day of the presidential election next month. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said he was disappointed that the proposal to remove the article, which he described as a “fundamental element of women’s equality”, would not be put to the voters on the day of the presidential election next month. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

 

It is an “embarrassment” in this day and age that the Constitution contains an Article saying that the woman’s place is within the home, the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality has heard.

Dr Laura Cahillane, of the University of Limerick School of Law, made the comment as the committee met to consider the proposed 38th Amendment to the Constitution, which would seek to make a change to or delete Article 41.2.

The Government had hoped to hold a referendum on removing the Article on October 26th, the day of the presidential election, but the vote has been deferred to allow further consideration by the Oireachtas of what, if anything, should be inserted in its place.

The Article reads: “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.”

‘Sexist language’

Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), said Article 41.2 contains “sexist language” and has been “little more than symbolic” as a part of the Constitution.

“Its placement in the Constitution should have led to recognition of the value of the contribution women make through unpaid care work in our society. In practice Article 41.2 has not supported the home or family, it has merely diminished women,” she said.

“However, once we move on from the sexist language and the positioning of women in the home, our discussions around Article 41.2 move quickly to the complex choices and challenges that many of us face every day.

“These issues relate to our understanding of family and home, the roles of women and men, economic supports for parents and work-life balance and the contribution of care and carers.”

Ms O’Connor said a Citizen’s Assembly should be established to investigate and recommend what changes should be made to the Article.

‘Effectively useless’

Dr Cahillane said the Article had been “effectively useless in law” and that it was “an embarrassment that in this day and age such insulting language appears in our Constitution”.

Emily Logan, chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, said rendering the Article gender-neutral would be a means of, “preserving and expanding this important recognition of an important public good in our fundamental law”.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said that having received legal advice on the matter, he concluded “any alternative wording carried difficulties” and that “the path forward with the fewest risks was a deletion”.

He added that alternative wordings could bring unintended consequences and different interpretations of the Article.

Mr Flanagan said he was disappointed that the proposal to remove the article, which he described as a “fundamental element of women’s equality”, would not be put to the voters on the day of the presidential election next month.