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I chose to stay at home instead of pursuing a career as a barrister. It’s usually women who make these choices

Our Constitution recognises an unfashionable truth: women do most of the unpaid work at home

A woman’s place is wherever she wants it to be,” Roderic O’Gorman said, launching the referendums that will be held on March 8th, and offering up what has to be one of the worst campaign pitches in election memory. It is patronising, out of touch and uninspiring.

Misinformation surrounds the upcoming referendums. The first untruth is that Article 41.2 mandates that women should be in the home. It says no such thing. As Susan Denham, then a Supreme Court judge, said in 2001, Article 41.2 does not assign women to a domestic role; rather it “recognises the significant role played by wives and mothers in the home. This recognition and acknowledgment does not exclude women and mothers from other roles and activities.”

As far as those campaigning for a Yes vote are concerned, the very idea that women have duties at home is wrong, sexist and should be relegated to history. But this is misguided. There is nothing sexist in the recognition of the fact that women have lives within the home, or in the statement that women have duties in the home. It’s simply a reflection of reality.

Women still do most of the unpaid work at home, from caring for children to the mundane tasks of cleaning, laundry and cooking. Call it the “second shift”; call it looking after the children; call it duties within the home. Call it whatever you want – it’s work; it’s unpaid; it’s done by women and, by doing it, “woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.”


Data from the CSO in 2021 reveals that for couples who both work full-time, 42 per cent of women believe household chores fall to them compared to just 6 per cent of men. Women who work full-time also reported that they managed the children’s homework to a greater degree than the father, with 41 per cent of working mothers helping their children with homework, compared with 20 per cent of men.

If the referendum added a gender-neutral provision recognising the care given by others, it would be much easier to make an argument in support of it. But that is not what is on offer; what is on offer is to reduce the constitutional status of women and pretend that the care at home is shared equally between men and women. This is not reality – and our Constitution should reflect reality. The public role of women has changed enormously over the decades, but the importance of their work in the home has not.

I trained as a barrister in both Ireland and England but left that career to look after my young children. There were many different reasons for this but ultimately the sense of duty I felt towards my children and my desire to care for them at home outweighed my wish to pursue a demanding career at the bar. Other women make different choices – but let’s not pretend that it is not usually women who have to make these tough choices. Rarely is this something that falls to men.

The lives of Irish women have changed immensely, but the current wording is flexible enough to reflect these changes. The article names “woman” as opposed to just mothers and wives as having duties within the home.

Women who do not have children or a partner also carry out unpaid and often unrecognised caring duties towards others. In fact, I doubt there is a woman in the country who does not have the privilege and burden of caring for another; that’s what being a woman is, and that’s what the article is acknowledging. Some women care for their children, others care for a niece or nephew or take on the care of their mother and father. All of these women are included in the wording of the article.

In recent years, domestic tasks have been denigrated and many women now work outside the home – but the work inside the home still must be done and surveys here and in the UK and US shows that the burden of this unpaid work falls disproportionately on women. According to the CSO, “65 per cent of women, living with a partner of the opposite sex, said they are mainly responsible for household chores.”

It’s not just in Ireland. The British Social Attitudes survey last year found that “63 per cent of women said they did more than their fair share of the housework. Just 22 per cent of men said they shouldered most of the burden.”

It is clear that the majority of women still do the majority of the household management. This is what the existing article recognises. To pretend otherwise is both insulting and misleading.

The notion that “a woman’s place is wherever she wants it to be” feeds into a modern kind of self-obsession. Words such as duty and common good may sound old-fashioned to some but they are more inspiring than the selfish idea that you’re entitled to do whatever you want. What a dystopian vision of Ireland would result from such sentiments.

In relation to the second referendum and whether the definition of family should include those in durable relationships, I say: buyer beware. This is so hopelessly vague that the electorate do not know what they are voting for. No one does. Ms Justice Marie Baker, head of the Electoral Commission, has confirmed that it will be for the courts to decide the limits of the definition. In other words, it will be a lawyers’ bonanza.

Interpretation of what is a “durable relationship” would be somewhat subjective, Ms Justice Baker acknowledged. “A relationship is durable if it’s committed ... Are you invited as a couple to weddings, do people send you postcards, Christmas cards to both of you?”

I must admit that part of me quite likes the idea of Supreme Court judges having to wade through naff Christmas cards and wedding invitations to decide if such-and-such a couple were indeed in a durable relationship. It would be funny if it were not so serious.

However, what is in our Constitution should be taken seriously. This proposal is both so vague and over-broad that it should be rejected out of hand. It is also profoundly undemocratic to hand over the final decision to a handful of judges.

Laura Perrins is a former barrister, conservative commentator and mother of four children.