The wording of Article 41.2 of our 1937 Constitution may be old-fashioned but it is, at least, an honest and welcome acknowledgement of the often thankless but profoundly important work women do in the home, in the running of households, and in the rearing of children, which is the foundation of society.
The statistics make for startling reading. Irish women do double the hours of caring as men do, and more than double the number of hours of housework. On average, an Irish woman will complete 38.2 hours of unpaid work in the home every week, which is like having a full-time job on top of your actual paid full-time job, as most women work full time. By contrast, Danish women spend 16 fewer hours a week on housework and caring.
Across the EU only women in Malta and Romania undertake as much unpaid labour in the home. There was a slight improvement in male take-up of unpaid work in the home in and around 2007, but this appears to have been a glitch accounted for by the financial crash and the stark imbalance between the sexes resumed once the economy improved.
Across the EU we are bottom of the league for equality in the home, with Romania and Malta faring about the same. This is the harsh truth and, perhaps too, an uncomfortable truth for our politicians, whose chief concern would appear to be selling Ireland as the most progressive little country TM on the world stage.
Yes, the language seems outdated but, in fact, if you revert to the Irish wording from which the article was translated, it refers to teaghlach, which means household or family, not home. Clearly, by ‘her life in the family’ presents a different picture than place in the home and recognises the unique role women and mothers have in bearing and nurturing children and that this is in fact vital to the good of all society.
Any argument that Article 41.2 somehow forces women to stay at home is clearly nonsense and has no basis in law or fact, and this was dismissed by then Justice Susan Denham in the Sinnott Case.
Of those who stay at home to look after their children in their early years, a staggering 94.3% are mothers. No one can argue with the importance of the mother-baby bond and the need not to rupture this bond. In clinical terms, we refer to this as one biological unit, the “mother-baby dyad”. However, if you are in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance you must prove to the State that you are actively looking for work only eight weeks postpartum, lest your benefit be taken away. Herein lies a glimpse of the soul of the current government and its actual views on motherhood and the role of mothers.
First, this is both incoherent and lazy, like so much policy nowadays, whereby the tricky work of tackling structural inequality is ignored in favour of moving around the deckchairs and most importantly of all, virtue signalling.
Second, in reality, Article 41.2 is a bulwark against the kind of neoliberal values that characterise this coalition, whereby all that matters is GDP and the meta economy. Mothering and the running of households is done by women, and this is explicitly and remarkably recognised for its benefit to all of society under Article 41.2. But, according to neoliberal economics, these things hold no value and therefore must be erased. In this worldview, mothering is disposable, replaceable and worthless, because it doesn’t contribute to GDP. It is downgraded to parent or carer 1 or 2. In so doing, the unique contribution of women to society is erased.
They would have got away with it too, had not the amendments – hidden in the depths of the Worklife Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill – been spotted by us, inspiring our successful These Words Belong To Us campaign, which forced a climbdown. We are fighting an ongoing battle with this government to protect our rights and our words. We view this referendum as a narcissistic assault on the foundational legal text of this State and a grave insult to womankind in Ireland.
We cannot let this vacuous yet authoritarian strain of governance which has infected the Anglosphere remove the words “woman” and “home” from Article 41.2 or the explicit recognition of the contribution of women. It is an outrageous act of vandalism to our founding document to tamper with it in this fashion: How dare they? As if the government needed to prove their woke credentials anymore.
The people will have their say on March 8th and they will view this ballot as a means to dissent. So many policies have been forced onto the people in the last decade. Now the same zealots are coming for the one clause in our founding legal text that refers to woman or home. The public will use their vote to let the government know loud and clear how they feel about the wider issue of hard-left policy being forced onto the citizens without a mandate.
Furthermore, the timing of this referendum is curious. It is interesting to me that just as a case is about to come to court in a leapfrog appeal from the High Court to the Supreme Court, the Government might appear to be in a race against the clock to excise the very article that the applicant, a woman who cares for her adult Down Syndrome son, might successfully rely upon.