Irish citizens are being asked to vote in two referendums to change our Constitution. This is being widely sold as progressive, modern and inclusive. However, it is imperative to pause, reflect, and consider the ramifications of our choice. The Countess is honoured to feature a compelling piece by a guest writer , Nicola Sheehan, who advocates for a resounding “No” to removing women from the text. With profound insight she rejects this attempt to erase this explicit recognition of the contribution of women to society from our founding document.
I am not usually vocal about Irish politics, unless I believe a massive injustice is taking place, and I do believe a massive injustice towards women will take place if a “Yes” vote prevails on, of all days, International Women’s Day, 8 March 2024, when a Referendum is being held to make two amendments to our Constitution.
To anyone who may be undecided or tentatively thinking about voting “Yes”, because you may have heard in the media and on social media that Article 41.2 is “sexist and outdated”, or suggests that a woman’s place is in the home (it DOESNT), or that by voting “No” you will be doing women a disservice and voting to keep them in their place, let me highlight the following:
Article 41.2 currently reads:
- In particular, 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.
Yes, the language is certainly archaic but, breaking it down, in theory it gives all women and mothers a choice – that “mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home”. The part I have underlined is incredibly important, because it is so strongly worded. What this means, in theory (I say in theory as it has never been tested in a class action against the State, because honestly, what women have ever had the time to do this?) is that the State should look after mothers who choose to stay at home (which they don’t), and a successful class action could order the State to spend money to provide services and benefits it hadn’t budgeted for. In effect, Article 41.2 empowers and protects women who choose to stay at home; it does not make women stay at home nor does it state that a woman’s place is in the home.
This Referendum also does nothing for carers. If they had really wanted to, they could have inserted “and carers” into Article 41.2 as follows:
- In particular, the State recognises that by
her(their) life within the home, woman (and carers) give( s) to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.
- The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers (and carers) shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their
duties(responsibilities) in the home.
There. Fixed it for you. But the Government has chosen not to do that.
We are told we live in an equal society, and women do not need this outdated language in the Constitution anymore. While, to all intents and purposes, we may live in an equal society, we do not live in an equitable society – there is a huge difference. The majority of women, not men, stay at home to raise their family. The majority of women, not men, are the carers for the those with a disability and elderly people. These are the facts. Even holding it on International Women’s Day is a kick in the teeth. As schools will be closed to facilitate this farce of a Referendum, who is more likely to be taking a day off work to mind said children? It’s obvious, isn’t it? Women.
The majority of women of pensionable age are discriminated against because they took on these caring roles during their lifetime and, as such, are ineligible for the same pensions that the majority of men receive. In fact, I believe that one of the unintended (or maybe intended?) consequences of a “Yes” vote would be further pension discrimination against women.
A current generation of women are currently not entitled to a State contributory pension, being entitled either to a non-contributory pension, which is means tested, or added to their husband’s pension as a qualified adult, this portion also being means-tested. The majority of men of pensionable age qualify for a contributory pension, while the majority of women qualify for a pension which is means tested.(https://www.ageaction.ie/sites/default/files/attachments/gender_discimination_and_age_august_2016.pdf When women do qualify for a contributory pension, it is more than likely a reduced one, according to European findings, available online.
The above brings me back to Article 41.2, on the basis of which an entire generation of women could potentially take a class action against the State, for giving the State, by their unpaid work in the home and care, ‘a support without which the common good cannot be achieved’. This should be recognised in their pension entitlements. As it stands, this Article has never done women any harm, so why are they trying to change it? That is what I would fear: the intended and unintended consequences of the change.
I’ve linked some articles below which are easily found online. These are specific to Ireland, although the problem is Europe wide.
https://www.nwci.ie/download/pdf/pension_sample4.pdf (The NWCI has a pension justice campaign re. pension discrimination against women yet, surprisingly, are urging for a “yes” vote; unsurprisingly, they receive their majority of funding from the Government)
The other vote concerns the family, with the new wording to read: “… whether founded on marriage or on other durable relationships”. The Government has neither defined durable relationships nor will do so ahead of the Referendum, leaving it up to the courts to decide. How can we vote on this when we do not have a definition of “durable relationships”? Roderic O’Gorman has said in the Dáil that it does not include throuples, but why wouldn’t it if we do not have a definition? For that reason, I believe it is too vague to vote to change our Constitution.
I will be voting NO to both amendments on 8 March, to protect women, to protect carers and to protect the family. To anybody who may be undecided or considering a “Yes” vote, I hope the above gives you pause for thought.