It is perhaps unsurprising that there has been silence from the Government on the two proposed referendums said to take place in November 2023. The referendums seek to repeal the reference to women’s place in the home under Article 41.2 of the Constitution. The most recent proposals for referendums on the matter come from recommendations from a Citizen’s Assembly, which took place in 2022.
The lack of initiative from the State to organise the referendums is historically anticipated, as recommendations to delete, amend or modify the sexist article have been made by interest groups and Oireachtas Committees for the past thirty years, in 2018, 2016, 2013, 2006, 1997, 1996, and 1993.
Article 41.2 recognises women’s life within the home, enforcing stereotypes and adherence to strict gender norms surrounding informal employment, unpaid labour, and caring responsibilities. Historic critiques of this Article for its sexist connotations date as far back as the initial adoption of the Irish Constitution in 1937.
Article 41 does not recognise the caring roles, most often imposed upon women, inside or outside the home, involving both paid and unpaid labour. Despite Budget 2024 allocating millions into increases in carers’ incomes, it is clear that there are disparities between Irish legislation, and the recognition of carers.
It is undoubtedly true that women’s status in Irish society has improved drastically in recent decades, particularly post-secularisation (the separation of the Church and State), with various laws and policies since implemented to protect women’s rights. However, with legislation such as Article 41.2 still in place, it becomes clear that the laws do not align with Irish society’s beliefs and values, whereby women’s status in society is not wholly linked to their role within the home.
A feeble excuse has been offered by Government representatives regarding the delays in organising the transformative referendums – wording of the amendments. One wonders if this excuse is legitimate, or whether it can be linked to indifference from this 76.9% male Dáil.
Despite reports indicating that Ireland is progressing steadily with Sustainable Development Goal 5 relating to Gender Equality, it cannot be achieved by its goal time of 2030, with misogynistic, outdated legislation upholding conservative notions of women’s place being within the home.
The Government have responsibilities to achieve these goals. The non-prioritisation of this transformative legislation reinforces the centuries-long disregard for gender inequality in Ireland.